Friday, 4 September 2015

Main Camp Report: Grizzlies Name 2015/16 Squad

With exactly one week to go before the league opener next Friday night vs The Caps at the ISC in Cowichan, the Grizzlies final roster was set Thursday morning. Yes Coach Didmon, possibly the most fecund of BCHL coaches has once again managed to replace last year's roster with what could be a team which is just as good if not better.  I won't bother to go through the specific names, because frankly it was pretty much covered in our last blog.  Hopefully I got it pretty close.  But while I am able to selfishly pat myself on my own back, I missed something pretty huge.  Over the course of watching the preseason games I began to notice something and it had nothing to do with player names or skills.  It was their ages.

Photo credit: Christian Stewart (ISN)
 Many years ago I heard a famous BCHL (and former Grizzlies coach BTW) make a pronouncement that "75% of all goals scored in the league are scored by 19 and 20 year olds".  I always promised myself that one day I would confirm that rather intriguing statement by tracking down the statistics and determining if it were actually true.  I tend to make a lot of promises to myself and not follow through.  But on this fact finding mission, I just might actually get on with it and here is why:  The 2015/16 iteration of the Victoria Grizzlies features a lineup with only 3 twenty year olds and 8 nineteen year olds. 
The league roster limit for twenty-year olds is set at six. The traditional wisdom is to make sure that your rosters features at least that number of seasoned BCHL gentry in your dressing room.  Is that a problem for the current Grizzlies?  I don't think so, but frankly I crunched a few numbers and it might surprise the reader to know that this year's Grizzlies have an average age of 18.5 and last year's team was a comparable 18.72, mind you that club carried its usual staple of six 20 year olds.  Last year's Fred Page Cup winners, the Penticton Vees had an average age of 17.86, with a full complement of 20 year olds.  So really I ask you again, is this really a whole lot to do about nothing?
That said, there can be such a thing as too many older players in the dressing room.  The up-island rival Nanaimo Clippers had eight twenty year olds still in camp this week, so they in fact have the opposite problem, too many twenty year olds.  Also, by carrying only three twenties, the Grizzlies now have the flexibility (unlike last year) to make a move with relative impunity, to add a twenty year old or two towards the January trade deadline. But its not always good news to load up with twenty year olds. 
I remember a former Jr.B owner once confiding to me that he owned a club many years ago which carried the league limit of eight twenty year olds and "the whole season was really just a night club on skates", so it is by no means a bad thing to be a young team hungry for hockey success.

undisclosed Jr.B Dressing Room circa (2009)

Now let's take a moment and break down this lineup and see what the Grizzlies have going for 2015/16.  The lines, at least for Week #1 will probably look something like this:
Pickup                   Gelsinger             Conlon
Iapalucci               Falconer               Visconti
Fleming                Guiney                 Peck
Hunter                  Welsh                   Mokhtari/Barker
                VanLierop          Stirling
                Stevens                Massy
                Pears/Krabben Walker
One thing I really like so far is the upgrade in net.  Galadja and Benson are both solid and have been tested well so far in the pre-season, Benson facing 50 shots in a 2-1 win vs Nanaimo on Tuesday night was impressive.  This weekend's final tune up games vs Alberni Valley will no doubt give each goal tender the opportunity to play vs legitimate BCHL lineups and play behind their actual starting 6 D men, so I look forward to seeing that play out.  The trick will be for both goalies to bring down the team's dreadful goals allowed stat from last year, 210 goals against.  We leaked goals last year like the Titanic leaked water and if that improves, the team will be better, no question.  My prediction is that next to Front Office stability, goaltending will be the club's biggest improvement for 2015/16.

Photo credit: Christian Stewart (ISN)
Now for the D-Men, I will say this:  Last year the Grizzlies scored 40 goals from the blue line, which was one of the biggest goal outputs by defensemen in years.  I think that number will come down this season, at least a bit.  Frankly it just has to, 40 goals from the D Corps is just too much to ask for two years running, but here is to hoping.  What I am more happy about is the fact that Jake Stevens and Brett Stirling could end up being absolute beasts on the first two pairings.  Along with veterans Van Lierop and K-Mass my sense is that they will easily replace the departed D-men from last year, which is quite the statement of faith considering how good we were in 2014/15 in that position.  This will make life much easier for Walker, Pears and Krabben who are all BCHL ready as defensemen but will mostly see 3rd pairing duties.  My one worry though is the lack of left handed defensemen in the team, I would prefer one more.

Photo credit: Christian Stewart (ISN)
On offense, I see a bit of a mild downturn, but that is almost expected.  Again one has to remember that the 219 goals scored last year by The Grizz were the most since the 220 goals scored in 2009 and the 263 goals scored during the Jamie Benn and Tyler Bozak era of 2006/07.  No other teams have really been close.  That said, if our 4th Line of Hunter, Welsh and Mokhtari turns into what I am hoping and surprises everybody, it will be my pleasure to attach to them the mystery moniker of " THE _ _ _ _ _   _ _ _   _ _ _ LINE".  If they struggle like most rookie lines in the BCHL, no problem, I will simply delete this paragraph from the blog and never speak of my mystery "4th Line Name" ever again.  My guess is they will be fantastic.  And for those of you Poindexters who want to try and play a little Vana White on Wheel of Fortune, all I can say is "buy a vowel".
Until then, enjoy the rest of the pre-season and do come out and see the club on Saturday night at 7pm at Westhills Arena in Langford, BC. -CC

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