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Victoria Grizzlies solid in the crease as BCHL season draws near

Victoria hosts Nanaimo on Saturday in preseason action
Grizzlies netminder Oliver Auyeung-Ashton was a finalist for BCHL goaltender of the year last season. (DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST)

The Victoria Grizzlies are set in the crease with 2022-23 B.C. Hockey League ­revelation ­Oliver Auyeung-Ashton ­returning.

Auyeung-Ashton, one of three finalists for both the BCHL rookie-of-the-year and top goaltender awards last season, got the start Friday night in a preseason B.C. Hockey League game against the Nanaimo Clippers at Frank Crane Arena in the Harbour City. This one didn’t quite go as planned as the ­Clippers beat the Grizzlies 5-3.

Isa Parekh had a pair of goals to lead the offence for the host Clippers, while Luc Pelletier, Malcolm Green and Chase Pirtle had the Grizzlies’ goals.

The 18-year-old Auyeung-Ashton, who hails from ­Coquitlam, will see plenty of starts once things begin for real next Friday with the regular-season opener in Surrey against the Eagles followed by a game next Saturday in Chilliwack against the Chiefs.

“When your No. 1 goaltender is returning, you expect he will be seeing the lion’s share of the workload,” said Grizzlies GM and head coach Rylan Ferster.

Despite his breakout last season — 2.48 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and five shutouts in 44 games — Auyeung-Ashton isn’t committed to an NCAA team, although that is expected to be addressed soon.

“Ollie is a [NCAA] Division 1 goalie all day long,” said Ferster.

The five-foot-nine goaltender must overcome an era in which NHL teams will not even consider drafting or developing or even looking at goaltenders under six-foot-one.

Meanwhile, the Grizzlies had given presumptive 16-year-old back-up and six-foot-one rookie goaltender Owen Bresson from Nova Scotia the start Tuesday in the 3-1 victory over the Cowichan Valley Capitals. Bresson is from South Kent School in Connecticut, the same institution from which Ferster this summer plucked prize 17-year-old Slovakian NCAA Div. 1-bound defenceman Richard Baran ­(Arizona State) and forward Tobias Pitka (Boston College), who have both represented their homeland in the IIHF U-18 world championship and the U-18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.

Bresson, stopping 20 of 21 shots, “put in a solid effort against Cowichan Valley,” said Ferster.

Auyeung-Ashton played in an earlier 5-4 exhibition loss to the Capitals. Ferster said he will decide this afternoon regarding the starter for tonight’s game at 7 p.m. in The Q Centre against the Clippers to close out the ­preseason.

The Grizzlies’ bench boss said he will announce his captain and assistant captains next week, a task he doesn’t take lightly.

“I’ve always said if you had to replace the team logo on the front of the jersey, you would replace it with a picture of your captain,” said Ferster.

The Grizzlies cut down to 25 players Friday, the allowable maximum for the season, with 15 forwards, eight defencemen and two goaltenders. Ferster said he isn’t done and will probably carry 23 players this season. That number is no small decision with the now-independent BCHL having left Hockey Canada over the summer. Players who play for BCHL teams after Sept. 30 are not eligible to return to Hockey Canada-affiliated junior leagues for the remainder of that season.

Two Grizzlies players are out for this weekend — returnee Jackson Hungle and touted recruit and NCAA Div. 1 Brown University commit Charlie Gollob — but Ferster expects both back for the regular-season opener next Friday.

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