Jr. Ducks benefit from Grizzlies’ BCHL California camp in Irvine
Earlier this summer, the BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies held a prospect camp south of the border for the first time.
Elite prospects from all over North America took to the ice in Irvine in efforts to impress junior teams in attendance.
Along with the Grizzlies, 10 other junior hockey teams across the United States and Canada sent scouts, coaches and GMs. The camp was well attended with teams from the BCHL, NAHL, AJHL, SJHL, WSHL and VIJHL.
Throughout the weekend, prospects participated in an educational meeting, fitness sessions, as well as on ice practices run by the Grizzlies coaching staff.
Head coach Craig Didmon ran drills accompanied by Minnesota Wilderness (NAHL) head coach Jon Vaillancourt, Grizzlies assistant/goalie coach Jason Reimer, and current Grizzlies forward and California local Henri Schreifels.
The goal of this camp is to establish a pipeline of prospects throughout the West Coast, expanding the pool of talent, while providing an opportunity for prospects to make the team right out of camp.
Grizzlies president Lance Black spoke further on the opportunity he wants to provide with this camp.
“We had a camp game plan to have eight teams comprised of elite talent from the West Coast and throughout North America attend the Grizzlies California camp,” Black said. “We wanted every player attending the camp to compete for a spot on our team.”
The camp had a successful first installment with the Grizzlies announcing the signing of Anaheim Jr. Ducks forward Benjamin Biester (pictured above). Didmon touched on how the Biester was able to stand out from the crowd.
“Biester was very consistent with his play,” said Didmon. “He showed a lot of offensive awareness and good hockey IQ. His speed and shot were tops among forwards at the camp. During the all-star game, Biester really stood out and showed us that he was ready for the BCHL now.”
The newest Grizzlies player spoke about his experience at camp and the excitement of joining the team.
”I enjoyed my time at the camp,” Biester said. “It was fun to see kids I’d played with and against last season. I wanted an opportunity to be seen by Junior A teams. I had multiple offers coming out of the Grizzlies camp and it was a hard decision for me. This camp was an excellent opportunity to work on my offensive game, helping me translate my play into next year’s regular season. I am very excited to be a member of the Victoria Grizzlies.”
The Grizzlies were not the only team taking home new acquisitions.
Westshore Wolves GM Clay Carson had a great camp, walking away with three new players for his VIJHL club. He spoke about the opportunity the camp provided his team.
”I was very fortunate to be included in the Grizzlies trip to Irvine for the summer ID camp,” Carson said. “It was a great experience for me to be able to learn from a top-notch BCHL organization on how to make things as professional as possible. I was very impressed with the quality of players at the camp. The players we picked up in Alex Villa, Cory Mater and Isaac Schuster all come from a high-end program, the Anaheim Jr. Ducks, and will come in as impact players to our team next season.”
Villa expressed his excitement to be joining the Wolves. He spoke about his experience at camp, and how he capitalized on the opportunity.
“The experience this camp provided me was amazing,” said Villa. “This camp provided myself and others to be looked at by not just one team from one league, but many teams in different leagues throughout the U.S. and Canada and gave myself a chance at being seen, which is hard coming from California. I am extremely excited that I will be able to play with the Westshore Wolves next season and have a chance to move on and pursue my dreams and goals in hockey. I cannot wait to get started next season.”
Villa’s parents, Angela and Mark commented on what it means for their son to be taking the next step in his hockey journey.
“Alex’s goal in hockey is to play and compete at the highest level possible, whether it’s Junior A or Division I or Division III college,” they said. “After Alex spoke to Clay, he knew he was excited for this opportunity to develop as an individual and as a team player.”
Vaillancourt was at ice level and was able to get a first-hand view of the skill in Irvine.
“The talent level of the players was outstanding,” said Valliancourt. “California youth and AAA programs are developing extraordinary skilled players, and this showcase provided our organization an opportunity to scout and recruit those young athletes that we would have otherwise not have been exposed to.”
Overall, the talent displayed on the ice impressed many in attendance.
Ron Walchuk, owner of the Grizzlies, was very pleased with the outcome of the camp.
“The overall talent exceeded our expectations, so much so that we committed to a few players overall for the next couple of years,” Walchuk said. “The 14U, 16U and 18U organizations in that area run some very good programs. We received a ton of very good feedback from players and their families saying it was one of the best-run camps that they have ever attended.”
The Jr. Ducks had a great camp with four of their own players moving on to play in Victoria.
The director of player development for the Jr. Ducks, Alex Kim, commented on the impression the camp had on his players.
“The players thought the camp was great and it was professionally run,” Kim said. “The talent level was solid and there were quite a number of younger prospects that have a lot of potential. I am very happy to hear Ben Biester signed out of the camp as he is well deserving of this. He is a great young man and has a great work ethic. We wish him the best of luck in his new venture with the Victoria Grizzlies this upcoming season.”
Biester’s former coach, August Aiken, shared his thoughts on the camp and the Grizzlies’ new pickup.
“It was a great camp and it was good for the Grizzlies staff to see our young players in person,” said Aiken. “The talent was great – players displayed the speed and skill of California hockey. I feel there will be players that will have the opportunity to play for Victoria and other teams in the league. It’s a great opportunity for Ben Biester as he is a great player and kid.”
With the success of the inaugural Grizzlies camp, it is clear that this will be an ongoing program for years to come. This season’s camp produced 4-6 players that have been signed by various junior teams.
The Grizzlies also identified a very strong 2003 and 2004 birth year group and will be looking to sign future Grizzlies based off established relationships with these players and their families that were formulated at this camp. The team plans on making the trip to Southern California for years to come.
(Aug. 16, 2019)