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Victoria Grizzlies will be road warriors early on

Marty Westhaver and the Grizzlies will open the BCHL season Sept. 7 at Cowichan Valley.
Photograph By DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Cleve Dheensaw / Times Colonist
JULY 2, 2019 10:06 PM

Reverie in sports is short lived before it’s time to move on.

The Victoria Grizzlies had barely finished celebrating the most triumphant NHL draft class in franchise history, before it became time to look ahead to next season with the release Tuesday of the 2019-20 B.C. Hockey League schedule.

The post Alex Newhook era begins for the Grizzlies Sept. 7 in an Island Division matchup in Duncan against the Cowichan Valley Capitals. Former Grizzlies captain Newhook was selected 16th overall in the first round of the NHL draft last month by the Colorado Avalanche and is headed to play NCAA hockey at Boston College.

“As we saw at the NHL draft last week [in which three departing Grizzlies were selected in the first four rounds], it’s an exciting time to be involved in the BCHL,” said Steven Cocker, league executive director.

The most notable feature of the Grizzlies 2019-20 schedule are the seven road games to start the campaign. That was done by design because The Q Centre could be occupied in early-to-mid September by the best-of-seven Mann Cup national championship series should the Victoria Shamrocks win the Western Lacrosse Association title.

The Grizzlies will use the opportunity to get the longest road trip of the season out of the way early, beginning Sept. 13 in Prince George against the defending BCHL champion Spruce Kings in a rematch of the 2019 Coastal Conference final from the spring. The Grizzlies then travel through Merritt, West Kelowna, Vernon, Salmon Arm and Trail from Sept. 14-22.

“We are hoping the Shamrocks have a good, long run and have built around that,” said Grizzlies head coach and GM Craig Didmon.

“We are going to be a young team with a lot of new players. Bus rides help build and bond a team. The con is that we will be thrown into hostile environments right away. It is going to be a challenge. We will make the best of it. It’s good to challenge the boys right away. And it suits us to get the big trip up north and into the Interior out of the way when the weather is milder. Hopefully, we come out of it with a decent record and build from there.”

The first opportunity to see forward Jayden Struble, the Grizzlies’ prize recruit from Rhode Island, at The Q Centre will not be until the home opener Sept 28. Struble was selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round, 46th overall, last month in the NHL draft in Vancouver.

Facing Victoria in its home debut will be an arch foe in the Powell River Kings, who the Grizzlies beat in seven games in the Island Division final last playoff season.

In a scheduling quirk, the Grizzlies and Kings also finish the regular season with three consecutive games against each other on Feb. 16 at The Q Centre and Feb. 21-22 at Hap Parker Arena in Powell River. If past seasons are any indication, those final three games could prove crucial in the race atop the Island Division.

Other schedule highlights include Penticton coming into the Big Stick in Duncan on Sept. 21 for the first time since the Capitals’ stunning first-round playoff upset of the Vees.

The rematch of the 2019 BCHL Page Cup final goes Nov. 13 when the Vernon Vipers visit Prince George.

The schedule is incomplete. The schedule and locations for the annual BCHL Showcase will be announced soon. It is the one-stop-shopping event for NHL and NCAA scouts usually held at Prospera Centre in Chilliwack. Didmon confirmed the Grizzlies will play two regular-season games at the BCHL Showcase, although the opponents have yet to be decided. He also said the tournament will take place right after Victoria’s first home game.

“So that gives us nine of our first 10 games away from our barn [The Q Centre],” said Didmon.

“Our team will have to grow together quickly early, mostly on the road.”

In the Island Division, the Nanaimo Clippers open at home Sept. 6 at Frank Crane Arena against Cowichan Valley, while the Alberni Valley Bulldogs are away that night to Powell River. Following three away games, the Bulldogs home opener is against Nanaimo on Sept. 14 at Weyerhaeuser Arena.

The Grizzlies open training camp Aug. 19 at Juan de Fuca Arena.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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