The rejuvenated Langley Rivermen, historically a mid-pack team in the B.C. Hockey League, are suddenly the deal coming into a 2 p.m. matinee today at the Q Centre against the Victoria Grizzlies.
The most famous Rivermen alumnus, NHLer Dante Fabbro of the Nashville Predators, left to find greater fame in the BCHL with the Penticton Vees before winning gold and silver with Canada at the world junior championships.
But these Rivermen aim to stick, and they lead the Coastal Conference at 11-3-3, following Friday’s 4-2 victory over the Cowichan Valley Capitals in Duncan and heading into Saturday night’s game in progress at Port Alberni against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (10-6-2).
“They [Rivermen] are a surprise but they are the measuring bar right now and will be a good test for us,” said Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon.
The Grizzlies are 11-8 following Friday night’s 4-2 loss to Alberni Valley at the Q Centre as the Bulldogs swept the back-to-back set between the clubs.
“The Bulldogs are a tough, good, smart team,” said Didmon.
The Grizzlies face another one today in the Rivermen, despite that Langley only has one player committed to an NCAA Div. 1 U.S. collegiate team compared with 10 each for the Bulldogs and Nanaimo Clippers, nine for the Grizzlies and a league-high 15 for the Vees.
That advantage will be negated today with several of those players out for Victoria. Grizzlies captain Ellis Rickwood, committed to Clarkson University, is suspended for one game due to a tripping major penalty assessed to him Friday night against the Bulldogs.
Leading-defenceman Isack Bandu, committed to Northern Michigan, was injured Friday and is not expected back before Christmas.
High-scoring Connor Eddy is also out to injury.
The Grizzlies will also be missing 16-year-old rookie prodigy Matthew Wood. The Nanaimo product, committed to UConn and surely headed for selection in the 2023 NHL draft, is in Ottawa with the top Under-17 players in the country.
They are there for the Capital City Challenge tournament through Wednesday to take on the Canadian women’s national team to help it prepare for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
The depleted Grizzlies’ depth chart is about to be tested.
“This is an opportunity for other guys to step up,” said Didmon.