It’s been an eventful 36 hours for the Victoria Grizzlies.
The team announced a restructuring of its’ ownership group at a media conference yesterday afternoon. A media conference in which Grizzlies Head Coach and GM Bill Bestwick was conspicuously absent. Then word came out today that Victoria had fired the long-time BCHL bench boss.
Victoria Times-Colonist sports columnist Mario Annicchiarico (@TC_VicSports on Twitter) posted this on his blog on the Times-Colonist website:
New Victoria Grizzlies director of operations Pete Zubersky was recalling Monday afternoon his three seasons as general manager of the B.C. Hockey League team when it was known as the Salsa.
It was like old-home week as he rejoined the organization in the new position, as well as one of part owner as Ron Walchuk welcomed a handful of new financial backers.
John Wilson, Kirby Yeats, Reza Binab and Don Robinson round out the new ownership group, joining Walchuk and Mark Wagstaff. (Binab was a previous owner and has jumped back in, while Wagstaff never left).
“As we move forward, I look at the venue that we’re in and I believe it’s the best venue for Junior A hockey in the country,” Zubersky began at a hastily called press conference in the lobby at Bear Mountain Arena.
“I remember the first game here. Reza had lined up some fireworks and it took about 15 minutes to clear the smoke. I’m not sure it was a good idea, but it was fun and the place was packed,” recalled Zubersky.
“I would love to see that again,” he said of weak crowds. “I come to the arena right now and the atmosphere isn’t in here.
“We’re in a community of Victoria that is north of 400,000 people. We’re in the Westshore here, where there are a lot of blue-collar people. I relate to those people, they are hard-working people,” stressed Zubersky, a former Colwood RCMP officer, who wants to make the organization popular again.
He’s determined to be the man to lead the group, which features Wilson as the new president.
“We’re going to take giant steps, right away,” said Zubersky, who wasn’t sure he would be joining the group until Monday. “Right now, we’ve only been in it for a few hours.
“Don (Robinson, a longtime Grizzlies’ scout and active hockey supporter in the community) took me through the dressing room today and I noticed the changes.”
There will be more changes to come, of that there is no doubt as Zubersky and Wilson will head up the BCHL club. The two are already co-owners of the Peninsula Panthers of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League. Zubersky does not see the two roles as a clash.
“I had owned the Junior B team when I was GM here when it was the Salsa. It works unbelievably well because there is a synergy there. The kids from Junior B can come up to Junior A. It actually fits like a glove,” said Zubersky.
“But, having said that, we want to partner with all the Junior B teams, but pay special attention to the Westshore Wolves.”
He was careful not to stomp on anyone’s foot on his first day on the job, although current general manager and head coach Bill Bestwick’s absence was confusing.
“It’s important and it’s in my heart to get into the community and be a community player,” Zubersky stressed. “We want to become best friends and partners with Juan de Fuca minor hockey. That’s our target group. We want to be involved with all minor hockey groups, really.
“The business of junior hockey is a tough business,” he continued. “There is entertainment value here, we just have to get that message out and we have to get people to come in.
“There is going to be a lot of work to do here and we’re willing to roll up our sleeves. We’re willing to do our work. We need the support of the community and it starts (Tuesday) night against the Nanaimo Clippers.”
Zubersky said all the right things, but it will be time that tells if this move – expected for almost two months – will pay off.
“I hope that we can build bit by bit, game by game and year by year,” Zubersky said. “I’m excited about the group and I think we can become a great organization. I believe there will be a marked change in weeks and months to follow.
It might start with the loss of Bestwick, although it would seem strange and probably a little idiotic to send him out the door now. He still has this season remaining on his contract and the Grizzlies would likely have to buy him out if they sent him down the road.
He may choose to go on his own, but Bestwick, and his right hand man Craig Didmon, have led this team to third place overall this season after a second overall finish last year.
He deserves a better fate.
We will find out Tuesday morning as he and Zubersky meet to discuss the future.
Bestwick was not asked to join the group at their press conference on Monday and that, likely, says a great deal.
If he remains the rest of this season, it’s highly likely Zubersky will go with his own coach come next season, although he wasn’t committing one way or another.
He isn’t a man to tip toe his way around building an organization, having previously worked along with Binab and Wagstaff with the Salsa.
But has Zubersky been paying enough attention to the BCHL, especially a month away from its trade deadline?
And how will the players react?
Huge questions that will need answering.
No official word from the Grizzlies about the firing of Bestwick, but this was posted on the BCHL website this afternoon:
The Victoria Grizzlies have relieved head coach and general manager Bill Bestwick of his duties with the club.
The new ownership group, which took over operations yesterday (Dec. 9), has decided it was important to move in a different direction immediately.
Craig Didmon will assume head coaching duties for the hockey club effective tonight (Dec. 10) for the club’s home affair against the visiting Nanaimo Clippers with the puck set to drop at 7:15 p.m.
Victoria Grizzlies representative Pete Zubersky, who is in charge of operations for the club, will be available to the media at 5 p.m. until the game time this evening.
Once again, Annicchiarico continued his excellent coverage of the situation with this article from the Times-Colonist today:
The writing was on the wall when Bill Bestwick was not involved in the Victoria Grizzlies’ news conference on Monday regarding additions of new owners to the B.C. Hockey League club.
New team director of operations Pete Zubersky relieved the veteran general manager and head coach of his duties Tuesday afternoon after a three-hour meeting.
Citing business decisions, Zubersky — who came on as a part owner on Monday with John Wilson, Kirby Yeats, Reza Binab and Don Robinson — opted to let Bestwick go now and not at season’s end when his contract runs out.
Collectively, with assistant GM and associate coach Craig Didmon (who took over as head coach), Bestwick was 52-21-3-12 over just more than one and a half seasons, so it comes at a remarkable time. The Grizzlies were second overall last season and were tied for third overall entering Tuesday’s play.
“I agree with you,” Zubersky said. “This was a tough move to make. Our organization had to show some courage to make the move. We understand that it will not be met well in all quarters, but it is the business of hockey.”
And that’s the rub.
Attendance is down across the league and in the Western Hockey League. Bestwick’s ticket was likely the largest and he took a hit, warranted or not.
“Bill Bestwick is a quality coach, one of the better coaches in the league,” said Zubersky. “The product in the dressing room and on the ice we have no qualms with, at all. Unfortunately, there is another side to hockey and that’s the business side.
“The Victoria Grizzlies have been struggling to remain a viable business, a viable entity in the BCHL. We felt we had to make several moves and this is one of them.”
Having Bestwick commute from Nanaimo to his hockey job is obviously something the new group felt needed to be rectified.
“It’s crucial for us and it’s our business plan that we become deeply entrenched in the Western Communities and in Greater Victoria. … It is common sense that it is a little tougher when your coach is from out of the area,” said Zubersky. “Craig is from the area. He fits like a glove in what we’re hoping to achieve, become very community-minded, and based. Moving forward we think hat’s the successful model.”
But this scenario is likely not done yet. There are still financial implications that need to be solved. Bestwick, who did come to Tuesday night’s game, but would not be interviewed, did send this reply to a text checking on his condition earlier in the day: “I am fine. Totally disrespected,” he said of his feelings in a brief exchange.
“Bill was very disappointed. He would have loved to finish the year, but this happens at the junior level across the country every day,” said Zubersky, who confirmed, in a round-about way, that Bestwick had not been paid in some time. What he’s owed was not made public, but will likely be fought over.
“We met today for close to three hours. Nothing is clear,” said Zubersky. “Bill is owed some money and hopefully in the next while, we’ll come to an agreement on what that number should be.
“On Friday, I will pay his salary through to the end of December. Then we will have some more discussion on what other remuneration is due. What he feels is due and what we feel is due.”
Zubersky would not say when the ex-GM/head coach was last paid.
“I don’t think this will be a legal issue in any way,” Zubersky stressed.
“The timing, in my mind, was right today because the new ownership group took over and we had to set a new direction immediately. [Monday] and today was the start of the new direction.”
And the end of Bestwick’s run as the boss.
IN THE DEN: Public relations director Tali Campbell was also let go. … Didmon worked the bench with Scott Hawthorne on Tuesday night against Nanaimo. Didmon becomes the eighth Grizzlies head coach in the last seven years.
See more at: http://www.timescolonist.com/sports/victoria-grizzlies-new-owners-send-gm-coach-bestwick-packing-1.754707#sthash.ssraO9S8.dpuf
After tonight’s win over Nanaimo, some of the Grizzlies players and staff took to Twitter, using the hash tag #BB to pledge their support for their former coach: