Victoria Grizzlies, Powell River Kings set to do it all again

It is the mantra of the Victoria Grizzlies that they are more than just the Big Five who soak up much of the media and fan attention around the B.C. Hockey League club.

The Island Division regular-season champions know they need to be deeper than that as they enter the second stage of the playoffs, beginning a best-of-seven series Friday and Saturday at The Q Centre against the Island second-seed Powell River Kings.

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The Grizzlies swept the fourth-seed Alberni Valley Bulldogs in the first round while the Kings dispatched the third-seed Nanaimo Clippers in five games to meet in the second round for the third consecutive year.

The Grizzlies’ roster includes four players ranked for the 2019 NHL draft, including projected first-rounder Alex Newhook and projected second-to -third-rounder Alex Campbell, as well as Carter Berger and Jeremie Bucheler, who are projected for the late rounds of the draft. And there’s also high-scoring winger Riley Hughes, a 2018 draft pick of the New York Rangers.

There is more to his club than the pro prospects, said Victoria GM and head coach Craig Didmon.

“We have four good lines and six solid defencemen,” he said.

“We come after you in wave after wave.”

Case-in-point are forwards Kyle McGrath and Marty Westhaver, who had six and five points, respectively, in the opening-round sweep of Alberni Valley. Cam Thompson and Ryan Nolan are other largely unsung forwards who provide value up front.

“We have a lot of types of forwards who can do a lot of different things,” said Didmon.

“McGrath plays a 200-foot game and Thompson is a handy player to have up front.”

While much of the spotlight on Victoria’s defence falls on NHL draft-ranked blue-liners Berger and Bucheler, it is players like veteran Nico Somerville who provide the quality depth on the unit.

“We have six defencemen who can all do a job, and who all know what their roles are, and who perform those roles to the best of our abilities,” said Somerville, a native of Port Alberni who scored three goals in the four games against the Bulldogs.

“Even though we have [NHL] ranked guys, they look up to us older guys. This is the tightest group I have played with.”

And this is a guy who has been around with the Grizzlies. Like Westhaver, this is Somerville’s third consecutive go-around against the Kings in the second round of the playoffs. Victoria won in 2017 to advance to the third round but lost to Powell River last year.

“We have a long history with the Kings, some of us longer than others,” said Somerville.

“Two years ago we had a good run and they couldn’t stop us. Last year, they got payback.”

Somerville knows return payback for the Grizzlies this year won’t be easy, despite Victoria’s top seeding in the division and home-ice advantage. The Grizzlies had that last year, as well, and Newhook too.

“The Kings are a skilled, hard-working team that is also physical,” Somerville said.

“We have to stick to our game.”

Somerville’s personal role, as he sees it, is to: “Take pride in taking care of the defensive zone, make that first outlet pass, and also step up offensively if a seam opens up.”

That style has led to respect and accolades among his teammates, but not yet among NCAA scouts. While Berger is committed to UConn and Bucheler to Northeastern, Somerville is still waiting.

That’s why he is overwhelmingly leaning to returning next season to the Grizzlies as an over-age 20-year-old.

“I’ve talked to a few NCAA schools, so I feel another year with the Grizzlies [is his best option].”

The Victoria BCHL club would love to welcome him back for a fourth season.

“Nico is one of those silent guys who just goes about his job,” said Didmon.

“He really stepped it up to another level in the first-round series against Alberni Valley.”

Having grown up in the Alberni Valley, Somerville described the first-round victories over the Bulldogs this year and last season as “special” on so many levels.

Newhook, meanwhile, was rated No. 12 overall for the 2019 NHL draft in the latest Sportsnet rankings released this week. The native of St. John’s, N.L., led the BCHL in scoring in the regular season with 102 points and leads Victoria in playoff scoring with eight points.

But there are asterisks on two other top scorers for the upcoming series. The Grizzlies’ Campbell, named BCHL player of the week after recording three goals and three assists for six points in the first two games of the Alberni Valley series, suffered a broken nose and played only the first period in Game 3 and did not dress for Game 4. Campbell will play with a full shield for upcoming games.

Powell River forward Ryan Brushett, second in BCHL scoring behind Newhook this season with 84 points, will miss Friday's series opener as he sits out the final game of a three-game suspension for a match penalty for spearing.

The Kings displayed their own depth by closing out the final two games of the Nanaimo series without their star 20-year-old forward Brushett in the lineup.

Levi Glasman picked up the pace for the Kings with six goals and nine points in the five games of the series against the Clippers.

“This is going to be a tough series,” said Didmon.

“We hope to feed off our play in the opening round.”

Games 3 and 4 are Monday and Tuesday in Powell River.

The Cowichan Valley Capitals are the other Island Division team still alive following the BCHL 16th-seed Caps’ stunning opening-round playoff upset over the Interior Division-champion Penticton Vees.

The Capitals open their second-round series Friday and Saturday in Wenatchee, Washington, against the defending BCHL-champion Wild. Games 3 and 4 are Tuesday and Wednesday at the Stick in Duncan.

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