Grizzlies Main Camp opens in less than two weeks and as promised, I want to take a moment and map out how I see camp shaping up in terms of what the roster is beginning to look like. First the bad news: it looks certain now that Matt Baker, arguably the Grizzlies’ top off-season prospect has decided to play with the Cedar Rapids Rough Riders of the USHL. It was hoped that the 2016/17 Dartmouth College committed forward would sign with the Grizzlies, but Baker has opted for the USHL and we wish him luck. Now the good news, the team still has a lot of fresh faces and new talent, so let’s examine the club.
First in the vacated position of goal: The #1 spot in net for the Grizzlies will likely be filled by 97’ born Matthew Galajda from St.Andrew’s College. Galajda posted stellar back to back years at prep school, winning a pair of 13/14 championships (CISAA and MPHL) in the process. He could easily have played in the BCHL last year but opted for one more year of prep. In 42 games last year, Galajda posted a 1.40 GAA and a very impressive .938 SVS%. Galajda will be challenged in net by two other newcomers, Mitchel Benson (MM Victory Honda) and Aidan Doak (Revelstoke Grizzlies KIJHL). Benson a 97’ born Windsor, Ont native, may earn the coveted backup role for the Grizzlies with his solid 1.97 GAA and .926 SVS% with Victory Honda. But don’t rule out Doak who had a very good year last season playing in Jr.B. Doak’s 11-5-0 record combined with a 2.48 GAA and .918 SV% was impressive, especially on a Revelstoke team which plays in that ultra-competitive Doug Birks Division. Goal may end up being the most competitive position at Main Camp.
In spite of the mass exodus of defensemen in the off-season, the defensive corps, lead by returning veterans Kevin Massy and Cody Van Lierop looks surprisingly strong. Why that is so is by virtue of the three completely new names coming to camp, plus two others who are a bit more familiar to Grizzlies fans. The familiar faces are 98’ born Drayson Pears (West Shore Wolves 47-6-18-24) and 97’ born Mark Krabben (Okanagan Rockets BCMML 79-9-21-30 over two seasons). Krabben had a solid final year in BC Major Midget and is expected to make the club and feature in the third defensive pairing. Pears who has worked incredibly hard over the past year in Jr. B, will likely be slotted into the 6th or 7th D spot on the roster.
The new faces on defence are Jake Stevens 96’, Brett Stirling 96’ and Calvin Walker 97’. Stevens, who hails from Naperville Illinois, is another Lake Forest product and is an ex-teammate of Cody Van Lierop. But unlike his Canadian counterpart, Stevens played 57 games over a full four years in prep. Brett Stirling, a 2012 draft pick of the Peterborough Petes, is an Aurora Ont native. He is a 2 year veteran of the Salisbury School prep team in the USHS. Prior to that, he was with St. Andrews College of the MPHL in 2012. As BCHL rookies, Stirling may end up paired with Stevens, but both 19 year-olds are certainly ready for the BCHL and both will probably see a lot of ice time as top 4 D-Men on the club.
Finally there is Calvin Walker. Walker also from St. Andrews College amassed (96-5-41-46) totals in two seasons of prep. Walker may be like a younger Kevin Massy. He is a big, physical and imposing defenseman with a right handed shot who skates very well. He will fight for a spot in that second D pairing and he may see some time on the right point of the Second PP Unit. Regardless you can expect to see Walker as a regular on the blue line this coming season.
The forwards will be lead by Brayden Gelsinger who the Grizzlies picked up from the West Kelowna Warriors in last month’s Garrett Forster trade. A natural left winger, he could be joined on the first line by returning veterans Cole Pickup and PJ Conlon. That said, there will be several new forwards at Main Camp who offer lots of offense. Start with the 96’ born Kirkland QC native, Corey Iapalucci. “Lucci” as he is known, is a former WSHL Ogden (Utah) Mustang (41-18-35-53) and is a natural centre. He is a gifted passer and play maker who will compete for the Grizzlies top line centre position.
Iapalucci will likely play the role of set-up man on a scoring or PP line with 97’ born and St. Andrews College graduate J.D. Falconer who will likely assume the role of finisher on the line. Falconer, a natural shooter who can also play centre, posted solid career numbers of (110-69-61-130) for an impressive 1.18 ppg during his two years at St. Andrews College. The other new name as a potential 3rd member of this line could be 97’ born Ontario native, Joseph Visconti. Visconti, a right handed shooter, played in Illinois last year in the MPHL with Lake Forest. He has scored at every level thus far. Visconti (24-9-6-15), much like nearly all of the new names mentioned, was ready to play in the league last year but chose to finish off the academic side of the his NCAA eligibility before moving up to Jr. A.
Returning veteran forwards Spencer Hunter (98), Mitchell Barker (96) and Nick Guiney (96) will likely provide 3rd line and PK support among other roles. Those returning forwards will battle for spots on that line with a couple of new faces, 96’ born American imports, Alex Peck and Sage Fleming. Peck, a Vermont native, played with Detroit’s Victory Honda last year and posted (28-8-16-24) in Tier 1 Elite Major Midget. Fleming, from Costa Mesa California, played in the NAPHL in 13/14 for the Anaheim Jr. Ducks and put up good numbers in U16.
One surprise returnee to Grizzlies Camp this year, will be Nathan Looysen. Looysen who played 57 games in 13/14 for the Kamloops Blazers, played 7 games as a Grizzly last year before being moved on Halloween 2014 to the Peninsula Panthers where he dominated Jr.B. He ended up with the Victoria Cougars as that club loaded up for the 2015 VIJHL Playoffs. Looysen, who had been linked last season with a possible move to the Cowichan Valley Capitals will compete for a Grizzlies roster spot again this year.
But the two forwards whom I am really exited to see at camp are Tyler Welsh (97) and Keyvan Mokhtari (98). Welsh if you remember played in that one call-up game in January at the Hap Parker where he scored in his first shift (and his first shot) in the BCHL. But just as impressive, he co-lead the entire VIJHL last year in Regular Season assists with no less than 58 helpers on route to his 75 point season for the eventual Champions of the VIJHL. The other name who is new to a lot of Grizzlies fans is Mokhtari. The 98’ born forward played 3 games as an AP with Trail last year but was most impressive with the Burnaby Winter Club as he put up huge numbers vs the elite talent he faced with (22-19-17-36) for a 1.64 ppg pace. Mokhtari played well at the Grizzlies Spring Camp in June. It will be interesting to see how the talented 17 year-old plays against the somewhat bigger and more established BCHL talent at Main Camp.
And forget not that the Victoria Royals Major Midget Camp just ended on Sunday. There were loads of young players on hand who will also get an invite to Grizzlies Main Camp on the 21st of Aug, each ready to push the veterans.
Until then, I look forward to seeing you all along the glass and along the rail next Saturday at Main Camp. The new-look stability and professionalism of the club's Front Office and Coaching Staff will finally be matched this year by the talent on the ice, a great recipe for success. See you next week. -CC