“Proud” and “bittersweet” are both words Grizzlies president Lance Black used to describe his feelings Monday at the farewell lunch for outgoing players.
An earlier-than-expected exit from the BCHL playoffs has management in spring mode, which, in one word, means recruiting.
But a lunch and golf session at Highlands Pacific gave the team a chance to think less about the 10 big spots to fill and more on the players who vacated it. Black was feeling reflective.
“Today we say goodbye, you know, to our 20-year-olds, and we have five of them. As well as we have five players who are under age who will be moving on because of commitments to various colleges.”
“Pretty proud of, you know, all those boys because we’ve got a lot of commitments this year and for us to have five kids going early, that’s, you know, a testament to our program I think,” he said.
Parting Grizzlies include NHL prospects Alex Newhook and star rookie Alex Campbell, who received scholarships to head to Boston College and Clarkson University, respectively. Also leaving are goalie Kurtis Chapman, Cam Thompson and Kenny Johnson, who will be going to Penn State.
In total, Black estimates Grizzlies received nine scholarships to NCAA division one schools.
This season was one of notable highlights, such as Newhook winning the British Columbia Hockey League’s MVP as a scoring leader, Chapman setting a franchise record with a 55-save night and Campbell winning Rookie of the Year.
Huge individual efforts brought about one Grizzly being nominated for every one of BCHL’s end-of-season awards.
For the season the come to an end so suddenly, and with a sweep, was “very emotional” for the players, Black said. There was a special feeling that the team would win the Canada chapter, but that didn’t come about at least partly due to the illnesses, injuries and suspensions, he said.
But the team has accepted this and moved on, he added. “This was a team that was focused to win a championship and play for each other and for some unknown reason, the chemistry was there,” he said.
“We’ve always had close knit teams, but this one was by far the most close knit I’ve ever seen.”
Johnson seemed to agree with the sentiment. “This is the closest, tightest team I’ve ever been a part of ever, and I’ve only been here three months,” he said.
The early loss didn’t feel like the end of their friendship to Johnson.
“I’ll be in touch for a long time.”