It was a challenging start to the 2015-16 BCHL season for Tyler Welsh.
The 18-year-old former Whistler Winterhawk made the jump up to junior 'A' this year after a breakout year with the Campbell River Storm last season.
After scoring 75 points as a Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League rookie, Welsh was held scoreless in his first nine games of the season. However, he's heated up since then, tallying his first two goals against the Cowichan Valley Capitals on Oct. 9 before stacking up back-to-back two-assist nights on Oct. 16 and 18.
The Grizzlies are off to a 2-9-2 start to the season, with their six points leaving them knotted for last place in the league with Surrey. Welsh explained it's been tough, especially coming from a Storm juggernaut that rolled through the VIJHL last season, but he has optimism, noting after his two-goal game he's starting to feel more comfortable.
"I'm starting to find my groove," he said. "Myself and the team included, I think we had a bit of a slow start. We had a lot of rookies come in and we're adjusting to the faster pace and the more intense games. We'll start to turn it up here.
"All the games have been really close games, so we'll start to find our way and the wins will start coming," he added.
A little bit of home cooking helped Welsh get going, as his parents ferried over to the island to catch his two goals against the Capitals in a 3-2 loss.
"I had quite a few chances but couldn't bury them before that. My parents actually came over for Thanksgiving to see me score," he said. "The goals were kind of garbage goals, to be honest.
"The first was a loose puck and I just dove for it and it went in, and the second one, there was a pass off the side boards to a guy in front. He took a shot and I got the rebound."
Grizzlies coach Craig Didmon said when he first saw Welsh at a summer camp in 2014, he knew the youngster would need a little time to mature physically, but already had him penciled in as a key contributor for this season.
"He's a kid that works extremely hard and battles real hard and now the offence is starting to come," he said. "For a player that's not really big in stature, he seems to win more battles than any player I've seen.
"He's playing in a top-six role, he's a main penalty killer, he's getting a ton of ice."
The Grizzlies had placed second in the BCHL's Island Division last season, falling in the first round of the playoffs to the Powell River Kings. But after losing several key roster cogs to graduation, Welsh is one of a handful of young players being counted on to step in quickly and take on a leadership role with the reloading club, especially after coming in with winning pedigree from the league, provincial and Western Canadian championships last season.
"We have a number of kids who have come in from programs that are champions of their areas. Certainly, that is helpful to have that kind of character," he said. "It's a great opportunity for guys like Tyler to come in now and they don't have to play behind the kind of veterans (they normally would).
"They're getting the opportunity to lead this team earlier than they would have thought."
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