Blake Wood looks to stake his claim to the Grizzlies' crease

Blake Wood earned the nickname Little Luongo when he started playing goal as a five-year-old in the Nanaimo minor hockey system. Now at six-foot-three, he is simply Big Blake.

“I don’t really model myself after anybody,” said Wood, when asked about his nickname-sake Roberto Luongo. That was just a nickname given to him by others. Although not at the trajectory of the former Vancouver Canucks goaltender, Wood’s crease prowess none-the-less became evident as he made all the rep teams for his age group while coming up in the Harbour City. It led to the Yale Hockey Academy in Abbotsford and the Nanaimo Buccaneers of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League and Cowichan Valley Capitals of the B.C. Hockey League. Acquired in a trade last season, Wood is set to take over starting duties for the Victoria Grizzlies of the BCHL.

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Wood played much of the early season last year for the Grizzlies before touted Liam Souliere, now in the NCAA with the Penn State Nittany Lions, returned from injury after Christmas. Then it was time for Wood to bid his time behind the graduated 20-year-old Souliere from Blainville, Que. Now is 19-year-old Wood’s time in the starting slot, backed up by six-foot-two, 19-year-old newcomer Justin Easter from the Hamilton Kilty B’s of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. If going with Souliere as the starter last season proves anything, it’s that Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon values age and experience above all else in the crease. Wood brings that metric this season. The starting role is his to lose. The Grizzlies showed their faith in Wood by keeping him, and trading NCAA Cornell Big Red-bound Joe Howe to the Coquitlam Express, after Souliere returned to the roster from injury last season.

“Experience plays a role but you have to earn your playing time,” said Wood.

“Justin [Easter] is a great guy. It’s going to be a good battle all season.”

Wood was selected by the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL bantam draft but turned his back on major-junior.

“Kamloops was goalie-heavy at the time and I decided the NCAA route was probably best for me,” he said.

This BCHL season, as abbreviated as it is amid the pandemic, is a big one for Wood as he pursues a U.S. university NCAA athletic scholarship: “It’s always in the back of your mind, but if it happens, it happens. All I can do is go out and be the best I can.”

Wood has played three of the four Island Cup games so far for Victoria, including a herculean 49 stops on 51 shots in a 2-1 overtime loss last weekend to the Clippers in Nanaimo. Easter earned his first win in Grizzlies colours by stopping 26 of 27 shots in a 3-1 decision over the Clippers the following night at the Q Centre. The BCHL Island Cup pre-season tournament continues tonight with Victoria playing the Bulldogs in Port Alberni before the Grizzlies meet the Cowichan Valley Capitals in Duncan on Saturday.

“It’s pre-season but we are treating the Island Cup like a playoff tournament,” said Wood.

The BCHL regular season is tentatively set to begin Dec. 1.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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