These are heady times for the Victoria Grizzlies.
That will be evident tonight when the projected best Grizzlies team in several years watches as the No. 16 and No. 8 jerseys of NHLers Jamie and Jordie Benn are retired before the home-opener at The Q Centre.
“We want our current and future players to look up at those jerseys and be inspired,” said Grizzlies president Lance Black.
If that isn’t enough, the matchup itself against the annual powerhouse Penticton Vees is marquee. The Vees, led by NCAA North Dakota-bound NHL prospect Massimo Rizzo, were ranked No. 1 and the Grizzlies No. 11 in the Canadian Junior A Hockey League pre-season top-20 poll.
“We look upon Penticton as the type of organization we want to be,” said Black, after watching his club pick up a 5-1 victory Friday over the Bulldogs in Port Alberni.
“We believe we’ve climbed a mountain to get back to this level, with a roster that has four players on the NHL-draft watch list [including 2019 projected first-rounder Alex Newhook] and an NHL draft such as [2018 New York Rangers seventh-round selection] Riley Hughes.”
Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn and Montreal Canadiens blue-liner Jordie Benn are opening NHL training camps this weekend, so were part of jersey-retirement pre-ceremony held at The Q Centre in July.
Jamie Benn, gold medallist for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, played one season for the Grizzlies but it was an impactful one on several levels as he scored 42 goals with 65 points in 53 regular-season games, adding five goals and nine points in 11 playoff games in 2006-07.
“There were lots of good times here,” said the 2014-15 Art Ross Trophy winner as NHL points scoring champion, during the July pre-ceremony.
“That was a fun team with my linemates Tyler Bozak [now of the St. Louis Blues after nine seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs] and Garry Nunn [who went onto a pro career in the ECHL, AHL and Europe].”
The breakout numbers allowed Jamie Benn to get noticed by the Stars, who selected him as the steal of the 2007 NHL draft as the 129th pick in the fifth round.
“Looking back now, Jamie could have easily gone first overall,” said brother Jordie.
Nobody would argue with that assessment. Or of the one that shows Jordie Benn, in return, being a study in perseverance. The six-foot-two Jordie played three seasons on the Grizzlies’ blue line and graduated as captain of the team in 2007-08. Yet, unheralded and undrafted, he went through the minor pros, starting in the ECHL with the hometown Victoria Salmon Kings, to so far play 392 NHL regular-season games with the Stars and Canadiens.
“My dad [former world and Pan Am Games gold-medallist softball player Randy Benn] said you have a dream, so go out and chase it,” said Jordie.
So it’s only fitting that parents Randy and Heather Benn will be on hand to drop the opening puck tonight.
“Jordie and Jamie are so honoured by this [jersey-retirement] tribute,” said Heather Benn.
“They remember where they came from and all those people who helped them along the way.”
Added dad Randy: “Heather and I remember coming to the Grizzlies games. It was such good hockey and fun to watch. The boys truly appreciate this honour.”
Heather said, with a chuckle, Jordie phoned to remind his parents about tonight’s game, as if there was any chance they would forget something like this.
ON THE ICE: The Grizzlies got a natural hat-trick in the second period from newcomer Alex Campbell out of Montreal to beat the Bulldogs before 1,496 fans at Weyerhaeuser Arena. Brother Charlie Campbell contributed three assists for Victoria. Nico Somerville and and Brady MacDonald scored the other Grizzlies goals, while Julian Benner of Alberni Valley ended Kurtis Chapman’s shutout bid at 12:17 of the third period. The Grizzlies move to 1-1 on the season, the ’Dogs drop to 2-1.