The Victoria Grizzlies and Nanaimo Clippers have long had an intense rivalry in the B.C. Hockey League.
Is it comparable to Vancouver-Calgary or Montreal-Boston in the NHL? That might be a stretch, but between the two teams they’ve won the past four Island Division titles and before that, enough bad blood was spilled to keep the intensity going for years to come.
This season the Grizzlies have the upper hand in the standings, but the Clippers, who host the Grizz tonight (Nov. 25) at Frank Crane Arena, are always tough to play at home, said Victoria head coach Craig Didmon.
“We know its going to be a hostile environment,” he said of the Nanaimo fans. “The Clippers have that little bit of extra bravado when they play in that building.”
The teams return for the rematch Saturday night in Colwood at The Q Centre, starting at 7 p.m.
Amazingly, this weekend marks the first regular season meetings between the teams this year. Despite the Clippers’ modest record (11-12-3-1, fourth place) and the fact they’re a young team, Didmon isn’t underestimating them.
“I always see them as a strength in our Island Division; you never take them for granted,” he said. “If you look at them over the course of the past 10 games, they keep getting better and better. They’re a good, hard-working club and they play four lines. They play a tight system and we’ll have to have tight systems play to beat them.”
Led by rookie Ben Solin, one of six first-year players in the team’s top 10 scorers, the Clippers can be unpredictable, Didmon said. He points to the fact coach Mike Vandekamp put five forwards out on the power play recently. “That’s a little scary, so we’re going to try and shut down their power play.”
To this point, the numbers there favour the Grizzlies. Heading into this weekend, Victoria had the best penalty killing percentage in the BCHL (86.1 per cent), while the Clippers were second-worst on the power play (14.7 per cent).
“We want them to have to make adjustments to us and (react to) our system,” Didmon said. “They shouldn’t know too much of what to expect.”
The Grizzlies will be glad to have Cole Pickup back at full speed against the Clippers. Victoria’s leading scorer sat out four games for a blow to the head penalty against Vernon earlier this month and was kept off the scoresheet in his return Sunday, a 2-1 home loss to Trail.
Rookie forward Cory Hatcher, who has five goals in 10 games this season but hasn’t played since Oct. 14, may return this weekend from an upper body injury.