A lot of people circled this hockey game on the schedule, and it’s almost here.
The Nanaimo Clippers face the Victoria Grizzlies on Friday (Sept. 28) at Frank Crane Arena. The Grizz (5-1-0-1) are in first place and the Clips (3-1) have only one loss, but the on-ice matchup, for one night, might be secondary in some ways.
A share of fans at Frank Crane on Friday are going to be interested to see Bill Bestwick behind the visitors’ bench, directing his Grizzlies.
“I think everybody circles dates on their calendar when you’re in sport, of games that may have a special prominence in your mind for one reason or another,” said Bestwick. “I would be less than genuine if I said this game wasn’t a little bit more meaningful than some others on our schedule.”
Bestwick coached the Clippers for more than a decade before his firing in 2011, leading the club to B.C. Hockey League championships in 2004 and 2007.
“I spent 12 years on that bench and across the hall and I’m very proud of everything that we accomplished as an organization across that hall,” he said. “So it’s a pleasure to be able to return, absolutely. I’m really looking forward to the game.”
The Clippers lineup he sees on the opposite bench won’t resemble the one he remembers, as Nanaimo’s coach and general manager Mike Vandekamp has since overhauled the roster. Only one player remains from the Bestwick era – Kyle Kramer, an alternate captain on the Clips.
“It’s obviously going to be different,” Kramer said. “Playing for Bill for a couple years there, I’ve got so much respect for the guy. But at the same time it’s just another game.”
The Clippers have only seen the Grizzlies in pre-season action, so they don’t know exactly what to expect from the Island Division leaders. Kramer said he knows Bestwick stresses hard work.
“So they’re going to come out with a lot of grit and they’re going to work hard,” Kramer said. “But I think that’s what we base our team around, too. It’s going to come down to who outworks who, and when you put that in persepective, it comes down to that every night, every time you play.”
The visiting coach won’t be the only one on the Grizzlies bus who will be making a homecoming, of sorts.
Victoria’s top three scorers so far this year are Gerry, Myles and Leo Fitzgerald, all of them former Clippers. Gerry is the reigning BCHL Player of the Week.
Bestwick said he expects, and hopes, that the rivalry between the two organizations will build. Kramer said he already considers the rivalry with the Grizzlies to be as heated as with any Island team.
“Whenever we get a chance to go up against those guys, we really get up for the game,” he said.
Trevor Fitzgerald, Clippers captain, said his team will bring a physical game and try to force the play.
“It’s not really who we play, it’s how we play,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter that they’re the first-placed team, it’s so early in the season. They got a couple wins off the start. That’s good for them. But it doesn’t really matter to us.”
Vandekamp said the standings would certainly indicate that the Grizzlies are playing well, and said his team would be prepared.
“Obviously that’s going to be a big game,” he said. “They all are.”
GAME ON … The Clippers and Grizzlies face off at 7 p.m. Friday at Frank Crane Arena. Tickets will be available at the door … Friday’s tilt is the first of three games in three days for the Clips, who visit the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (3-3-0-1) on Saturday and then host the Coquitlam Express (4-1) on Sunday at 3 p.m. at Frank Crane Arena.