There was a definite Harbour City tinge to the three stars of the opening week of the B.C. Hockey League season.
Goaltender Cooper Black of the Nanaimo Clippers, a true presence in the crease at six-foot-eight and 217 pounds, was named BCHL first star for his two wins, 1.50 goals-against average and .958 save percentage. The 20-year-old native of Alpena, Michigan, played last season for the Odessa Jackalopes of the junior NAHL and is headed next season to the Ivy League in NCAA Div. 1 at Dartmouth.
“He is a big-bodied goalie with a high level of compete. His game management and overall understanding of the game is very noticeable,” said Clippers GM and head coach Darren Naylor, in a statement.
Cooper replaces standout former Clippers goaltender Jordan Naylor, the coach’s son, who graduated from junior following last season.
Nanaimo-raised forward Matthew Wood of the Victoria Grizzlies, meanwhile, showed why he is being touted for the higher end of the 2023 NHL draft by being named BCHL second star of the opening week for his three goals, two assists and five points in two games. Ryan Tattle of the Coquitlam Express was third star with a goal and six points in two games.
“Our team played well and I was able to finish some chances and get off to a good start,” said Wood, who is committed to NCAA Div. 1 UConn.
It doesn’t seem the six-foot-four power forward has missed a beat since scoring five goals and adding eight assists for 13 points in 18 games as a 16-year-old for the Grizzlies in the pandemic-abbreviated 2021 BCHL bubble season.
“Hopefully, I can continue with the start I have had through the rest of the season,” said Wood, who was selected 41st overall in the second round of the 2020 WHL U-15 draft by the Regina Pats, but chose the BCHL/NCAA route.
“It was definitely a challenge moving from midget to junior. But I worked on getting bigger, faster and stronger over the summer and playing at a higher pace. I’m aware of getting back on the back check, because you don’t do that as much in summer hockey. In the offensive zone, it’s about finishing chances, especially when the games get tighter.”
The Grizzlies (2-0) open a five-game road swing tonight at the Cowichan Community Centre in Duncan against the Cowichan Valley Capitals (0-2). That will be followed by a another Island Division match-up Friday night against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (1-1) at Weyerhaeuser Arena in Port Alberni and a return visit to Duncan to play the Capitals on Saturday night.
The Grizzlies will then take part in the BCHL Showcase at the Chilliwack Coliseum, a one-stop shopping tournament for NHL and NCAA scouts, with games against the Prince George Spruce Kings on Oct. 21 and West Kelowna Warriors on Oct. 22.
The Grizzlies are back for a lone home game Oct. 28 against the Vernon Vipers at The Q Centre before embarking on another road trip through Salmon Arm and Merritt on Oct. 30 and Oct. 31.
Oddly, considering the Grizzlies’ heavy early travel schedule and that the Clippers are an Island Division opponent, Victoria is not in Nanaimo (2-0) until Jan. 12. So Wood will have to wait a while for the return to the city in which he grew up playing.
“That’s going to be special and I’m looking forward to it,” said Wood, as the Grizzlies prepared Tuesday in practice for their more immediate stretch of road games.
“But it will be just another game at the end of the day.”