It’s hard to believe but in less than three weeks, Grizzlies Main Training Camp will open on Friday 21 August in Colwood and the excitement is already beginning to build.
But before we get into that, there are a couple of formalities to get into before we start to examine the club, the proposed roster and new talent which will culminate with the main Training Camp. First off, we have to mention the lease. After a long and nearly unprecedented set of protracted negotiations, the West Shore Parks and Recreation and the Victoria Grizzlies came to an agreement on a lease deal in June. This guarantees that the Grizzlies will remain as the primary tenant at The Q Centre for the next five years. This news is win-win for both organizations and thanks should be passed along to both parties, but let’s step back for a minute and look at the big picture for a moment. That deal could have easily gone south. If it did, I don’t even want to imagine what the implications would have been, but I can tell you it would not have been good news for Grizzlies fans, that is for sure.
The “so what factor” in all of this is that for the very first time in many seasons, the Grizzlies are now set and secure in terms of all the key support areas. The team has a solid and committed ownership and Front Office, an established and successful GM/Head Coach and Coaching Staff, a set and experienced Back Room Staff. But now underlining all of that is a secure 5 year building lease deal which will ensure the viability of The Grizzlies in The West Shore for a minimum of five more years and likely much longer. That institutional stability is something the club has been seeking for many years. This year the Grizzlies will start a season with all four of these pillars in place which should set the conditions for success for not only this year but for the long term.
Next, let’s take a quick moment and say proper farewell to three players, one of whom I accidentally missed in my last Grizzlies Gazette Blog in May. That player of course is Goaltender Sean Cleary. The Massachusetts native is returning to his home state this fall after inking an NCAA commitment to The University of Massachusetts-Lowell, so congratulations and good luck to Sean. Next is the Grizzlies leader in Plus/Minus from last year and that of course was rock steady D Man, Zach Dixon. The tall, stalwart Californian 20 year old defenseman signed a college commitment with the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point on 2 July and will play hockey at that school next season, so good luck also to Zach. And by the way, Zach’s signing brings the team’s number of college commitments for last year to nine which makes 26 in the past three years, so well done to the organization and the players themselves with all the scholarships and commitments, that’s quite a haul.
Lastly, we must say farewell to last surviving member of the original 2014/15 Hands Line, #9, Garrett Forster. Garrett was traded to the West Kelowna Warriors earlier this month for Brayden Gelsinger (95) who comes to the Grizzlies from the Warriors and previous to that, the Cowichan Valley Capitals. Forster had many good years here as a Grizzlies player, but my favorite moment will always be his OT game winner last December. His Bobby Orr like end to end rush vs the Merritt Centennials on Teddy Bear Toss Night was very special. That wild rush which included jumping over a discarded stick while enroute to the Merritt net after beating all five Centennials skaters produced a thrilling 8-7 Grizzlies OT win. The stick jump was but one of the many moves he made during that play which will stand for some time as one of The Q Centre’s most exiting moments in recent memory.
That said, we want to open our arms and welcome Brayden Gelsinger to the Grizzlies. The former WHL player is entering his 3rd year in the BCHL after successful stints with the West Kelowna Warriors and the Cowichan Valley Capitals. His BCHL career spans some 111 games with 26 goals, 68 assists for 94 points for a very impressive 0.85 ppg average. Gelsinger will be a welcome addition to the club. I can say that after following him in the league over the past two years, I look forward to seeing him his ply his dangerous offensive skills throughout the Island Division this coming season.
Now, back to the present. After all the dust settled it would appear that no more than seven players who were in Grizzlies uniforms in March during the BCHL First Round vs the Powell River Kings remain with the club at the time of the writing of this report. While roster spots are far from decided with a Main Camp still to come, one thing is for certain. At the very best, only Kevin Massy, PJ Conlon, Nick Guiney, Spencer Hunter, Mitchell Barker, Cole Pickup and Cody Van Lierop are left as potential returning veterans after the departure of no less than fifteen members of the 2014/15 Grizzlies. In the coming days I will write a feature article to map out some of the specific changes as a preview of Main Camp, but suffice to say, there will be a significant amount of opportunity with several openings at all positions in the lineup. This should be one of the most intriguing and mouth-watering Main Camps in several years and after talking to several Grizzlies fans this past summer, the buzz is already back.
Home Exhibition Games are scheduled for Sun 30 Aug vs Cowichan Valley Capitals, Tuesday 1 Sep vs Nanaimo Clippers and Saturday 5 Sep vs Alberni Valley Bulldogs. Reverse away fixtures for all those teams feature in and around those specific dates. Hope to see you all there. -CC