Grizzlies believe teams WHL, BCHL will co-exist in Victoria

Jamie Benn

With the Western Hockey League comes a change in the dynamics of the Victoria hockey scene.

Some wonder how the new team will affect the B.C. Hockey League’s Victoria Grizzlies. But part-owner Reza Binab says it should be positive, even symbiotic.

“We have no problems with it. We’ve supported the Salmon Kings and we support the WHL. I’m pretty excited they have the team our community’s been after for years.”

The BCHL’s Victoria Cougars preceded the WHL’s Cougars by four years (1967 to 1971). The leagues co-existed here for the first time when the Juan de Fuca Whalers surfaced in Colwood in 1986. The Whalers moved on in 1988 but the BCHL returned with the Victoria Warriors from 1990-’93, later playing 12 years as the Salsa before becoming the Grizzlies in 2006.

The BCHL is now a much-improved league as well as better supported, as is the WHL.

A capacity crowd at Juan de Fuca arena is below the 2010-11 BCHL average of 1,087 per game.

Despite a dip in attendance at Bear Mountain Arena this season, the Grizzlies were above the league average, pulling in a total of 45,750, the fourth most in the league.

As the Grizzlies business manager, Binab acknowledged an immediate impact to ticket sales is likely.

“You know something, people who like hockey attend (all kinds of) hockey.

“If you look at our (gate), maybe 80 to 90 per cent are from the West Shore. Some of them, there’s no question they’ll go to see the WHL just like they already go to the Salmon Kings. (The WHL) is something new and right now everyone’s paying attention.”

Moreover, the BCHL has become a major stepping stone for NCAA players, with more players than ever going to the NHL from the NCAA in the past four years.

Still, the potential for a relationship between his junior-A team and the soon-to-be named Victoria major junior club is exciting for Binab.

“For us, we can work together very well.”

Depending on the Grizzlies’ needs, they could act as a developmental stop for 16- and 17-year-olds whose playing rights belong to the Victoria WHL team — the same way the Grizzlies graduate players already committed to the NCAA.

In 2006-07, Jamie Benn scored 42 goals as a 16-year-old with the Grizzlies before joining the Kelowna Rockets (WHL) one year later and the NHL two seasons after that.

“You get three kinds of kids in the BCHL. One wants to go to the NCAA. The second one is definitely set on the WHL,” Binab said. “The third kid goes back and forth, they ask around, but they’re not sure. I always say ‘talk to players who have done it, don’t talk to me because I might be biased.’ Having a team here might better influence their decision.”

In terms of rosters, BCHL reams tends to be similar in age to those in the WHL. The big difference is the BCHL allows six 20-year-olds versus the WHL’s three.

“Sometimes we do have players (released) back from the WHL. That kind of communication is built on great relationships.”

In the meantime, the Grizzlies are in the recruiting process for the 2011-12 season to replace its core of NCAA-bound graduates.

When the season does roll around Binab said “Let’s enjoy it. Hopefully the WHL team is good and fans will see both Victoria teams.”

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