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BCHL basks in reflected glory of NCAA Sweet 16 while preparing for its own playoffs

Grizzlies visit Alberni Valley on Friday night
Jack Gorton and the Grizzlies visit Nanaimo on Wednesday to face the Clippers. (ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST)

It is a Sweet Sixteen sweetly flavoured with talent from these parts. It will be a B.C. Hockey League reunion as the NCAA hockey tournament, leading to the Frozen Four, opens with 104 BCHL alumni playing in opening-round games Thursday and today.

All 16 teams in the NCAA tournament have at least one former BCHL player on the roster, led by Quinnipiac with 14 and Minnesota State with 13.

“This [BCHL] is just one league in one province, and to have that many players involved in the NCAA tournament, is amazing,” said Victoria Grizzlies GM and head coach Rylan Ferster.

“It’s a credit to everybody in the BCHL, the players, the organizations and the coaches. This shows what a good league this is and I have nothing but respect for it.”

This week’s NCAA Sweet Sixteen leads to the Elite Eight on Saturday and Sunday and the Frozen Four from April 6-8 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.

Former Grizzlies playing in the NCAA tournament this week are Carter Berger, Jamie Rome and Trevor Bishop for Western Michigan, Keenan Rancier for Minnesota State, T.J. Friedmann with Quinnipiac, Liam Souliere and Kenny Johnson on Penn State and Alex DiPaolo with Colgate. Other Island teams are represented by former Cowichan Valley Capitals players Sean Driscoll with Boston University, Hugh Larkin on Western Michigan, Luc Wilson with Minnesota State and Zach Borgiel of Merrimack.

Former Nanaimo Clippers include Tim Washe of Western Michigan, Jack O’Brien and Sean Donaldson of Cornell, David Silye of Minnesota State and Tristan Crozier with Merrimack. The Alberni Valley Bulldogs are represented by Jimmy Rayhill of Cornell and John Hawthorne, Ryan Miotto and Keaton Mastrodonato on Canisius. The Powell River Kings have Ben Berard on Cornell, Hunter Andrew on Canisius, Jayden Lee with Quinnipiac and P.J. Garrett, Levi Glasman and Ben Raymond on Colgate. David Melaragni of Canisius played for Nanaimo and ­Cowichan Valley.

Meanwhile, plenty of future tournament players will be skating this weekend to close out the BCHL regular season as the Grizzlies are in Alberni Valley tonight to face the Bulldogs before playing Nanaimo on Saturday night at The Q Centre. The Grizzlies have nine players committed to NCAA Div. 1 teams, the Bulldogs 12 and Clippers 11.

The 16 BCHL playoff teams are set heading into the final weekend of the regular season with Cowichan Valley to miss the post-season dance in the Coastal Conference and Merritt Centennials in the Interior Conference.

Several of the first-round pairings are set with Coastal Conference regular-season champion Nanaimo (36-14-3) to meet the eighth-place Langley Rivermen (14-32-5) and the second-place Surrey Eagles (33-16-3) to face the seventh-place Powell River Kings (19-24-8).

The other two Coastal Conference pairings are still to be decided over the final weekend with the third-place Bulldogs on 64 points, fourth-place ­Coquitlam Express on 61, fifth-place ­Grizzlies on 60 and sixth-place Chilliwack Chiefs on 56.

“We still don’t know who we are going to play in the first round,” said Ferster. “We want to stay healthy through the weekend and stay sharp.”

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