Sport, much like nature, abhors a vacuum.
The U.S. Hockey League is playing amid the pandemic while the B.C. Hockey League is not. That is causing an exodus by several of the BCHL’s best players to the USHL. That includes Cody Monds of the Victoria Grizzlies.
Monds was a revelation last season in leading the Grizzlies in scoring for 2019-20 with 22 goals and 59 points in 57 games and being named as runner-up for BCHL rookie of the year. The native of Brockville, Ont., didn’t miss a beat when the BCHL conducted an extended exhibition season in the fall and was tied for most goals with 10 and came second in league scoring with 22 points in 12 games behind Victoria teammate Alex DiPaolo’s 23 points in 14 games.
Monds is committed to NCAA Div. 1 Providence College for the 2021-22 season and the Friars don’t want him idle. The BCHL regular season is indefinitely postponed. So Monds has left the Grizzlies for the Fargo Force of the USHL, which rivals the BCHL in the race as the top-two Junior A leagues that send the most players onto NCAA Div. 1.
“Providence College wanted him playing games,” said Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon.
Also l eaving the BCHL for the Omaha Lancers of the USHL, according to The Province, are Detroit Red Wings draft pick Kienan Draper and Ayrton Martino, projected by Central Scouting for the second- or third-rounds of the 2021 NHL draft, both forwards with the Chilliwack Chiefs. The Chiefs also lost two players previously to the USHL.
At stake are potential pro careers, a consideration more acutely felt among top-level junior players. There are 48 former BCHL players skating in the NHL training camps, which are taking place now, ahead of the start of the season next week.
BCHL Island Division alumni on that NHL training camp list includes Tyler Bozak and Jamie and Jordie Benn from the Grizzlies, Matt Irwin and Sheldon Rempal from the Nanaimo Clippers, Laurent Brossoit from the Cowichan Valley Capitals and Daniel Carr from the Powell River Kings. The Penticton Vees top the BCHL list with 12 former players in NHL camps.
Current top BCHL players are considering their USHL options because team-on-team play or travel is currently not allowed in sports in B.C. as part of the prov- incial health restrictions that have been extended to Feb. 5.
“It’s unfortunate but our guys are taking advantage of the training time,” said Didmon.
The Grizzlies mentor said he remains optimistic a BCHL season can be salvaged. If it is, it will take place without several of its marquee players, including Monds.
There is a bit of compensation for the Grizzlies with the return of forward Henri Schreifels because his NCAA Div. 1 team, the RPI Engineers, decided not to play this season due to the pandemic. Schreifels was thought to have graduated from the Grizzlies after two seasons but is returning for another go-round in Victoria after RPI cancelled its campaign.
“Having Henri back for a third season is a nice replacement for the loss of Monds,” said Didmon, who added Schreifels will take his RPI courses online.
Schreifels has completed his 14-day quarantine and is training with the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies announced forward Payton Mount and defenceman Luke Bateman will be returning to the Seattle Thunderbirds of the major-junior Western Hockey League. The WHL, which includes the Victoria Royals, did not play even exhibitions in the fall and freed its players for Junior A or Junior B leagues.
The WHL regular season, like the BCHL’s, is indefinitely postponed. B.C. teams in any sport cannot play until Feb. 6 at the earliest and pending no further extension of the restrictions. The Vancouver Canucks of the NHL are exempt from that order with Premier John Horgan tweeting this week about “enhanced health measures being put in place for the upcoming season [meaning NHL] games can safely be played here in B.C.”
With time running out at the junior-hockey level, however, hard decisions are expected sooner rather than later and teams need to prepare for different scenarios.