At the Q Centre in Colwood, the Victoria Grizzlies are preparing for their first home opener with fans since 2019.
“We really feed off the energy and playing in a bubble with nobody in it it was really hard to play sometimes, get the momentum swings,” says Grizzlies forward Connor Eddy.
Benched by the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020, the team was left waiting for the day when they could once again play other teams in the BCHL.
While they might not have been playing games, it didn’t mean that they weren’t busy.
“They couldn’t play but you know at the end of the day they still got to come and practice,” says Grizzlies coach and general manager Craig Didmon.
“So they accepted that and they worked hard at that and it was a great experience because of it.”
“We made a concerted effort and a lot of planning around that to create an environment for them that was going to be safe, fun, followed all the protocols, made sure our bubble was excellent and kept motivation high that way,” says Grizzlies mental performance consultant Dr. Bruce Pinel.
When the league returned to play in April of this year the Grizzlies were ready and finished off the shortened season at the top of the Island pod standings.
“The fact that they stuck together through it and then get to win the last game and win the pod and have success as a hockey club I think was very rewarding,” says Didmon.
“I mean everyone wanted to play, we had a really old group and a lot of guys were going to age out,” says Grizzlies captain Ellis Rickwood.
“So I think they were really really hungry to finish out their last season and when the time came when the season started after those practice months we were ready to go.”
It was a fitting end to a unique year, one that brought the team closer together than ever before.
“I wasn’t able to see any of my friends or anything like that or any contacts outside of hockey other than just my family,” says Eddy.
“So I was locked in with only the guys from the team and we had a great bond as a team last year.”
“Last year’s probably going to be one of the closest teams I’ve ever been on just because of the amount of time we weren’t playing and hanging out,” says Rickwood.
“We’d be here almost all the time playing cards or going out going to the beach, it was just a really tight group and I love all those boys.”