For the Grizzlies, the puck stops here: Newcomers vie for crease job

The crease suddenly went bare when the 2018-19 B.C. Hockey League season ended for the Victoria Grizzlies in the Coastal Conference playoff final.

Kurtis Chapman aged out of junior and will be in the U Sports Canada West conference with Mount Royal University, while 19-year-old Zack Rose fulfils his NCAA Div. 1 recruiting commitment and plays at Bowling Green University.

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The recruits to fill those goaltending slots — Liam Souliere and Joe Howe — have been stating their cases this week during the Grizzlies’ training camp at Juan de Fuca Arena.

“They played in a 1-0 scrimmage duel last night, so I am very happy with the goaltending,” Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon said.

Souliere is 20 and in his final season of junior. The native of Blainville, Que., is an NCAA Div. 1 recruit of the Penn State Nittany Lions and was named the Central Canada Hockey League goaltender of the year last season with the Brockville Braves.

“Souliere has a lot of experience,” Didmon said.

That includes internationally for Canada East at the World Junior A Challenge last year in Bonnyville, Alta., and backstopping the Ottawa Capitals to the 2018 junior club World Cup in Sochi, Russia.

The six-foot-two Howe, meanwhile, is 18 and was the team MVP in backstopping Upper Canada College of Toronto to the semifinals of the national high school championships last season.

Howe brings a big upside in many ways, including size and athleticism, Didmon said.

The 2017 major-junior OHL draft pick of the Barrie Colts is more interested in the Junior A and NCAA route, so he decided to head west to pursue it.

It didn’t hurt the Victoria team’s cause in recruiting that three Grizzlies were selected in the 2019 NHL draft: Alex Newhook 16th overall in the first round to the Colorado Avalanche, Alex Campbell 65th overall in the third round to the Nashville Predators and defenceman Carter Berger 106th overall in the fourth round to the Florida Panthers.

There are connections aplenty as Howe played with Grizzlies forward Eddie Yan at Upper Canada College and against Newhook and Campbell in the Toronto high school league.

“Both Howe and Souliere are very capable goalies and will fill in well [for the departed Chapman and Rose],” Grizzlies president Lance Black said.

“Overall, we won’t have the name notoriety [Newhook, Campbell, Berger], but I think we are a deeper team than last season.”

Black, however, said a big name is unlikely to be seen in Victoria colours. The situation changed dramatically when the Grizzlies’ prize blueline recruit, Jayden Struble of Rhode Island, was selected 46th overall in the second round of the 2019 NHL draft in June by the Montreal Canadiens.

The idea had been that Struble would spend his first year out of St. Sebastian’s High School in Needham, Massachussets, with the Grizzlies this season before joining Northeastern University of the NCAA next season. That changed with Struble going so high in the draft.

The push is on to get him to Northeastern as a true freshman this season because his overall college playing career will be limited if the Habs want him to turn pro soon. Struble did not report to the Grizzlies’ camp this week.

“I don’t think he’s coming and the clock is ticking,” Black said. “There is a faint hope, but we are preparing for not having him.”

Training camp at Juan de Fuca Arena this week has featured 45 skaters and four goalies in scrimmages among Team Barrie, Team O’Byrne, Team Newhook, Team Bozak and Team Benn Brothers.

The teams were named in honour of the Grizzlies’ most famous alumni.

Camp concludes with the annual Black-White game tonight at 7 p.m.

The first two exhibition games are against the Nanaimo Clippers, on Friday at 5 p.m. at Juan de Fuca Arena, and Saturday at noon in the Harbour City.

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