Players run through drills at The Victoria Grizzlies training camp at Juan De Fuca Recreation Centre. (Lindsey Horsting/News Gazette staff)

Players run through drills at The Victoria Grizzlies training camp at Juan De Fuca Recreation Centre. (Lindsey Horsting/News Gazette staff)

New and returning players make strong showing at Grizzlies’ training camp

Coach Didmon confident the Grizz will battle for a league championship this season

Craig Didmon, head coach of the Victoria Grizzlies, likes what he has seen so far at training camp.

The Grizzlies started their annual training camp at the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre in preparation for the upcoming season earlier this week.

Didmon said they started with 52 athletes and will ultimately cut the roster down to 26 – 15 forwards, eight defencemen and three goalies – after exhibition games.

The Grizzlies have 13 returning players, including two goalies, leaving only 13 roster spots up for grabs, some of which were taken by recruits in the off-season. Didmon said he likes seeing players move on to play college hockey and receive NCAA scholarships, and in some cases, go on to play professionally.

“The strength of the program shows when players move on,” he said.

Of the returning players, the Grizzlies are bringing back a strong offensive group in Alex Newhook, Cameron Thompson and Marty Westhaver.

After the first day of training camp, Didmon said he was “quite impressed” with Thompson, the 20-year-old forward who was last season’s playoff MVP.

“He scored three goals in eight minutes last night and showed he’s ready to be an elite player in our league,” Didmon said.

Didmon said the team will have a big defensive core with Carter Berger and Nico Somerville, and goalies Kurtis Chapman and Zach Rose who are getting set to return. Rose will be out until mid-December recovering from surgery, so Didmon is looking for someone to fill the gap.

Didmon said Victoria native Keenan Rancier could potentially help fill Rose’s role.

“I like us,” Didmon said. “On paper we look very good, we’ll battle for a league championship.”

The team has added size to their roster this year including Jérémie Bucheler, a six-foot-four, 182-pound defencemen, and Riley Hughes, who stands six-foot-one and was a 2018 New York Rangers draft pick.

Didmon said Bucheler is everything he was hoping for, and brings junior hockey experience from the United States Hockey League, after playing with the Chicago Steel last season.

“We have a good mix of size and speed,” said Didmon, adding size is especially important during a best-of-seven playoff series.

Didmon said it’s been fun seeing the organization’s vision come to life in the off-season during training camp and how new and returning players on the same surface fit together.

The Grizzlies will play four exhibition games with a 30-player roster beginning Aug. 24 and will play at home against Nanaimo on Saturday, Aug. 25 at the Juan de Fuca Arena at 5 p.m.

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