GHA Championship Soothes SICHL Wounds

The Grizzly Bears were out after two rounds in the SICHL playoffs but the franchise goes into the summer on a high note after claiming their 1st ever GHA title.
by Marcel Cormier | July 12, 2023, 5:17 AM ET

"It might not be the championship that we were looking for back in the fall but we'll take it," said Acadia GM Guy Flaming after the Val d'Or Villains took home the GHA Goblet thanks to a 4-0 sweep of the Central Oregon Cowboys. Acadia's farmhands cruised through the GHA playoffs with a final record of 16-3 while eliminating the minor league affilaites of Regina, Jacksonville, Nova Scotia and Portland.

Forward Phil Tomasino, Acadia's 1st round pick in 2019, lead the GHA playoffs in scoring with 26 points in 19 games. Not to be overshadwoed, Anthony Stolarz was outstanding for the Villains. The former 2012 2nd round selection posted a .943 sv% and 1.45 GAA during the run of 19 playoff games.

"There was a lot to like on our farm this year," said Flaming "We'll have some serious competition from young players looking to establish themselves with our main club in the fall. Some of our veteran players are going to have to have a great camp to hold onto their roster spot."

SICHL Playoffs

While Acadia can be pleased with the result of the GHA playoffs, the same can't be said for the second round exit in the SICHL post season. The Bears defeated Vancouver Island in 5 games, all of their victories coming in 1-goal contests. Confidence was high as the conference's #1 and #3 seeds were upset in the opening round. However, the Banff Rockies overcame a game 1 loss to win the next four in a row, thus, ending Acadia's season.

"It was definitely tough because we think we played well enough to win - we outshot them in all four of those losses but we didn't get the bounces when we needed them and they took advantage of the chanes that they go," said coach Dave Hakstol. "I have to take my hat off to everyone in the Banff organization because they really had success against some of the conference's top teams when you consider the history of this league. They fell short in the final but you know that's only going to fire them up even more for next year."

In the SICHL playoffs, Acadia was lead by Chris Kreider who had 8 goals and 14 points after 10 games.

"I felt like I had a really positive season and that carried over into the playoffs for me," said Kreider who had 46 goals and 88 points during the regular season. The goal mark was the most ever by a Bears player outside of the offensively juiced 2012-13 season when Jordan Eberle had 70 goals. "The mission for me next year is to build on what I did this season and hopefully that personal success helps the team get to another level too."

If there was a disappointing performer in the playoffs for Acadia, it was captain Claude Giroux who ended up with just 3 points in 9 games. The franchise player was third on the team in shots on goal so it's not like he wasn't getting the chances but he just couldn't find the back of the net. 

"That's going to sit with me all summer and I have to find a way to use that as motivation," said the career Bear, "I have high expectations for myself and I didn't live up to them in the playoffs. I will be better next year. I have to be."

Free Agency

Heading into the summer, Acadia has five unrestricted free agents. Everyone knows that Giroux will be back with the team as the club's franchise player so that leaves Brandon Tanev, Radko Gudas, Brian Elliott and Andrew Ladd on the outside and ready to hit the open market. 

"Radko was really good for us this year and we will miss his physicality. Brian gave us some great starts and played the role of #2 guy exceptionally well, I think he helped Jarry a lot this year when he needed a break," said Flaming, "As for Tanev...well we got Brandon in a deal with Seattle a few years ago and he really filled a swiss-army-knife role for us because he played up and down the line up, on either wing, he was very valuable. Unfortunately, that trade will only be looked at for me trading away a college goalie who has continued to develop and is now one of the best young netminders in the SICHL (Jake Oettinger). I mean, it hasn't turned out to be one of my better trades but we'll see how Tristen Robins and Jalen Luypen pan out with us still."

As for restricted free agents (RFAs), there are officially 14 players that fall into that category but a couple of those situations have already sorted themselves out. Goaltender Colton Point shocked the organization by announcing his retirement and rookie forward Alex Texier has asked for (and was greanted) a 1-year loan to Europe to be closer to an ailing family member. Texier has already confirmed that he will return to the SICHL in 2024-25. 

"With Alex, family comes first and when the young man came to me and explained the situation I could tell that it was really weighing on him so, as much as we'd love to have him with us again next year, we'll let him take care of what he needs to do and we'll have a spot for him when he's ready to come back," said Flaming, "As for Colton, yeah that one surprised the hell out of me. It's not that long ago that he was playing for Canada at the WJC and here he is retirning at such a young age. But if your head and heart aren't in it anymore then maybe it's for the best."

RFA defencemen in line for big paydays include Mario Ferraro, Mikey Anderson and Andrew Peeke. It's also possible that Finnish defencer and 2017 1st round pick Juuso Valimaki could get a significant bump despite only having 2 career SICHL games under his belt. 

"We drafted him 19th overall for a reason and, although it's taken him a bit longer to get to this point than we expected, Juuso is looking like the defender we expected him to be," said Flaming, "I think he's done all he can at the GHA level so I'm expecting him to come to camp and be one of those guys I was referring to that is looking to take someone's job".

Goaltender Tristan Jarry will get a huge pay raise as he's just finished off his 4-year, $950K contract. 

In the same boat is forward Brandon Hagel. A 6th round pick in 2016, Hagel has played out his $700K/year ELC and will be expecting a new deal worthy of his top-9 forward position. 

2023 SICHL Draft

Acadia is currently in possession of a total of 13 draft picks inclduing the 24th and 30th overall (Havana's) in the first round as well as Regina's and their own in round 2.

"It's too early to say much about plans or strategy, especially since we're picking near the end of the first round again," said Bears' head amateur scout Chris McCarthy, "At that point of the draft, you're almost taking someone that you didn't think would still be there because you had them in the teens or something and they just slipped down to you. I'd love to be picking earlier but we've found some excellent players at the end of the 1st round before."

While most pundits have described the Class of 2023 as deep and strong, not everyone is on board with that. 

"I think it's just OK," said Flaming, "Honestly, it's not one of those years where I have guys circled for later round picks because I'm not seeing the depth that I keep hearing about. And there's a lot of little guys, too small for the SICHL."

Bear Tracks

Acadia prospects that will begin their pro careers in 2023-24: 

Back in 2023-24 after missing all of this past season due to injury: Shane Pinto (2nd 2019)

Acadia prospects that will be NCAA freshmen in 2023-24:

Acadia prospects with new amatuer teams in 2023-24:

  • Carson Latimer - Winnipeg ICE to Red Deer Rebels of WHL (3rd 2021)
  • Mason Beaupit - Winnipeg ICE to Wennatchee Wild of WHL (2nd 2022)
  • Conner Roulette - Saskatoon Blades to Spokane Chiefs of WHL (4th 2021)
  • Alex Young - Colgate to Arizona State of NCAA (7th 2020)

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