Grizzlies Ownership and Coaching Changes to Spark New Era for BCHL Team


Bill Bestwick Named Head Coach and GM
Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart – ISN

VICTORIA, B.C. (ISN) – After a dreadful 2011-2012 season both in the standings and at the box office, the Victoria Grizzlies announced Wednesday both an ownership and head coaching change that they hope will turn the club around for next season and beyond.

Vancouver Island Sports and Entertainment Ltd., a locally-owned company created to invest in sports teams and related activities, is the new majority owner of the Victoria Grizzlies Junior A Hockey Club.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to become an owner of this great hockey franchise with its long history of success in the community,” said Ron Walchuk, President of VISE. “Our focus is all about being a strong partner in the community, building a winning team and pursuing championships.”

VISE and the Grizzlies existing minority owners are committed to putting the best hockey operations and management team in place to create the finest Junior A program in BC for players to develop their skills.

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Vancouver Island Sports and Entertainment Ltd. President Ron Walchuk addresses the media Wednesday (Photo by Christian J. Stewart – ISN)

The first step in that process was to hire long-time Nanaimo Clipper Head Coach Bill Bestwick as Head Coach and General Manager.

“A priority for ownership was to create stability, structure and a positive environment for players and staff” noted Walchuk.  “Bill is the complete package.  He is a great hockey strategist, he has a passion for developing young players and the proven business smarts to run a successful hockey operation.”

Bestwick comes to Victoria following a successful 12-year career as coach and GM of the BCHL’s Nanaimo Clippers.  He led the Clippers to two BCHL Fred Page Cups in 2004 and 2007, has notched over 600 career wins and was named BCHL All-Star Coach five times.

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Long-time BCHL coach Bill Bestwick was introduced as the new Head Coach and GM of the Victoria Grizzlies Wednesday (Photo by Christian J. Stewart – ISN)

“I am very privileged and more than honoured to come to Victoria and be part of an organization that has a record as one of the finest institutions in the BCHL” said Bestwick Wednesday.  “The BCHL is one of the most respected Junior hockey leagues across North America and returning to it, with the new ownership group here that is committed to player development, academics and the community, is very exciting and I am eager to get started.”

Bestwick’s talent for getting the most from his players is well known and he has graduated hundreds of players to NCAA, CIS and professional careers.  One such player is Victoria product and Colorado Avalanche defenceman Ryan O’Byrne.

“Bill is a great choice for Victoria” said O’Byrne.  “I played for Bill in my lasy year of Junior A, prior to going to Cornell in the NCAA.  He helped me become a better all-around player, in all three zones of the ice, as well as helping me to mature off the ice.”

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New Grizzlies Head Coach Bill Bestwick is looking forward to the challenge of building the Grizzlies team for 2012-2013 (Photo by Christian J. Stewart – ISN)

Current Grizzlies player, defenceman Nolan DeJong, who was a BCHL rookie during the tough 2011-2012 campaign, is also excited about the change. “I am very excited to move forward with a proven winner behind our bench.  That will be huge.  His teams were always hard to play against when he was coaching Nanaimo, and that is something we will obviously need as we were pretty easy to play against last year.  I am looking forward to the change and the new look of the organization.”

The Grizzlies ownership change will be presented to the BCHL Board of Governors at the next available opportunity, where it is expected to be approved.

“This is good news for the BCHL and for Junior A hockey in Victoria in particular,” said BCHL Commissioner John Grisdale. “I met with Ron Walchuk as things unfolded and VISE has kept me well informed throughout the transition process and the Board of Governors looks forward to dealing with the change of ownership request as quickly as possible.”

Now comes the important part of completing the re-building process by hiring assistant coaches, recruiting players and participating in community events so as to bring fans and sponsors back to the rink.  Last year, the team’s poor record, plus competition for the Junior hockey dollar from the new Victoria Royals WHL franchise in town, really put a dent in the attendance at Grizzlies games. 

New owner Walchuk is optimistic about changing this for the better in 2012-2013. “We are going to be really big in the community, working hard to get the fans back.  I really think there is room in Victoria for two top-level Junior teams. They do it in Kelowna and Vancouver and it works very well.  Our Westshore Communities here are some of the fastest growing communities in the Province, so we really need to work hard here to get out and let the fans know what we are all about.”

“We really see this as an investment in the future of the Grizzlies and Junior A hockey in Victoria” added Walchuk. “Together with our business partners and supporters, we are going to deliver a great hockey experience for young players and our fans, one that we are sure will bring more fans back to the team.”

As to the on-ice product, new Head Coach Bestwick admits that the team is a little bit behind the eight ball in terms of recruiting.  The Grizzlies held their Prospect Camp back in the early spring under then Assistant Coach Rob Doyle, but now it will be Bestwick and his staff that will have to pick up the pieces from that camp, sort out what players are returning, find new talent and put together the final team for 2012-2013.

“No question, time is not our friend on the recruiting side” said Bestwick. “But that is part of the challenge, and that’s part of being the solution and part of something we can build together.  The canvas is blank right now and there is much we can do to improve from where we were last year.  I look forward to that taking place.”

Bestwick has yet to formally announce his assistant coaches but rumours in the media have it that well known local coach Craig Didmon will be one of those named, along with a coach from a local VIJHL Junior B team.  

“Our assistants are not yet set in stone” said Bestwick.  “We are interviewing and analysing strengths and weaknesses, including mine, so that I can compliment and surround myself with great people.  I am excited about the prospects, as Victoria is full of great hockey people, and I know whoever it is we bring on will be ready to roll up their sleeves and work as hard as they’ve ever worked before to get the team back on track and put a good product on the ice for the fans.”





Christian J. Stewart
Christian is a professional photographer and media professional based in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Currently working as the Assistant General Manager for Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Club, a Senior Contributing Editor and photographer at Independent Sports News (ISN) and operating his own freelance photography and media/pr company.