With 40 points in 54 BC Hockey League games last season, Tyler Welsh gave opponents of the Victoria Grizzlies fits in the defensive zone.
This season, they don't just have to deal with him, but his younger brother Nolan as well.
The pair have helped the team to a 6-2-2-2 record to start the season for a share of first place in the Island Division and the elder Welsh, in particular, is leading the way with 13 points in 12 games to sit second on the team in scoring.
"I definitely feel more confident coming into this year than last year. I think our team is doing a lot better this year, which helps," Tyler, 19, said. "We don't have that many returning forwards with the team, so our guys that are returning are counted on to take a bigger role, more of a scoring and production role this year, which I'm glad I can help contribute to the team."
Tyler is currently on the Grizzlies' top line, teaming up once again with Cole Pickup while former Kamloops Blazer forward Nathan Looysen has joined the duo. Having an established partnership with Grizzlies' leading scorer Pickup has been a plus for him, while having an experienced skater in Looysen, who scored 101 points for the Junior 'B' Victoria Cougars last season, has made the line a dangerous one to handle.
"Right near the end of last year, our line with me and Cole was playing really well and we've just continued it on to this year. We're both a year older and a bit stronger and we understand the hockey a bit more," Tyler said. "Nathan's a great player... He's definitely an offensive guy on our line."
The elder Welsh is bullish on the Grizzlies' chances this season, as they've started the season strong, currently sitting tied for first place in the division with the Cowichan Valley Capitals while boasting a balanced offence and defence. The Grizzlies narrowly missed the playoffs last year, finishing just two points behind the Alberni Valley Bulldogs for the division's final postseason slot.
"Right now, it's the team's goal to win the Island Division. It's a pretty even, well balanced division," he said. "We want to make it out of the Island Division in the playoffs and see what happens from there on a team level."
Having Nolan around has been a boon for Tyler, as the two-year age gap has typically kept them in separate levels.
"It's definitely a cool experience. We've never actually played on the same team for a full year, so it's cool to share the experiences with him," Tyler said. "We're actually living in the same house, so it's nice to help him adjust to junior hockey and be there with him.
"He's adjusted to the team well. We've got a good group of guys and he's just stepped right in."
In addition to helping his brother slot into the team, Tyler was officially tasked with being an example to all of the younger players as he was named an alternate captain prior to the season.
"There are lots of older guys in the dressing room who are leaders, but it's cool to be recognized for that," he said. "Most of the guys know what we expect here and the younger guys are good guys and they've stepped right in."
Nolan, meanwhile, hasn't been quite the same offensive threat as he adjusts to the team after playing last season with the Burnaby Winter Club. The 17-year-old has learned day-by-day how to play and be successful against players bigger and stronger than he is at this point.
"It's been getting better every day," he said. "It's definitely a lot different playing with the 20-year-olds and the older kids rather than just my age, so that's probably been the biggest difference, along with just the speed and the size."
"I'm trying to get comfortable as much as I can in practice and in every game, I just try to get better... Eventually I'll be where they are, so (I have to) just be patient."
Nolan has played primarily on the fourth line with Victoria local Marty Westhaver while rotating with a few different options for the third member of the trio.
"I've just got to stay defensive-first so the coach can trust you. How you get (more) minutes is he has to be able to trust you out there," he said.
With three assists through 11 games so far, Nolan has found his way onto the scoresheet, but sees that as an offshoot of strict attention to detail in other elements of his game.
"I try not to worry about it now too much," he said. "If you're playing well, then the points will come."
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