Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
December 1, 2014, Victoria, BC (ISN) – As reported by ISN yesterday, Victoria Grizzlies President John Wilson confirmed today changes in the hockey operations department of the BCHL club, announcing that Head Coach and GM Brad Knight has stepped down from his duties with the club and will be replaced, in the interim, with Craig Didmon, who handled both positions with the Grizzlies during the 2013-2014 season.
Craig Didmon returns to the Victoria Grizzlies as Head Coach and GM, replacing the departed Brad Knight for the remainder of the 2014-2015 season (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The Grizzlies also announced that Assistant Coach Micah Aivazoff has left the team, while Associate Coach Scott Hawthorne, who worked with Didmon in 2013-2014, will remain with the club for the remainder of the season. Aivazoff, a popular coach with the players, came to the club along with Knight at the start of the season and his departure comes as no surprise given Knight’s departure.
Wilson made a point of emphasizing that Knight decided to step down following a meeting between Wilson, Knight and co-owner Don Robinson, but it became clear Monday that ownership was not happy, “We wish Brad all the best and thank him for his contributions,” said Wilson, “but it became clear the direction the team was taking was not what our ownership group had hoped for and that this change would be good for all involved. Brad has a great hockey mind and a great business mind, but it just was not the right fit.”
Wilson also emphasized that the ownership group has great confidence in Didmon’s abilities and that they look forward to having him back, “We trust that Craig will create a more positive atmosphere and that by putting less pressure on the players and letting them have a bit more fun playing, will lead to better success and more wins on the board.”
Grizzlies President John Wilson during Monday’s press conference: “We need to we need to do a better job of getting our name, team and profile out into the community…we need to work harder to make people want to come to the rink.” (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Wilson also felt that having one person in the dual role of Head Coach and GM was perhaps a bit too ambitious at this point in the timeline of the team and while Didmon will assume both roles in the short-term, his role will be focused more on the on-ice issues and over the long term, those roles will be more clearly separated. “Craig’s primary focus will be on the players and on-ice activities and he will be assisted in that role by Scott Hawthorne, who was promoted to Associate Coach. Craig will report to Donnie [Robinson] who has now been named the Director of Hockey Operations and who will focus on many of the business aspects. We will also have a team led by VP Sonya Saujani who will look after marketing and other aspects on the business side.”
Didmon is looking forward to resuming his role behind the bench with the Grizzlies and feels the team is not that far off from being the team they were last season. “The boys have put out a tremendous effort so far this season and we are just about there,” said Didmon. “We’ve had a huge number of one-goal games and perhaps with just a bit more strategy, a bit more game planning and a little more preparation, we can get some more confidence and enjoy more success.”
As to the team and their reaction, while none of the players were available for comment Monday afternoon, Wilson did note that the ownership group met with the players Monday morning and that everyone seemed positive, “The players all understand their part and the role they need to play for this team to have success,” said Wilson. “They are a great group and a mature group and they are ready to get going under the new regime.”
Speaking of players, Didmon and the Grizzlies also announced Monday that local product Nick Guiney will be rejoining the team. Guiney was with the Grizzlies in training camp and was one of the final cuts made by Knight. He has been playing for the Westshore Wolves Junior B team in the VIJHL, where he has 14 goals and 10 assists in 23 games so far this season.
A first move by Craig Didmon was to sign local product Nick Guiney, who has 14 goals and 10 assists in 23 games so far this season with the Junior B Westshore Wolves (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)
“We have talked about getting more identity in the community,” noted Didmon, “and today some of that will start with the signing of Nick Guiney. Nick is a Juan deFuca minor hockey product and someone I made a commitment to last season. We feel he will be a nice addition to the club.”
While the signing of more local kids may help to build more of a community identity for the club, Wilson, Didmon and the ownership group realize that there is much more that needs to be done to get fans coming back to the rink and supporting the Grizzlies. The team has been struggling at the gate, but the Grizzlies are not alone in the BCHL in this regard, as attendance is down overall at many other locations in the league.
“We continue to stress that we need the support of the local community,” said Wilson. “We have a growing, young community here in the Westshore and we need to do a better job of getting our name, team and profile out into that community. This team has been well supported in the past and we are confident the fans will come back.”
As to sponsorship, Wilson stressed that the Grizzlies still lead the league in marketing and sponsorship, but that they simply need more, “It just isn’t where it was at one point and to get that back, we need to better show the value of our product. We need to show the value to these businesses, particularly in the Westshore, of giving their support to a community oriented team.”
Asked whether he was seriously worried about the fate of the team, Wilson said he was not sure what business owners were not worried in this day and age and economic climate. “Sure, we as a group have some worries, but we want the team to be successful here. We have a great venue, one we want to be at for a long time and we have a great product on the ice. We just need to work harder to make people want to come to the rink. We need to create a better atmosphere at the games, which we have a plan in place to do, and we need people to simply come out and support the Grizzlies again.”
The new Didmon regime for the Grizzlies begins this Friday, as the team travels to Duncan to face the Cowichan Capitals in a 7:00 pm start. Fans will then have their first opportunity to come back out and support the team on Saturday, when the Grizzlies take on the Merritt Centennials at 7:00 pm at The Q Centre. That game is the team’s annual Teddy Bear Toss where fans can bring a stuffed animal to throw on the ice after the first Victoria goal, with all proceeds going to local charities.