Sports

Victoria Grizzlies lead with rebuilt blue line

Imported defenceman Alex Adams of Ontario will be a key figure on the Grizzlies defence as the team looks to improve on last year
Imported defenceman Alex Adams of Ontario will be a key figure on the Grizzlies defence as the team looks to improve on last year's second-round playoff exit. The Grizzlies host the Cowichan Capitals at Juan de Fuca Arena on Friday (Aug. 30) in BCHL exhibition play.
— image credit: Travis Paterson/News staff

While other B.C. Hockey League teams continued to cut players this week, Bill Bestwick’s biggest decision was how to configure his Victoria Grizzlies’ line pairings.

The Grizzlies are on the ice at 7 p.m. tonight (Aug. 30) for an exhibition game at Juan de Fuca Arena versus the Cowichan Capitals. The two teams will play again tomorrow night in Duncan.

It’s worth a reminder that general manager and head coach Bestwick’s lineup for 2013-14 is rekindled from a team that he and assistant GM/coach Craig Didmon whipped up in six weeks during a whirlwind summer of 2012. They rebuilt a mighty engine considering the short notice.

That roster nearly drove the team to the 2012-13 regular season championship before getting knocked out of the playoffs in the second round.

It makes this season Bestwick and Didmon’s first chance to ice a team with long-term success in mind, which meant making some tough trades in the off-season.

“We traded to make room to recruit the players we want and this was our first chance to do that,” Bestwick said.

As a result the Grizzlies are made up of 50 per cent rookies. It’s not unheard of, but the players will need a few games, or weeks, to adjust to the speed and tempo of junior A, he said.

“You can prepare them for it but until they the experience junior A on the ice they don’t know what it is.”

Tonight Bestwick is stressing the Grizzlies play with structure and within the system more than they did in their 6-2 win on Sunday and their 4-2 loss on Saturday against the Alberni Bulldogs.

The Grizzlies forward lines will fall into place behind the top scoring unit of Fitzgerald brothers Gerry, Leo and Myles. The rest is a mix of returnees David Walchuk, Mark McLellan and Dante Hahn, and rookies Stefan Burzan, Jay Mackie, Cole Pickup, Jesse Schwartz, Jake Stirling and Shawn McBride.

The top defensive pairings are also being settled.

Leading the way is over-ager Alex Adams of Orangeville, Ont.

Adams, 20, has come to the Grizzlies for his last year of junior in hopes of finally landing a NCAA Div. 1 scholarship after three years of junior A with the Orangeville Flyers and Georgetown Raiders.

“I’ve heard so much about the BCHL, hopefully we can have a good season and I can get that scholarship,” he said.

It’s also no secret that Bestwick and the Grizzlies, separate and together, have a reputation for pumping out first-class NCAA players.

Adams has a golden opportunity to bank on it as the sky is the limit for the Grizzlies this season.

Gone is the team’s top puck-moving defenceman from last year, D.J. Jones, to graduation. Jones quarterbacked the power play and drove much of the offence from the back end. Bestwick’s room-making trades also moved captain Zach Urban and two of the team’s bigger players from last year, Jaden Schmeisser and Kade Pilton.

“We’ve brought in size, but size isn’t enough on its own. You need mobility and we’ve tried to add that as well,” Bestwick said.

At 6-foot-2, 205 lbs., Adams is looking to fill the leadership gap left vacant by Urban and Jones, while also playing a multifaceted game.

“There’s a lot of young, new guys, and a lot of opportunity hopefully for me on the power play and penalty kill. I hope to be a team leader and contribute on and off the ice,” said Adams, who accrued 118 penalty minutes last season in 43 games.

While Adams is also hoping to be a regular contributor to the Grizzlies’ attack, all indications so far are that Nick Charif, of Edmonton, can replace Jones.

“Charif moves the puck well, will provide offence five-on-five, and can recreate (what Jones did) and there’s a chance he could be even better,” Bestwick said.

The Grizzlies start the regular season at the BCHL Showcase in Chilliwack against the Penticton Vees on Sept. 6 and Salmon Arm Silverbacks on Sept. 7.

sports@vicnews.com

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