Bill Bestwick is always quick with a quip.
Asked about his starting netminder in Friday night’s 3-3 tie in pre-season play against the Cowichan Valley Capitals, the Victoria Grizzlies’ general manager and head coach said: “Alec Dillon? He’s the one who disappears when he turns sideways.”
At six-foot-five, the 17-year-old — who is set to join fellow Victoria product Nic Renyard as the B.C. Hockey League club’s goalies for the season — stands out in the crease. But at just 170 pounds, he can resemble a goalpost when he makes that sideways turn.
Not to suggest that holds the Grade 12 student at Belmont Secondary back. Far from it.
“He’s a big boy who moves very well for that size, at 17,” said Grizzlies’ goalie coach James Gaertner. “He’s battling a lot harder than he did last year [at camp], and he’s looking pretty good right now.”
After his release from camp last season, Dillon joined the Westshore Wolves for their inaugural Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League season.
“He had a reasonable season there,” Gaertner said. “The team struggled at times, and he was a 16-year-old playing junior hockey. Adjusting to that was a big step for him. But playing at the Junior B level, as opposed to the midget level, was a big boost for him, and it helped him mature as a person.”
In 24 games with the Wolves, he had a 3.96 goals against average and a .890 save percentage during the regular season and similar 3.90 GAA and .892 percentage in three playoff games.
“I think a key for him is maturity and strength, of course,” Bestwick said. “As James alluded to, his compete level is good. In his crease, he’ll have a lot better shooters to face more consistently here, so his compete level will have to elevate with that. But he has all the tools to become a good goalie.”
Adjustments will need to be made as the BCHL regular season nears.
On Friday, Dillon made 24 saves in the tie. One goal was deflected, and on another he was knocked over by his own defenceman.
Dante Hahn, Stean Burzan and Brandon Egli scored for the Grizzlies, while Colton Kehler, Steen Cooper and Brayden Gelsinger replied for Cowichan. Gerry, Leo and Myles Fitzgerald sat out for Victoria.
“The guys are faster, they shoot harder, they’re stronger,” said Dillon, who is another Juan de Fuca product who is making the progression. “It’s a big jump, but it’s the same age group as I faced last year, and the same attitude. I’m getting used to the speed, and the shots are getting off quicker.”
With which his goalie coach concurs.
“It’s a little quicker at this level,” Gaertner said. “But I saw him at Team Pacific Cup last summer, and that’s the high end of talent in his same age group, and he stood out there as well, so I think he’s ready.”
The two teams go again tonight at 7 in Duncan.