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Victoria Grizzlies’ new owners send GM-coach Bestwick packing

The writing was on the wall when Bill Bestwick was not involved in the Victoria Grizzlies’ news conference on Monday regarding additions of new owners to the B.C. Hockey League club.
Nanaimo Coun. Bill Bestwick says he's looking forward to working as a coach for the St. Louis Blues

The writing was on the wall when Bill Bestwick was not involved in the Victoria Grizzlies’ news conference on Monday regarding additions of new owners to the B.C. Hockey League club.

New team director of operations Pete Zubersky relieved the veteran general manager and head coach of his duties Tuesday afternoon after a three-hour meeting.

Citing business decisions, Zubersky — who came on as a part owner on Monday with John Wilson, Kirby Yeats, Reza Binab and Don Robinson — opted to let Bestwick go now and not at season’s end when his contract runs out.

Collectively, with assistant GM and associate coach Craig Didmon (who took over as head coach), Bestwick was 52-21-3-12 over just more than one and a half seasons, so it comes at a remarkable time. The Grizzlies were second overall last season and were tied for third overall entering Tuesday’s play.

“I agree with you,” Zubersky said. “This was a tough move to make. Our organization had to show some courage to make the move. We understand that it will not be met well in all quarters, but it is the business of hockey.”

And that’s the rub.

Attendance is down across the league and in the Western Hockey League. Bestwick’s ticket was likely the largest and he took a hit, warranted or not.

“Bill Bestwick is a quality coach, one of the better coaches in the league,” said Zubersky. “The product in the dressing room and on the ice we have no qualms with, at all. Unfortunately, there is another side to hockey and that’s the business side.

“The Victoria Grizzlies have been struggling to remain a viable business, a viable entity in the BCHL. We felt we had to make several moves and this is one of them.”

Having Bestwick commute from Nanaimo to his hockey job is obviously something the new group felt needed to be rectified.

“It’s crucial for us and it’s our business plan that we become deeply entrenched in the Western Communities and in Greater Victoria. ... It is common sense that it is a little tougher when your coach is from out of the area,” said Zubersky. “Craig is from the area. He fits like a glove in what we’re hoping to achieve, become very community-minded, and based. Moving forward we think hat’s the successful model.”

But this scenario is likely not done yet. There are still financial implications that need to be solved. Bestwick, who did come to Tuesday night’s game, but would not be interviewed, did send this reply to a text checking on his condition earlier in the day: “I am fine. Totally disrespected,” he said of his feelings in a brief exchange.

“Bill was very disappointed. He would have loved to finish the year, but this happens at the junior level across the country every day,” said Zubersky, who confirmed, in a round-about way, that Bestwick had not been paid in some time. What he’s owed was not made public, but will likely be fought over.

“We met today for close to three hours. Nothing is clear,” said Zubersky. “Bill is owed some money and hopefully in the next while, we’ll come to an agreement on what that number should be.

“On Friday, I will pay his salary through to the end of December. Then we will have some more discussion on what other remuneration is due. What he feels is due and what we feel is due.”

Zubersky would not say when the ex-GM/head coach was last paid.

“I don’t think this will be a legal issue in any way,” Zubersky stressed.

“The timing, in my mind, was right today because the new ownership group took over and we had to set a new direction immediately. [Monday] and today was the start of the new direction.”

And the end of Bestwick’s run as the boss.

IN THE DEN: Public relations director Tali Campbell was also let go. ... Didmon worked the bench with Scott Hawthorne on Tuesday night against Nanaimo. Didmon becomes the eighth Grizzlies head coach in the last seven years.