Plenty on the line as puck drops on shortened BCHL season

Grizzles forward Eddie Yan is looking to finish this season strong in hopes of landing an NCAA ­scholarship. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Cleve Dheensaw / Times Colonist
MARCH 31, 2021 10:02 PM

There will be only 20 games per team. But they ­matter. Especially for the B.C. Hockey League players yet to secure NCAA Div. 1 athletic ­scholarships.

“Every game is their playoffs Game 7,” said Butch Boucher, in his 14th year as ­educational adviser for the Victoria ­Grizzlies.

“We already have [six] commitments, which is amazing considering the pandemic, and we can get up to 10 thanks to this season happening. It looks promising for some of these kids with several schools kicking the tires. But that’s up to the players. They have to perform on the ice.”

The BCHL Island ­Division Cup opens Friday with the ­Grizzlies meeting the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. The ­Nanaimo Clippers open Saturday against the Grizzlies while the ­Cowichan Valley Capitals play the ­Bulldogs. All games are at ­Weyerhaeuser Arena in Port Alberni. No fans are allowed. But people will be watching remotely. Some intensely.

“It’s a small window but NCAA schools will be scouting heavily,” said Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon.

“That’s why this season, as short as it is, is so important. Careers are on the line.”

At the pro level, too. Central Scouting has contacted Didmon about Ellis Rickwood and putting him on the watch list for the 2021 NHL draft. Alex DiPaolo is another Grizzlies forward with a pro-type game and who will be watched.

At the collegiate level, DiPaolo (Colgate), Brady ­MacDonald (Dartmouth), Jake Veilleux (UConn), Henri Schreifels (R.P.I.), Andrew Amousse (AIC) and Isack Bandu ­(Northern Michigan) are the Grizzlies players to have secured their NCAA hockey scholarships. Rickwood has yet to commit but has his choice of schools after him.

Forward Eddie Yan and defenceman Reid Lindsay, meanwhile, are hoping to impress the watching collegiate scouts.

“We’ve all stayed patient and are super-grateful to get this opportunity to play,” said Yan.

“It means a ton of exposure and is so critical and important. [Scouts] are in the back of my mind but I can’t focus on that too much. I just have to go out and be myself and play my game.”

Yan has proven that game is ample, especially internationally, where he led China in scoring at the U-20 level, and hopes to make the host team for his hometown 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

“That is my dream and I believe I will be ready for that,” said Yan.

The form chart has the Grizzlies and Clippers vying for the Island Cup, as they did in the extended preseason fall version of the Island Cup, in which Nanaimo edged the Grizzlies. But with some players having left BCHL teams during the subsequent ­pandemic break, especially to Junior A teams in the U.S. that operated through it, predictions can be murky in this situation.

“It was like trying to put together two teams this season, but enough guys stuck around,” said Nanaimo GM and head coach Darren Naylor.

“Victoria had the least amount of players leaving while Alberni Valley was hardest hit. So there’s going to be opportunities for these guys, some of whom may have started in the fall on the third line, to now play in front of NCAA and pros scouts. There’s not a lot of mileage on these players right now. But after 20 games, they will have some mileage on them.”

Didmon is reluctant to call it a two-way battle between the Grizzlies and Clippers.

“It’s easy to say that but Cowichan Valley and Alberni Valley have made changes and have different looks,” he said.

“Anyone who thinks they are walking through this division is kidding themselves. Everybody’s been through a lot this year. A number of our guys have been together since the fall and it’s a tight group.”

ICE CHIPS: Former Grizzlies captain Alex Newhook signed a three-year NHL entry level contract Wednesday with the Colorado Avalanche, the team which selected the Canadian team 2021 world junior silver-medallist 16th overall in the first round of the 2019 draft. Newhook’s Boston College squad was upset 4-1 over the weekend by St. Cloud State and failed to advance to the Frozen Four. The 2019-20 NCAA rookie of the year is being assigned immediately to the Colorado Eagles of the AHL.

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