Newcomer Alex DiPaolo helps awaken Victoria Grizzlies

Alex DiPaolo has a new lease on life, and he’s making the most of it.

After his junior hockey career got stuck in neutral with the perennial B.C. Hockey League powerhouse Penticton Vees and he mutually de-committed from his NCAA scholarship with UMass-Amherst, DiPaolo wondered how he was going to get back to the days when he racked up 48 points in 53 games with the Coquitlam Express last season.

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Then along came the Victoria Grizzlies.

And the 6-foot-1, 190-pound centre from Oakville, Ont., suddenly has four points in his first two games with Victoria, who have rolled off three straight victories.

“It’s been a great first week,” said the 19-year-old DiPaolo, who, along with defenceman Colton Kitchen, was acquired from the Vees for veteran blue-liner Nico Somerville.

“I mean, you can’t ask for a better place to live — I’m wearing shorts in December. The city is awesome and the team is playing really well right now so I couldn’t ask for a better situation.”

DiPaolo had four goals and six assists in 29 games for the Vees this season, after Penticton traded for him last summer. But with a deep group of forwards in the Okanagan, DiPaolo felt maybe it wasn’t the best fit. Now he’s on the Grizzlies’ top line, alongside captain Marty Westhaver and hotshot 18-year-old rookie Cody Monds who leads the team in scoring with 29 points in 32 games. The trio helped Victoria beat the Alberni Valley Bulldogs last Sunday at The Q Centre, a team the Grizzlies will face again on home ice tonight.

“We just seemed to gel right away,” DiPaolo said of his new linemates. “Marty is fast with a great shot and Monds just has a ton of skill with the puck so they’re fun to play with.

“I was a little surprised Victoria traded for me, but things just weren’t working out for me in Penticton the way I had hoped, and when the Grizzlies came calling, I knew Vincent [Nardone] was here so I called him and he said it’s a great place to play and great organization with good, young players, and he was right. I’m loving it here.”

It didn’t matter DiPaolo was going from the division-leading Vees to the Grizzlies (11-21), who remain last in the Island Division.

“Yes, this team has dug itself a bit of a hole, but we’ve strung together three straight wins now and, from what I’ve seen, we’ve got the talent to keep winning so I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”

After having an NCAA scholarship in his back pocket since he was 16, DiPaolo is now having to start the process of talking to schools and playing in front of scouts all over again.

“I committed [to UMass-Amherst] back when I was 16, and in hindsight that was maybe a little too young for me to do that, so I recently de-committed and it was a mutual decision with the school so there’re no hard feelings on either side. And now, together with coming here, I just look at it as one big, fresh start and I’m looking to make the most of it.”

Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon knew he needed some help at centre, and DiPaolo fit the bill.

“Alex brings a lot of tangibles to the table,” said Didmon, whose club has won four straight home games.

“He’s a proven offensive player in our league and he showed that last weekend. He is also a veteran presence who brings immediate confidence to our [locker] room. His size and physical play also adds an ingredient we needed in our lineup.”

Now, the Grizzlies face the Bulldogs (14-12-2) for the second straight game.

“I’m sure they won’t be happy with losing the last game to us so we expect them to really come out hard and we’ll be prepared for that and focus on our game and we should be all right,” added DiPaolo.

Following tonight’s game, the Grizzlies get an off-day Saturday before hosting the Surrey Eagles on Sunday afternoon at The Q Centre.

LOOSE PUCKS: The Grizzlies will again be missing several key players this weekend. Defenceman Reid Lindsay has been added to the lengthy Victoria injured list that already includes goaltender Liam Souliere, blue-liners Brady MacDonald and James Davenport, as well as forwards Eddie Yan and Trevor Bishop. And now the Grizzlies will have to make do without veteran forward Henri Schreifels for two games after he was suspended for multiple goaltender interference penalties. The good news for the Grizzlies is veteran forward Nardone is expected back from injury tonight.

bdrewry@timescolonist.com

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