French Connection ready to lead Grizzlies as training camp opens

The Victoria Grizzlies are re-awakening the echoes from the 1970s Buffalo Sabres with a French Connection of their own.

Quebecers Isack Bandu from Notre-Dame-de-l’lle and Andrew Amousse of Laval begin Grizzlies training camp, which opens today at The Q Centre, as 20-year-old team leaders entering their third seasons with the B.C. Hockey League club.

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The two are roommates who converse to each other in French, but on the ice, it’s all about the language of hockey. Both are committed to NCAA Div. 1 schools with Bandu headed next year to Northern Michigan, a team with a solid pedigree of 21 NHL alumni and six Olympians, and Amousse to American ­International College, which last season won its conference to make the NCAA tournament.

“They both came across the country to play here and it was a culture shock for them to some extent. But once they found their way, they became confident players and ready for college,” said Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon.

“Both have developed so much over the last couple of years. We are are really counting on them this season to carry that leadership role and be impact players.”

Didmon said Bandu and Amousse will both wear the A’s this season as assistant captains but did not divulge who will be the team captain.

“I know I have to be a leader and show the younger guys and help them get to where they want to be,” said Bandu.

“It feels like just last week I was a Junior A rookie myself. People always told me junior will go by quickly but I didn’t really appreciate that until now when I’m 20.”

The six-foot-one, 190-pound rearguard takes pride in being able to play both ends of the rink and had a goal and 12 points in 52 games in 2019-20 and two goals and 14 points in just 14 games in the pandemic-abbreviated ­2020-21 season.

“I’m still learning, especially in how to be more efficient and consistent,” he said.

The six-foot-three Amousse had 13 goals and 22 points in 2019-20 and six goals and nine points in 13 games in the truncated 2020-21 campaign.

“I’ve learned a lot since my rookie season and feel I’m ready to step up in a leadership role to teach the younger players about working hard and playing hard,” he said.

His size is a great asset as a power forward.

“Especially in the corner ­battles and also crashing the net,” said Amousse.

“I can open up the game for other guys. I’m really excited to finally have a real season again.”

Bandu and Amousse are both out of the prep-school Stanstead Spartans in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. That’s proven a reliable pipeline to Victoria with previous Grizzlies players and brothers Charlie and Alex Campbell, the latter a 2019 third-round Nashville Predators NHL draft pick currently in the NCAA at Clarkson University.

“The BCHL is a good league and Victoria a great place to play and I feel I made the right decision,” said Bandu.

There are 64 players in training camp, broken into teams Benn, Barrie, Bozak and Newhook named after Grizzlies alumni in the NHL.

LOOSE PUCKS: The Grizzlies will hold training camp sessions all day today and Saturday at The Q Centre, leading into a home-and-home exhibition set with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs beginning Sunday night at The Q Centre, and wrapping up ­Monday night in Port Alberni.

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