Longtime Grizzlies forward Westhaver in limbo thanks to COVID-19 fallout

Graduating Victoria Grizzlies captain Marty Westhaver is an example of how the myriad cancelled seasons and programs in sports are taking tolls on personal levels.

The COVID-19 pandemic was cited by the University of Alabama-Huntsville as the main reason for the school discontinuing its hockey program. Westhaver was recruited by the Chargers and headed to play NCAA Div. 1 hockey at UAH after a four-season career with his hometown Grizzlies in the B.C. Hockey League.

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“This is a shock and has not sunk in yet,” said Westhaver, upon receiving the news Friday.

He knows he is not alone in having his life upended by the pandemic.

“I’m not the only one affected by this. People have lost jobs and families are hurting. It’s not just myself,” Westhaver said.

UAH announced the axing of three sports programs Friday.

“Like our state and nation, UAH is experiencing enormous challenges as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the school said in a statement.

“The uncertainty of our future financial situation requires that we take additional steps to reduce expenses, including cutting some programs. After a comprehensive review of UAH’s athletic offerings and the associated long-term budget implications, we have made the difficult decision to discontinue the men’s hockey, men’s tennis, and women’s tennis programs.”

With some universities and colleges in the U.S. and Canada saying fall courses will be conducted online, it is a question if any student-athletes will even be on campus to play sports in the 2020-21 NCAA and U Sports seasons.

“Nobody is sure if there is even going to be [NCAA] hockey next season,” added Westhaver.

“It’s all an unknown.”

One thing that is known is that Westhaver won’t be playing his sport at Alabama-Huntsville.

“I am keeping my options open.”

That includes U Sports in Canada, he said.

Wherever Westhaver ends up, he comes highly recommended.

“He was a local guy and our leader and ambassador,” said Grizzlies head coach and GM Craig Didmon.

The BCHL had 182 players in 2019-20 committed to university and college hockey programs, 167 of them to NCAA Div. 1 teams.

Meanwhile, Didmon is confident of a BCHL season for 2020-21 if hockey in general is allowed to go ahead.

“We have a plan in place,” he said. “We have plans A, B, C and D in place. But we can’t do anything, of course, until Hockey Canada gives the go-ahead.”

All youth and junior hockey is currently suspended.

“Hockey Canada and its members are diligently working on a multifaceted return-to-hockey plan that will happen when, and only when, provincial and territorial governments and health authorities deem it safe to do so,” said Hockey Canada, in an open letter to Canadians last week.

ICE CHIPS: The Grizzlies have hired an assistant general manager. Although young, 17-year-old Auzzie Chambers is a multi-faceted sportsman specializing in analytics. He was assistant GM and director of scouting for the Victoria Cougars of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League. He will hold the same titles with the Grizzlies. Chambers is also a lawn-bowling prodigy and was the top North American draft pick this year for the $500,000 Ultimate Bowls Championship in Australia, the sport’s biggest event. Chambers is a bright prospect for the Canadian team for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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