There won’t be a Mann Cup lacrosse series at The Q Centre this year forcing the Victoria Grizzlies to play their exhibition games and first four league contests away from home ice.
While the continued success of fellow Colwood tenants, the Victoria Shamrocks, means the B.C. Hockey League Grizzlies are hosting their training camp at the Juan de Fuca Arena starting next Monday (Aug. 22), the picture is already looking more rosy than last year, according to their head coach.
“We’ve got a (largely) veteran team coming in and there is an expectation that we’ll have a better start than last year,” said Craig Didmon, who recently returned from a week in Boston for a scouting trip. “We’ve got kids coming from all over North America to fight for a spot on the roster.”
Whether partially due to being displaced or a variety of other reasons the Grizzlies had a miserable start last season, posting only two victories in their first 14 games. They stabilized later in October and climbed back into the hunt for a playoff spot, only to fall short by two points.
With a good core coming back, including both of last year’s goalies, standout Matthew Galajda and capable backup Mitchell Benson, the situation means Didmon and his staff will have their work cut out for them when camp gets underway next Monday.
“We’re going to have some tough decisions to make,” he said. “We also have six or seven forwards back and four returning defencemen.”
Some of the new players coming to camp, such as former Victoria Cougars junior B player Mikko Somerville and Manitoba’s Dane Stinson on the blueline, are all but assured places on the roster.
And a healthy crop of local forwards, including junior B grads Cory Hatcher (Westshore Wolves) and Marty Westhaver (Peninsula Panthers), plus 16-year-old Lach Hadley, Nolan Welsh (brother of Grizzlies d-man Tyler) and Jordan Guiney (brother of Victoria forward Nick), are expected to battle for the remaining handful of spots with some of the out-of-towners attending camp.
“As much as we’re trying to fill those final spots, we do have a good idea of what the dynamic of the team looks like,” Didmon said. “Training camp, as much as it’s going to be (a battle), it’ll be to see how those (expected newcomers) fit in.”
The club starts camp with about 50 skaters on Monday and will run two days of practises and intersquads, with players separated into main camp and Young Guns groups. The camp roster will drop to 40 by the time the Grizzlies play their first of four exhibition games in as many nights, Aug. 24 at Juan de Fuca against Alberni Valley, then drop to about 25 for the weekend exhibition games.
The final cuts will be made through the following week and the club will be down to pretty much its opening roster when it plays exhibitions in Nanaimo Sept. 2 and in Sooke against the Clippers the following night.
The practises and exhibition games are open to the public. Intersquads go at 6:30 and 8 p.m. Monday, and 2:30, 4:30, 6:30 and 8:30 Tuesday. Practices and workouts on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are primarily for non-rostered players and start at noon.