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Grizzlies rookie sensation Matthew Wood ready for national spotlight

The only thing more gnarled than provincial highways is the B.C. Hockey League schedule, which announced 19 game changes Tuesday. They include nine postponements, two cancellations and eight games added.
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Victoria Grizzlies rookie Matthew Wood at The Q Centre. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The only thing more gnarled than provincial highways is the B.C. Hockey League schedule, which announced 19 game changes Tuesday. They include nine postponements, two cancellations and eight games added. Eight schedule changes were announced last week.

But 16-year-old rookie prodigy and BCHL scoring leader Matthew Wood of the Victoria Grizzlies flew above it all on his way to Ottawa among the top U-17 players in the country selected for the Capital City Challenge tournament where they’ll also take on the Canadian women’s national team from ­Friday through Dec. 1. The series is to help prepare the Canadian women for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

“It is going to be a great experience and opportunity to be with the best players my age in Canada,” said Wood, who departed Tuesday.

“And it’s just so cool to be playing our national women’s team before the Olympics. Hockey continues to grow. It’s for everyone.”

The 66 U-17 players have been split into three teams — Team Canada Red, White and Black — for the tournament. Wood will play for Team Red, which opens play Friday afternoon against Team Black. Team Red, coached by Kris Mallette of the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, will play the national women’s team on Saturday at 4 p.m. PT. All games will be played at TD Place Arena, home to the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s. The gold-medal game is slated for next Wednesday.

The six-foot-three forward Wood is averaging 2.17 points per game this season as he continues to move into the discussion for the 2023 NHL draft. And a few other discussions as well. The ­Nanaimo product is ­committed to UConn of NCAA Div. 1. Intriguingly, however, Wood’s Western Hockey League rights are held by the Regina Pats, who feature the consensus 2023 NHL draft top-prospect Connor ­Bedard from North ­Vancouver. Wood and Bedard billeted together in Grade 9 in a hockey academy in West Vancouver.

Wood said he is staying focused on his original plan.

“In the NCAA you still have seasons to develop after the NHL draft and there is value in that in playing against men,” he said.

Players graduate from the major-junior WHL at age 20, most top prospects leave at 19, while NCAA players can play to 22 or 23 years of age. But the Pats talk continues to swirl.

“I never feel too much ­pressure. I am going to do what’s best for me,” said Wood.

The Wood-less Grizzlies (11-6) go into tonight’s contest in Port Alberni against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs having won three consecutive games while the Bulldogs (8-6-2) have lost their last three. But Alberni Valley has always been hard to play at home in front of some of the best fans in the league and are again more than comfortable in ­Weyerhaeuser Arena at 5-1-1.

Both clubs are affected by the blizzard of schedule changes. The Grizzlies’ home date this Friday against Cranbrook is replaced by a game against the Bulldogs that night at The Q Centre. That makes the scheduled Jan. 2 game between the Grizzlies and Bulldogs ­redundant and is cancelled.

Meanwhile, Grizzlies ­captain Ellis Rickwood has been named among the initial 18 skaters that will play in the 3-on-3 outdoor tournament Jan. 15 in Penticton as part of the 60th ­anniversary BCHL all-star ­festivities. One player from each team was selected in a poll of the 18 BCHL coaches. The players selected from Island teams are Rickwood, Braden Blace of the Bulldogs, David Jacobs of the Cowichan Valley Capitals, Sean Donaldson of the Nanaimo ­Clippers and Dylan Finlay of the Powell River Kings. The remaining slots will be determined by a fan vote, beginning at 11 a.m. today at bchl.ca/fanvote.

ICE CHIPS: Selected by Hockey Canada to join Wood at the U-17 Capital City ­Challenge are WHL players Austin ­Zemlak of the Victoria Royals and ­Victoria product Ty ­Halaburda of the Vancouver Giants. ­Zemlak is injured and unable to ­participate, while Halaburda will suit up for Team Black. Micah Zandee-Hart of ­Saanichton is currently playing for the ­Canadian women’s team.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com