Kade Pilton leaves WHL to join Victoria Grizzlies

And the first Victoria Grizzlies player to make the crosstown jump from BCHL to WHL Victoria Royals is, er, wait a second...

Luke Ripley of the Powell River Kings tries to get to the puck as he checks Blake Thompson of the Victoria Grizzlies at Bear Mountain Arena on Sunday (Jan. 6. The Grizz won 4-2.

Four and a half months later, defenceman Kade Pilton is back on the Island.

The 6-foot-5, 18-year-old from Parksville made his B.C. Hockey League debut with the Victoria Grizzlies on Friday, picking up an assist in the Grizz’ 5-1 drubbing of the Nanaimo Clippers. On Sunday, Pilton opened the scoring against the Powell River Kings with a shorthanded breakaway goal on a 5-3 penaly kill in the first period, sparking a 4-2 Grizz win.

It’s been a long journey in a short time since he was traded to the Regina Pats from the Royals in the Western League preseason on Sept. 13.

“After about a month in Regina I was moved up to forward in an energy role, and that worked for a bit. But eventually I decided to move on. I just wasn’t getting the minutes I had hoped,” Pilton said on Sunday.

His December return to the Island went relatively unknown, until Pilton’s social media status tipped off the Grizzlies and Bill Bestwick. The coach didn’t know for about nine days, and once he found out he immediately contacted Grizzlies co-coach Craig Didmon, who was on the Royals coaching staff last year.

Didmon had a little help, of course, as Pilton grew up playing with fellow Parksville native and Grizzlies defenceman Jaden Schmeisser, making it a familiar fit. The two are now roommates.

“A lot of (BCHL) teams were calling me and I’m appreciative of that. I gave it a lot of thought and I’m very happy with opportunity to come to a winning team here in Victoria,” Pilton said.

Naturally it’s going to be an adjustment period for the big guy. He struggled with consistency in the WHL and though he has three points in his first two games, he can’t be expected to dominate. But he is part of a deep team that is showing playoff promise, winning gritty mid-season games through talent, but also by outworking teams, as they did on Sunday afternoon at Bear Mountain Arena.

“I think (Friday and Sunday) Pilton got more ice time than he did in the last month so he’s only going to get better,” Bestwick said, “especially as he gets to know the opponents. And he’s a 1994, so he’s got two more years (in the BCHL) if he wants it.”

With a full season in the WHL Pilton has waived his NCAA eligibility but junior A could be the arena he needs to flesh out his game and develop into a solid WHLer for the 2013-14 season. The Pats continue to own his rights though they might not be that keen on him since he left. With one and a half seasons played, Pilton also has CIS bursaries waiting for him from the WHL after he’s finished with junior. He wouldn’t be the first player to drop down from the WHL and return after a stint in the BCHL, nor would he be the first player to crack the pro ranks from junior A.

“I haven’t put too much thought into going back to the WHL yet, just taking it one game at a time right now. Maybe the WHL to CIS (route) is still an option, or maybe I can go pro,” he said.

One thing is for sure. He’s happy being back playing on the Island. Mom, dad, and extended family were at the game on Sunday, and saw what they already knew, that for a tall defenceman, he has a goal scorers touch around the net, evidenced by his breakaway goal.

Pilton’s arrival comes just prior to the Jan. 11 trade deadline though the coach said he’s happy with his team, but is still open to adding another player or players.

“There’s that thinking you must do something, or have to do something to improve your team, but I still believe we can get better from inside our room,” Bestwick said. “Sometimes the best trade you make is the one you turn down.”

If there is an area Bestwick is looking at upgrading its depth in the forward lines, especially with some offence, but then again so is the rest of the league, he acknowledged.

Such was the reward with signing Pilton, who, ideally, will get more of a chance to showcase his offence talents as part of the Grizzlies formidable defensive core. The top six blueliners now feature Pilton and Schmeisser with defensive scoring leader D.J. Jones (27 points in 35 games), captain Zach Urban, and committed talents Nolan De Jong (Cornell) and Mitch Meek (Clarkson), not too leave out 20-year-old Blake Thompson from Ontario.

From the stands

  • Myles Fitzgerald has quietly risen to fifth overall in the BCHL scoring race with 18 goals and 25 assists for 43 points in 34 games. Gerry Fitzgerald is 16th overall with 20 goals and 16 assists for 36 points and Leo is 19th overall with 15 goals and 18 assists.
  • The Grizzlies (24-9-0-3) are first in the BCHL, tied with the Penticton Vees (24-10-0-3) in points with 51, but own a better winning percentage.
  • Pilton is the first Royals player to go to the Grizzlies. There was a tacit understanding in town amongst those who considered a player linking up with both teams, that a Grizzlies player would “move up” the junior ranks in to the Royals before one would come the other way. And that’s why we love junior, it’s always a surprise.
  • At the start of the season, if someone put $100 on the table and said it was yours to take home if you correctly guessed A: Bill Bestwick would turn a last place team into a first place team, or, B: It will take two, maybe three seasons, to rebuild this into a winning team, which would you have picked?
  • Chris Albertini was given a charging major and game misconduct for absolutely crushing Jarred Leung with 10 minutes left in the third period. Luckily for Leung, a Saanich native and younger brother of Victoria Shamrocks lacrosse player Karsen Leung, it was shoulder to shoulder, or he certainly wouldn’t have been able to skate off on his own will, though he was clearly suffering.
  • The odd thing about Albertini’s charging major was that it didn’t come until play stopped 30 seconds later, when it cancelled a brilliant goal by Mark McLellan off a tic-tac-toe passing play on the rush. If the Grizzlies could own possession of the puck but couldn’t score a goal, why was the Kings’ precious ice time allowed to play out despite trailing 3-1? Another reason to make hockey referees accountable after matches. Then again, maybe it’s be better if we don’t know.

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