Geoff Grimwood is a rarity as one of the few people to be hired for a new job amid the pandemic.
“These are anxious times, but we fully expect to play next season although we have to be open minded that it might look different than in the past,” said Grimwood, who on Monday was named the new GM and head coach of the Cowichan Valley Capitals of the B.C. Hockey League.
“You just have to roll with the punches during this unusual time. The rhythm of the off-season has changed but as the summer progresses we hope to get back closer to normal life.”
The Capitals were poised to play the Nanaimo Clippers in the Island Division final in March when the remainder of the BCHL playoffs were cancelled due to COVID-19.
“There is a sense of unfinished business but it is happening to everybody,” said Grimwood.
Grimwood, the Victoria Royals second assistant coach under Dave Lowry for three seasons in the Western Hockey League, replaces Mike Vandekamp at the helm in Cowichan Valley. The veteran mentor Vandekamp departed to coach and manage the Grande Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League after spending the past two seasons turning the fortunes of the Capitals following seven seasons in Nanaimo with the Clippers. A massive playoff upset by Cowichan Valley of top-seed Penticton in the 2019 playoffs was followed by a 35-16-7 record and second place in the Island Division in 2019-20. The Caps then beat Powell River in five games in the opening round of the BCHL playoffs before the COVID-19 cancellation struck.
“I have a lot of respect for Mike Vandekamp and the work he did in building the Capitals program the last two seasons. It’s my job to build on that foundation,” said Grimwood.
“The Cowichan Valley is known for its blue-collar work ethic and the fans want to see that reflected in their team. We will be that hard-working team. We are looking for specific kinds of kids with high character traits.”
It has been a circuitous route back to the Island for the Racquet Club product who played in the BCHL for the Victoria Salsa.
The 39-year-old Grimwood started his BCHL coaching career as assistant under Kent Lewis in Powell River when the Kings made back-to-back appearances in the league final and won the regular-season championship in 2011-12. He was also head coach and GM of the West Kelowna Warriors of the BCHL for a season and GM and head coach of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League-champion Peninsula Panthers and assistant coach of the Victoria Cougars. His VIJHL stint included three league championships, one Fred Cyclone Taylor Cup B.C. championship and a Cyclone Taylor Cup runner-up campaign.
Grimwood was also GM and head coach of the Kindersley Klippers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League for three seasons. That is where the value of the local junior team in small-town Canadian culture really hit home for him.
“The Humboldt Broncos were our closest rivals and we knew them well,” he said, of the 2018 bus crash that killed 16 Broncos team members.
Grimwood said he learned a lot about the connection of hockey and community on the prairies. He began this past season as GM and head coach of Swan Valley of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, but resigned Dec. 6 after leading the Stampeders to a 17-10-2 record. He concluded the season as assistant coach of the Winkler Flyers of the MJHL.
“Selfishly, I’d love him to stay, but I’m happy we got to be a part of his coaching journey,” said Flyers head coach Kelvin Cech.
“[Grimwood] was a huge help for us down the stretch. The plan now is to beat him in a [Canadian Junior A championship] at some point.”
Grimwood has certainly packed a lot of suitcases and a lot of coaching and managing into a fairly short span of time.
“I was a very young career-minded coach in what is not an easy profession and I tried to learn from every coach, GM and owner I served with,” said Grimwood.
He mentioned Lewis in Powell River, Rylan Ferster in West Kelowna, Jackson Penney on the Peninsula, Lowry, Royals assistant GM Jeff Harris and former Royals GM Cam Hope as key mentors along his path.
“Being able to return home to Vancouver Island and coach again in the BCHL means a lot to me. I couldn’t be happier,” Grimwood said.
Grimwood has been signed to a multi-year contract by the Capitals. The club said assistant coach Dan Whiteford and goaltending coach Chris Carter will be returning.