What path to take is the question that must be answered by every elite hockey player entering junior. Will it be major-junior or Junior A/NCAA? Two 16-year-olds blue-chippers, both drafted out of bantam by the major-junior Western Hockey League, have chosen Junior A in what is a coup for the Victoria Grizzlies of the B.C. Hockey League.
Matthew Wood is a six-foot-three forward from Nanaimo touted for the 2023 NHL draft, selected 41st overall in the second round of the 2020 WHL draft by the Regina Pats. Hoyt Stanley is a mobile six-foot blueliner from West Vancouver, taken 81st overall in the fourth round in 2020 by the WHL’s Everett Silvertips.
“I like that you get a few extra years in college to play and get an education,” Wood said of his decision to join the Grizzlies. “It is the right choice for me, but it might not be for every player.”
There is no one route that suits all.
“This allows me to develop as a player and pursue my academic goals,” said Stanley.
Both players had expert sounding boards within their own families. Stanley’s dad, Graham Stanley, played pro hockey in the AHL, ECHL and IHL. Sister Kaiden Stanley plays field hockey in the NCAA Pac-12 for Cal-Berkeley and is on the NextGen Canadian junior national team. Mom Kyra Stanley was internationally ranked in trampoline.
“I asked my dad for advice, but he let me make my own decision,” said Hoyt Stanley.
It was much the same in the Wood family.
Jamie Wood is an educational adviser at Vancouver Island University and was assistant women’s hockey coach for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers in the Big Ten and the University of New Hampshire and two-time NCAA Div. III national champion head coach with Elmira College in New York. The elder Wood was also founder of Maritime Hockey Academy.
“My dad let me make my own decision,” said Matthew Wood.
This adds to the uncanny familial connections of the Grizzlies’ recruiting class. Announced earlier as coming to Victoria were forward Jack Gorton, son of New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton; forward Jackson Morehouse, son of Pittsburgh Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse; and 17-year-old defenceman Justin Gibson from Pittsburgh, brother of Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson, projected as the U.S. goaltending tandem with Connor Hellebuyck for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
“It is a strong class and the future looks bright,” said Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon.
Wood and Stanley are the youngest of the recruiting class and represent the foundational building blocks of the Grizzlies’ future. They are also the two from B.C. and so are available to currently train with the Grizzlies. Gorton, Morehouse and Gibson are Americans coming to Victoria in September.
The last 16-year-old to crack the Grizzlies roster was forward Alex Newhook, selected by the Colorado Avalanche 16th overall in the first round of the 2019 NHL draft, and winner of the silver medal with Canada at the 2021 world junior championship. That is a high bar. Regardless, these two 16s can perform.
“Wood and Stanley are ready to play right now in the BCHL,” said Didmon.
Wood scored 40 goals and had 71 points in 30 games for West Vancouver Bantam Prep in his last full season in 2019-20. He had two goals and four points in the two games the North Island Silvertips U-18 AAA team played this season before play was stopped in the B.C. Major Midget League.
“I consider myself a smart player who is not afraid to shoot,” said Wood.
Blueliner Stanley had seven goals and 36 points in 29 games for St. George’s Bantam Prep in 2019-20.
“I’m a puck-moving defenceman who is versatile and can play both ends of the ice,” he said, when asked for a self-description.
Wood and Stanley are part of a heralded B.C. 16-year-old class, headed by 2020 WHL first overall pick Connor Bedard of North Vancouver, the first player to be awarded exceptional status and allowed to play in the WHL directly out of the bantam draft. He is expected to go high in the 2023 NHL draft, if not first overall. Bedard, Wood and Stanley came up playing on Team. B.C. together and also in spring league.