Marty Westhaver is a rare breed nowadays.
Nearing the end of his fourth full season with the Victoria Grizzlies, he’s by far the longest-serving member of the B.C. Hockey League club.
And he’s a true local player having been born and raised in Victoria, including graduating from Spectrum Community School.
He also has that rare knack of scoring a big goal when his team needs it most. Need a late goal to tie the game, Westhaver usually comes through for you. Need an overtime or shootout winner? Westhaver loves the spotlight. And in last season’s Grizzlies’ playoff run to the BCHL final four, “Big Game Marty,” as he became known, scored eight goals and eight assists in 13 games before being injured in Game 1 of the conference final against Prince George and missing the rest of the series.
This week, the 20-year-old Westhaver accomplished another big goal of his, accepting a scholarship offer from the University of Alabama-Huntsville to play NCAA Div. 1 hockey next fall.
“Oh man, it’s been a real long road, but I finally made it,” Westhaver said Thursday as his Grizzlies prepare for this weekend’s three-games-in-three-days road trip to Chilliwack tonight, Coquitlam on Saturday and Langley on Sunday.
“I’m super excited about the opportunity in Huntsville, my family is really happy, and I owe them a lot for the sacrifices they made. And the Grizzlies franchise has been unbelievable to me from Day 1 and I just can’t thank them enough. It’s been a hell of a ride.”
It helped that there will be a familiar face in Huntsville when Westhaver suits up for the Chargers, who play in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, alongside the likes of Bowling Green, Minnesota State, Northern Michigan, Ferris State, Alaska-Anchorage and Bemidji State. Dayne Finnson, who played two seasons on the Grizzlies’ blue line, is in his second year at UAH.
“I talked to Dane and he loves it there and it sounds like a real good hockey program,” Westhaver said. “I’m not totally sure what I’m going to study but I’ll finalize that soon.”
There’s plenty of other former Grizzlies scattered throughout the conference.
“Ya, Justin [Michaelian] is at Ferris State, Drayson [Pears] at Alaska and Zack [Rose] at Bowling Green, so it’s going to be great to see all the guys again.”
When Westhaver arrived on the scene with the Grizzlies after playing for Peninsula in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, he was just a 17-year-old who could skate like the wind but needed to learn the ins-and-outs of junior hockey. He was a quick learner. Last year, he scored 16 goals in the regular season and this year he’s already got 18, to go along with 26 assists. His point total is second only to star rookie Cody Monds’ team-leading 50. But it was more than just his scoring prowess that made Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon make Westhaver the easy choice as team captain this season.
“Marty has been a solid player for us over the past four seasons,” said Didmon.
“He has been that player who can change the game with his speed. And when a momentum change in the game is needed, you know he’ll come out with his high speed and physical change.
“And this year he has added more tangibles to his game, showing more creativity. We’ve always known Marty is a big moment in the game guy, and now he has been a great captain for us and has had a positive impact on our team and in the community for four seasons.”
As Westhaver said, his work is far from finished with the Grizzlies. Victoria is in the thick of jostling for playoff positioning in the crossover wild-card race. The Grizzlies (20-29-1) have won four of their past five games and hold the first of three wild-card positions which would see them face the third-place team in the Interior Division in the first round of the playoffs.
But this weekend provides stiff competition. Coquitlam (41-8-2), Chilliwack (24-16-10) and Langley (21-25-3) are first, second and fourth, respectively, in the Mainland Division.
“It’s going to be a good weekend for us to see where we’re at because we’ve been playing pretty good hockey these last few weeks,” said Westhaver.
“We haven’t seen Langley yet but Coquitlam is Coquitlam, top of the league, and Chilliwack is always tough in their building so we’re going to have be on our game again.”