Leadership likely won’t be a problem for the Victoria Grizzlies next season.
Not the way general manager-head coach Brad Knight has built the core of his team’s roster for 2014-15.
“We’re going to have 16 guys on our roster next year that have worn a letter,” he said.
“We’re hoping that translates into a better relationship to the fans and our corporate partners. Guys with letters also have a fairly astute hockey IQ. These guys are someone in an organization that a coach had invested a fair amount of faith and trust in.”
Knight said the idea is to ask “leaders to lead leaders, and we’re hoping that translates to a real honest effort on the ice.”
Forward Shawn McBride, a gritty forward and local product who played his first full season with the club last year, tasted success in the Grizzlies’ run to the league championship semifinals. Heading into his 19-year-old year, he expects to be counted upon for his own brand of leadership along with the newcomers.
“Definitely it’s good to have a lot of guys who have worn a letter in the past,” he said. “They’re good people, hard-working. I definitely expect to be one of the leaders this year and want to step into that role more.”
Leadership in junior hockey is more by committee, he said, as opposed to having one or two players carrying that load.
Last year’s playoff experience was invaluable, McBride said, in how it gave players the opportunity to face challenges and overcome them together.
“It’s still a sore sport talking about how close we were,” he said. “A lot of guys will be anxious to come back and avenge that.”
Knight admires the way the Grizzlies got stronger through the playoffs. “The team had a great year last year. They got some good bounces and some things that really went well. Plus there was consensus how important certain roles were on the hockey club.”
He plans to use four lines and three defensive pairings and make full use of role players throughout the lineup.
“We’re enlisting guys who understand what it takes. That’ll make us deeper and more competitive when it really counts.”
He pointed to the Los Angeles Kings’ Mike Richards as a talented player and one-time high scorer who understood his role as a fourth-line centre on the Stanley Cup champions.
“He bought in. That type of player is who you need to win. We went out and got ourselves 12 Mike Richardses.”
The Grizzlies are also looking to create even more of a following on the West Shore, with both fans and business leaders, by getting more involved in community events and initiatives.
Corporate and community support is what has allowed the club to develop players for the next levels, Knight said, and the team wants to make sure the community understands how grateful it is for that support.
On that front, he joked, “We think we’ve got a pretty great road hockey team and we’re happy to prove that if someone wants to put together a game (for charity).”
To inquire about partnerships with the Grizzlies, call Knight at 250-385-1555.
Who are those captains the Grizz signed?
New faces on the Victoria Grizzlies next season who have worn a letter recently include Upper Canada College co-captains P.J. Conlon and Justin Saddler. Saddler is a 6-3, 195-pound defenceman while Conlon is a gritty 5-11, 179-pound forward.
Also signed is graduated Lake Forest Academy (Ill.) captain Cody van Lierop, a six-foot defenceman and Ontario native who had 32 points and 103 penalty minutes in the U.S. Midwest Prep League last season.
Recruit Quinn Thompson captained the Vancouver Northwest Giants to the B.C. Major Midget league title last season and a spot in the Pacific Regional finals.
St. Andrews College alum Matt Kennedy wore an ‘A’ with his team, which won three titles last year, including the Midwest Prep League.