After 'weird summer,' Victoria Grizzlies set to open camp

The Victoria Grizzlies will open training camp today in a changed world. “We had our temperatures taken and were issued our [mandatory] full shields with the spit catchers,” said returning defenceman Brady MacDonald, during Monday’s orientation at The Q Centre.

“The safety issue is being taken very seriously.”

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MacDonald is entering his crucial graduating 20-year-old B.C. Hockey League season without a commitment and will be looking to catch the eye of NCAA Div. 1 recruiters.

“It’s a huge season for me,” said the native of Dorchester, Ont.

It comes after MacDonald, like every athlete in the world, experienced the strangest summer of their lives.

“It was a weird summer with the shutdown,” he said.

That forced a great deal of self-direction on athletes.

“I did a lot of roller blading on the streets back home [in Ontario] and a lot of running for cardio. Then the gyms reopened in June and eventually the rinks, as well,” said MacDonald.

“We’ll see this week who has put in the work.”

At six-foot-four, MacDonald will be a big presence on the blue line as he enters his third season with the Grizzlies, in a season that will be like no other. The provincial health officer has yet to make a determination on the BCHL’s request for 25 per cent capacity for a regular season beginning Dec. 1, but the league is not optimistic fans will be allowed into the arenas.

“Our main objective remains to play a season, no matter what, but our original goal of starting in December with 25 per cent capacity in our buildings is in jeopardy,” admitted BCHL board of governors chair Graham Fraser, in a statement last week.

It will be just one of the many things players are having to adapt to this year.

“The barns are going to be very quiet,” noted MacDonald.

“Home-ice advantage is going to be neutralized.”

But the game is played between the boards, not in the stands.

“I’ve been watching on TV the NHL perform without fans and have been impressed. The play has been intense,” said MacDonald.

He expects no different at the junior level.

The Grizzlies hit the ice today for their first training-camp sessions. The scrimmage squads will be named in honour of Grizzlies alumni players, including Stanley Cup-champion Tyler Bozak, Dallas Stars captain and Olympic-champion Jamie Benn, brother Jordie Benn of the Vancouver Canucks, first-round NHL draft pick and Colorado Avalanche prospect Alex Newhook and Florida Panthers draft-selection Carter Berger. The main intra-squad game is Thursday. The Grizzlies will open with a “pre-exhibition set” Sept. 25 in Nanaimo against the Clippers followed by a game Sept. 26 against the Clips at The Q Centre. That will be followed by the pre-season Island Cup tournament Oct. 2 to Nov. 27 featuring the Grizzlies, Clippers, Cowichan Valley Capitals, Alberni Valley Bulldogs and Powell River Kings.

The five teams in the Island Cup will be put into two cohort groups of two and three teams to be decided. There will be a two-week quarantine break before teams switch over to play teams from the other cohort group.

It’s an unusual format for an unusual situation, but it’s still hockey.

“It’s going to feel great getting back into live game action,” said MacDonald.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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