It’s not how Craig Didmon pictured becoming the head coach of the Victoria Grizzlies but he’ll take it.
Didmon debuted as the Grizzlies bench boss in an emotional win on Tuesday, 4-2 over the Nanaimo Clippers at Bear Mountain Arena. Defenceman Brandon Egli spurred the Grizzlies to the come-from-behind victory with a Gordie Howe hat trick, scoring his team’s first goal in the second period before dropping the gloves with Nanaimo’s 6-foot-2 Clarkson-commit Devin Brousseau. Egli then assisted on Dante Hahn’s game-winner in the third.
It all came within hours of the news that head coach and general manager Bill Bestwick was being relieved by the Grizzlies new majority ownership group which took over on Monday.
“The boys found out about (Bestwick’s firing) on the way to the rink Tuesday so there was an initial distraction, but also an understanding of what had happened,” Didmon said.
It was a whirlwind 24 hours for everybody, particularly Didmon.
A former player under Bestwick, Didmon sees him as a friend who and mentor, as Didmon has been Bestwick’s assistant coach/GM for the past one and a half seasons.
“I loved working with (Bestwick) so the situation is tough, however, it’s a quick and easy switch,” Didmon said.
“It wasn’t until Tuesday morning when I thought something might be happening. I talked to (Bestwick) and he was concerned but I really didn’t believe it until I got a text about from someone who saw it in social media.”
Didmon moves into the driver’s seat with the Grizzlies second overall in the B.C. Hockey League with 20 wins in 33 games for 45 points, three points back of the Powell River Kings.
He was first made aware of the possibility, however minute, that Bestwick could be on the bubble at Monday’s press conference to introduce the quintet of new co-owners, led by Pete Zubersky.
The decision to axe Bestwick is believed to stem from past differences him between and Zubersky, as the latter has assumed the role of director of operations, which includes the general manager position he previously held for three and a half seasons during the organization’s time as the Victoria Salsa. Back then Bestwick was with the Clippers and their disputes were public. However, Zubersky says it’s not what led to this week’s decision.
“Hockey is an emotional game for emotional people,” Zubersky said. “There’s a winner and a loser and you’re always going to have friction. On the ice two players can drop the gloves and go toe-to-toe and the next night they’re at home having Thanksgiving dinner and they’re brothers.
“Any differences I had with (Bestwick), I can’t really think of any, but it had nothing to do with this.”
Rather, Zuberksy points to the promotion of Didmon, someone the team wants to put its faith in as he is deeply rooted in the West Shore community. Didmon remains the head coach of the Belmont secondary and Spencer middle school hockey academies.
“With (Didmon) we have a guy deeply entrenched in the local community and Westshore and we think we have a real opportunity with him to get more involved with the community out here,” Zubersky said.
“What we really want to do are put the Bill Bestwick thing to bed and talk about the positives, because there’s a lot of positives.”
Zubersky is also the owner of the Peninsula Panthers which tightens the connection between the Grizzlies and the South Island junior B teams even more as former Victoria Cougars, Saanich Braves, Westshore Wolves and Panthers have all started for the Grizz in 2013.
Bestwick was unavailable for comment at the time.