With 25-plus seasons in Greater Victoria, the Grizzlies are the longest, continuously operating junior A team in the southern Vancouver Island region. They are not the first junior A hockey team though, as the region hosted several before the Grizzlies joined the BC Hockey League.
As far back as 1967, the Greater Victoria region has hosted six junior A teams. These teams left their unique impacts on the area. In some cases, future National Hockey League alumni briefly played for them.
This article is a brief examination of the five BCHL teams that came before the Grizzlies joined. How they came about, how they left and any NHL alumni who played for these teams.
We begin with the most famous entry on the list. Before the Victoria Cougars were a Western Hockey League franchise, they were a junior A team. They joined what was then known as the BC Junior Hockey League in time for the 1967-68 season.
The Victoria Cougars impact on the region can’t be understated. Although they were only members of the BCHL for four seasons, the Cougars had a massive impact in the Western Hockey League. Players like Grant Fuhr, Greg Adams, and the Courtnall brothers, Geoff and Russ, all played for the major junior Cougars.
They were the dominant team in the region for over 25 years. In 1994, the WHL team relocated to Prince George, where they continue playing today. Their departure from Victoria started an effort to replace Memorial Arena with a modern facility to bring the WHL back to the region.
That effort culminated when the Chilliwack Bruins relocated and became the Victoria Royals in 2011. A junior B Victoria Cougars team currently plays at Archie Browning Arena in Esquimalt and has since 1998.
After the Cougars joined the WHL in 1971, it was some time before junior A returned to Greater Victoria.
Buccaneers, Capitals, Whalers, and Warriors
The next junior A team in Greater Victoria was the Esquimalt Buccaneers, who joined the BCHL in 1982-83. When the WHL’s Billings Bighorns moved to Nanaimo to become the Islanders at the end of the 1981-82 season, the BCHL’s Nanaimo Clippers ceased operations. The Islanders lasted one season in the Hub City before becoming the second incarnation of the New Westminster Bruins in the WHL.
The Buccaneers left Esquimalt after their one season and relocated back to Nanaimo in 1983 to become the Clippers again. Their one season in Esquimalt didn’t leave much of an impact and there are no notable Buccaneers alumni.
The next junior A team to play in the region was the Sidney Capitals, who relocated to the town in 1984. It was the first in a long series of relocations for the Cowichan Valley Capitals.
They played two seasons at the Panorama Leisure Centre in North Saanich from 1984-1986. After the 1986 season, the team relocated to Colwood to become the Juan de Fuca Whalers. As for famous alumni, the only notable one is former NHL player Darryl Williams, who played one season in Sidney.
As the Whalers, they lasted two seasons in Colwood. Their most famous alumnus is former NHL goaltender Byron Dafoe, who played in Juan de Fuca for two seasons before moving on to the WHL.
— The Kingstorian (@Kingstorian) February 25, 2020
Dafoe had a lengthy NHL career of 415 games with several teams. His son, Chase, currently plays for the Trail Smoke Eaters and is an alternate captain for them this season.
After the end of the 1987-88 season, the Whalers left for Duncan again. After two years in Duncan, including the 1989-90 season where the team was renamed the Capitals, it ceased operations.
Then BCHL returned to Greater Victoria as the Warriors came to town for three seasons starting in 1990-91. The Warriors were the last BCHL team to play before the arrival of the Grizzlies and they folded in 1993.
Their most notable alumnus is current Grizzlies general manager and head coach Craig Didmon, who played two seasons for the Warriors from 1990-92.
Salsa and team legacies
The BCHL granted an expansion franchise to Victoria and the Salsa joined the league in 1994. In 2006, the team changed its name to the Grizzlies and it’s stuck for 14 years and counting.
The teams who came before the Grizzlies left an impact on the region. Until recently, the minor hockey teams in Juan de Fuca were called the Whalers. They even named the Juan de Fuca lacrosse teams after the Whalers.
The Victoria Cougars junior B team is the longest-lasting legacy. For 22 years, that franchise has kept the Cougars name alive in Greater Victoria. They have won the Brent Patterson Memorial Trophy eight times as Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League champions. In 2007, the Cougars won the Cyclone Taylor Cup as provincial champions.
Most of these teams are long gone. While they may be gone, they each left an impression on sports fans on Vancouver Island. Some carry on the names of long-dead teams, while others simply disappeared in the blink of an eye.