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Victoria Grizzlies aim to attack Bulldogs early

Veteran forward Cam Thompson led the Grizzlies in scoring in last years BCHL playoffs.
Photograph By ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Brian Drewry / Times Colonist
FEBRUARY 28, 2019 09:56 PM

When it comes to B.C. Hockey League playoff games, Cam Thompson has been around the block.

In the previous two seasons, the Victoria Grizzlies veteran forward has played 26 post-season games. And through all that experience and multiple overtime playoff games, winning some and losing some, the 20-year-old from Victoria doesn’t have to go too far back for perhaps his best and worst playoff memory.

“The playoffs are a whole different animal, with the intensity racheted up every game, but, for reasons good and bad, that series last year against Alberni will always stick with me,” Thompson said this week when recalling the first-round, seven-game series in which the Grizzlies lost the first three games and then rebounded to win the next four to eliminate the Bulldogs.

“Going down 3-0 and then seeing how everyone pulled together to come back and win the series is pretty special. The playoffs can really bring a team together and that’s what I really like about it.”

Thompson led the Grizzlies in playoff scoring last season, potting seven goals and adding three assists in the 12 games. He collected 22 goals and 26 assists for 48 points in 53 regular season games this season, including a hat trick in the final week.

And his teammates know, when it’s playoff time, it’s Thompson Time.

“I just love when the competition is cranked up,” added Thompson. “Nothing brings a team together like playoffs. It’s an atmosphere that gives you goosebumps and gets you excited.”

Last year at this time, the Grizzlies were anything but normal off the ice heading into the playoffs. Captain Lucas Clark was sent home days before Game 1 for violating team rules, and then netminder Kurtis Chapman had to return home to Calgary to deal with the sudden death of a close friend.

Throw in the fact star rookie Alex Newhook was just 17 and coming off missing a month with a hand injury, and the Grizzlies were behind the 8-ball before the playoff puck was even dropped.

That’s not the case this season.

“Last year we had a lot of guys coming back from injury and had some off-ice things going on and then we ran into some bad luck in the overtimes and it got away from us at the start,” said Didmon, whose club won the Island Division with a 36-18-0-4 record and will host fourth-place Alberni Valley (21-34-3-0) for Games 1 and 2 on Friday and Saturday at The Q Centre before the best-of-seven series moves to Port Alberni for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“This year we’re in a much better frame of mind and we have a lot of guys who got a taste of getting close to that third round who want to finish what they started this year.”

That includes their captain. Newhook is in high gear, coming off an eight-point game while leading the BCHL in scoring with 102 points, and looking to make a statement as the NHL draft fast approaches.

“It’s playoff time and we’re all excited and looking to have a good start, which we know from last year, is important,” said Newhook, who’s expected to go in the first round of June’s NHL draft in Vancouver.

While the Grizzlies can seemingly score goals at will — Victoria led the league in goals for with 231 — with the likes of Newhook, 2018 New Rangers draft pick Riley Hughes and BCHL rookie of the year Alex Campbell up front, the last month, Victoria’s goals against has been creeping up. Not what you want to hear come playoff time.

“Being good defensively in the playoffs is really important. You make one bad mistake in your own end and it can cost you the game,” said Newhook.

“So we’ve been working hard on that in practice this week and if we can clean that up and still score our share of goals, we’ll be in good shape.”

Despite the difference in the standings, the Grizzlies are not taking the Bulldogs lightly. Not after Alberni came into The Q Centre two weeks ago and rode the hot goaltending of veteran John Hawthorne to a victory.

Hawthorne, who hails from Chemainus and is headed to Northern Michigan of the NCAA next season, is one of the top netminders in the league and he played 46 games this season.

“He’s a great goalie, we know that, and they’re going to be just as excited as us to get the playoffs going so we need to be ready go from the drop of the puck Friday night,” added Newhook.

LOOSE PUCKS: The Grizzlies will be without assistant captain Ryan Nolan for Game 1 as the 20-year-old, who’s headed to Merrimack College of the NCAA in the fall, serves the last of his four-game suspension for an accumulation of hit-to-the-head penalties. . . . The other Island Division first-round series also begins tonight with the second-place Powell River Kings playing host to the third-place Nanaimo Clippers. . . . The league announced its all-star teams Thursday and Newhook and Grizzlies blue-liner Carter Berger were named to the First Team.

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