The first week or two of regular-season hockey is often about addressing simmering resentments or settling old scores from the previous spring’s playoffs.
Few fans in the Alberni Valley will soon forget last season’s Bulldogs collapse in the first round of the B.C. Hockey League playoffs as the Victoria Grizzlies rallied from a three-game deficit in their best-of-seven series.
“The emotions from last year will probably carry over for them,” said Grizzlies second-year forward Ryan Nolan, about tonight’s game at Weyerhaeuser Arena in Port Alberni.
Just as they might have in the Grizzlies’ season opener last week in Powell River against the Kings, who eliminated Victoria in the second round of the 2018 playoffs.
“It was evident we’ve got some learning to do,” said Nolan, named one of three Grizzlies assistant captains this season.
He was referring to the Kings’ 5-3 victory to negate Victoria’s early 3-0 lead: “We have to learn to play with the lead and not get complacent. But I felt we played hard all the way through, but just didn’t get the breaks in the back end of that game. We have to stick to our game plan and not get comfortable with leads or get too low if we fall behind.”
Nolan is a physical presence for the Grizzlies, with coaches now looking for him to augment that aspect of his game with scoring numbers beyond his seven goals and 17 points in 47 games last season. Nolan scored in the opener in Powell River while also accumulating six minutes in penalties.
Nolan is expected to play this season on a line with newcomer brothers Charles and Alex Campbell from Montreal. Alex Campbell is committed to Clarkson of the NCAA for 2020 and drawing interest for the 2019 NHL draft. He did not play in Powell River because paperwork was still being sorted out with Hockey Canada. Once the line is whole, it could be one to watch, with Nolan providing the grit and physicality and the Campbells the speed.
“I am looking forward to it because the brothers are so quick and fast and really get after the puck,” said Nolan.
Nolan is a six-foot-one, 185-pound native of Winnetka, Illinois, who grew up in the suburban Chicago community, where he was spotted by Victoria GM and head coach Craig Didmon playing for Lake Forest Academy. That program has proven to be a pipeline for the Grizzlies.
As an over-age 20-year-old, Nolan will be skating this season to land an NCAA scholarship, but says he isn’t putting any undue pressure on himself.
“I’m not worrying about that. I am just focusing on playing, and playing well, and it will come,” he said.
A big moment in that quest is next week when NCAA and pro-hockey scouts gather for the one-stop shopping trip that is the Bauer Showcase, featuring most of the BCHL teams playing at Prospera Centre in Chilliwack.
“That’s a date you circle on the calendar,” said Nolan.
Yet, it also needs to be treated as just two more games on the schedule as Victoria will face the Merritt Centennials and Salmon Arm Silverbacks in Chilliwack.
“You have to stick to playing your own game, no matter who is watching in the stands,” said Nolan.
Alberni Valley is 2-0 following a 3-2 shootout win over the Cowichan Valley Capitals at the Island Savings Centre in Duncan and 2-1 victory over the Clippers at Frank Crane Arena in Nanaimo.
Tonight will be the second of three home openers in which the Grizzlies will play, including their own Saturday night at The Q Centre against the Penticton Vees, on a night in which the numbers of Grizzlies alumni and NHL-playing brothers Jamie and Jordie Benn will be retired.
Of competing in three consecutive home openers, Nolan noted: “There’s pre-puck-drop hype at the beginning, which is fun, but then you have to focus on the game and your job.”