Wood shines in return to Victoria Grizzlies lineup

 By: Cleve Dheensaw

What the Trail Smoke Eaters couldn’t do — stop Victoria ­Grizzlies prodigy Matthew Wood — rains and landslides did.

The Grizzlies were stuck in the Interior following Sunday’s 6-2 victory in Trail in which the 16-year-old Wood had a goal and four assists for five points as Victoria halted a three-game ­losing skid.

There was another manner of halt as the Grizzlies spent ­Sunday and Monday nights in Penticton after weather conditions made many of the major routes to the Lower Mainland impassable beyond that. The team is expected back on the Island today or Wednesday following two days of imposed practice at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

The amazing thing is that despite missing five games to a check-to-the-head suspension, Wood still co-leads the BCHL in points with 22 despite having played five fewer games than co-leader John Herrington of the Prince George Spruce Kings. The 2023 NHL draft will be the deepest in years for forwards. If the six-foot-three, 185-pound Wood isn’t already a part of that conversation, he will be. The Nanaimo product is committed to UConn of NCAA Div. 1. Intriguingly, Wood’s Western Hockey League rights are held by the Regina Pats, who feature the consensus 2023 NHL draft top-prospect Connor Bedard from North Vancouver.

“[Wood] did not miss a beat and got right back to where he left off,” said Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon, of the five-point performance Sunday, following the five-game ­suspension.

“He is a very focused and very driven player and he missed being in the games. Having [Isack] Bandu and Wood return added so much confidence to the lineup.”

Blue line leader Bandu returned Saturday in the loss to the Penticton Vees and Wood on Sunday in Trail from five-game sanctions each for hit-to-the-head majors as the Grizzlies have incredibly totalled 16 games in suspensions this season on that offence to four players. Forward Andrew Amousse was assessed a four-game suspension for a hit-to-the-head major in Friday night’s loss to the Chiefs in Chilliwack and forward Luc Pelletier a two-game suspension Sunday in Trail for the same call.

The Grizzlies seem at a loss to explain what is going on with this run of hit-to-the-head majors.

“We’re knocking guys over at the blue line and playing hard and what feels like a clean hit apparently isn’t. The game is so fast … there’s never any intent,” said Didmon.

The Grizzlies lead the league in penalty minutes by a wide margin with 219 with the next closest being the Nanaimo ­Clippers at 174.

Captain Ellis Rickwood scored the hat-trick for Victoria (9-6) against Trail (8-5-1), while Kalen Szeto added two goals. Cole Schwebius was spectacular in goal for the Grizzlies with 51 saves.

The Grizzlies, Clippers and Alberni Valley Bulldogs are tied for second place with 18 points in the Coastal Division behind the leading Langley Rivermen, the rejuvenated former lower-to-mid-pack franchise leading the division at 9-2-1.

Alberni Valley has ­back-to-back midweek games ­Wednesday and Thursday against Nanaimo and Powell River in which to break the jam. The Gizzlies host Powell River on Friday and the Wenatchee Wild on Saturday at The Q ­Centre.