Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Grizzlies vs Warriors 26 Oct 2014: Can You Handle The Truth?

     Well I for one had some mixed feelings after calling the game yesterday afternoon at the Q Centre.  Sure, you could look at the 6-5 loss after that huge three goal outburst by the Grizzlies in the first five minutes of the game, and say: "Well that's a shame, they had it won."  But that's not how I felt as I took off my headset and loosened my tie after the final horn.  And its not how I felt as I drove off the JDF property and up the steep approaches surrounding the rink at about 4:30pm yesterday.  No, not me.  I kept thinking about what that game would have been like if it were played four months from now.  What would that game have been like if it were February 2015?

     Call me a "Homer", call me a "Glass Half Full Kinda Guy", call me all those things if you must, but just remember, I have been watching and studying this league for almost 25 years.  And if there is one thing I have noticed over my time enjoying the BCHL it is this simple fact: teams change over the course of the season.  Some grow strong while others experience atrophy and fail, but few stay the same.  So how much and at what rate do they usually morph?  Well that's always up to the players and coaches to decide.  And while they might not feel like it on Monday morning, this Grizzlies team has a choice.  They can let that loss on Sunday afternoon drive them nuts and allow it to own them the rest of the season.  Or they can look at the film, get back on the ice and figure out what they could have done differently.  That would have been my message in the dressing room anyway.  Well, most of my message.

     You see I saw a 3-0 first period lead yesterday, where it was pretty clear to me that "The October 2014 Grizzlies" were not yet entirely capable of holding that lead down for 55 more minutes.  You could almost conjure up an image of West Kelowna Warriors Head Coach Rylan Ferster, standing in a US Marine Corps dress uniform, just like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men.  You could almost see him looking up at that scoreboard with a minute to go in Period #1, starring menacingly over at the Grizzlies bench.  At that moment you could almost imagine him yelling at the Grizzlies home bench with that iconic line from that great 1992 Rob Reiner film:  "YOU WANT THE TRUTH?  YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!"

     And that is the sad truth about yesterday's loss in front of a somewhat sparse Sunday matinee crowd of only 634 fans at the Q Centre.  Sorry folks, but the team at this stage of the season, is not quite prepared to handle that kind of truth.  The truth that you can indeed score a quick 3 goals on an offensively gifted team like West Kelowna, a team with obvious bus legs and still win the hockey game.  You can, if you set your collective minds to the task, actually hold them off for another 55 minutes.  That is the truth.  But Rylan Ferster knew it, heck he has coached this Victoria team before, way back in the old 05/06 Salsa days with Tyler Bozak and Jordie Benn.  He knew that a young team like Victoria, only 13 games into a fresh new season, missing major pieces of their offence from last year, were maybe, just maybe, not entirely ready to hold off the likes of Liam Blackburn and the high flying forwards of West Kelowna.  Yes Blackburn, with his BCHL league leading 26 points coming into the contest.

     So there he stood, Coach Rylan Ferster and just like Jack Nicholson, he tried to intimidate and get in the head of his opponent.  And with only :49 seconds left to go in the First Period, he did just that.  Ferster unleashed his Captain and former WHL player, Andrew Johnson on the Grizzlies.  At that moment, the former Swift Current Bronco scored his second goal in only five games since joining his team and donning the "C" for the Warriors.  Sure it was only a single goal.  But on the Grizzlies bench it must have felt like "The Shot Heard Around The World."  That is of course, if you have trouble handling the truth.

     You could just sort of feel it at that moment.  The nearly silent building actually got a little quieter for a second or two, with maybe the odd gasp in the crowd.  3-1 Grizzlies at the first intermission. 

     So I won't labour you with the rest, we all know how it ended.  Yes it was a tough and painful loss for the Grizzlies.  But what will not be remembered so well was how hard the Grizzlies fought at times.  Most will forget how Cole Pickup scored two beautiful 2nd period goals, not only restoring the Grizzlies' two goal leads on both occasions, but rekindling the young forward's confidence in a season which has been a bit of a slow start for #14, let's be honest.  Remember we are talking about the truth you know?  And I don't care what any other sports writer wants to say about that last minute and a half in the game, with the Grizzlies net empty and the crowd on its feet.  Well I was on my feet anyway.

     Here is the truth:  Meirs Moore, Brett Gruber, Garrett Forster, Dane Gibson and that whole batch of players swarming around the Warriors net put on one heck of a performance as they almost pulled of a miraculous tying goal on no less than five or six separate occasions in those dying seconds.  So my hat is off to all you Grizzlies. You showed the heart of a lion, right till the end.

     And there ends the lesson.  The Grizzlies do have and will have in the months ahead all the skill, compete level, energy and willpower to hold off teams like the Warriors, whether they are off to a quick three goal lead, or trailing.  The Grizzlies have what it takes.  The Grizzlies can indeed "handle the truth."  And come next February, when those sorts of games turn into victories, maybe you'll remember that rambling article you read one day in October 2014 about........ wait what was that again?  Rylan Ferster was an actor in A Few Good Men?

     Oh and by the way:  you want to know how that movie ends?  Colonel Jessup, (Jack Nicholson's character) ends up admitting that he ordered the Code Red.  He loses his cool in court and perjures himself and then goes to jail.  And why?  All because a smart young lawyer, played by Tom Cruise stands his ground by trusting himself, trusting his skill and remaining confident in his abilities as an attorney ultimately proving to everyone that he can indeed "handle the truth."  Roll credits.

     And that's the Grizzlies team in February of 2015 which I can't wait to see.  A team that can handle the truth. -CC




Sunday, 26 October 2014

Grizzlies Edge Eagles in Saturday Night Showdown

     It seems like the Victoria Grizzlies never fail to produce dramatic hockey games, and Saturday night's contest against the Surrey Eagles was no different. The Grizzlies entered the game riding a three game losing skid, while the Eagles were coming off only a night's rest, losing 5-2 to the Coquitlam Express on Friday night on home ice. For the Grizzlies, they were still without head coach Brad Knight behind the bench, serving the second game of his three game suspension from altercations in Merritt.

     Early on, it looked as if the Grizzlies were going to run away with this hockey game. While it took a few minutes for the Grizzlies to get into gear, once they got going, they didn't look back. Dane Gibson and Jay Mackie would work some magic shorthanded, as the duo played hot potato across the blue line before Mackie slotted the centering feed past Eagles' sixteen year-old netminder Daniel Davidson to give the Grizz an early 1-0 lead. The Grizzlies kept the goals coming, as Cole Pickup would go to the backhand in front to beat Davidson just two minutes after the Mackie marker to make it 2-0 Victoria. The Grizzlies offence continued to strike early and often, as Jay Mackie would pick up his 2nd goal of the period with another nice assist from Dane Gibson to give Victoria a 3-0 lead just halfway into the first period. Then, a costly turnover in the Eagles end near the end of the frame would give Spencer Hunter a break and he would make no mistake, potting his first career BCHL goal on the defensive lapse to give the Grizzlies a commanding 4-0 lead heading into the first intermission. Not only was this the best period the Grizzlies have had so far this season, but it could go down as the best period the Grizzlies will play this season, as they passed the puck at will and created countless scoring chances, and outshot the Eagles 12-1 as the end of the period approached.

     However, the Grizzlies would take their foot off the gas pedal in the second period, and the Surrey squad began to claw back into the hockey game. It would be the Eagles top line that would get Surrey on the board, as Spencer Unger finished off the nice play to cut the Grizzlies lead down to three. Later in the period, it would be Spencer Meyer cashing in to cut the Victoria lead to 4-2. If it weren't for some lucky bounces and some nice stops from Grizzlies goalie Sean Cleary, the game could've been ripped right open for the Eagles to exploit. The Grizzlies couldn't handle the Surrey offence and were often on the ropes in their own end for stretched periods of time, and the Victoria crowd sat in silence and awe for the majority of the second period.

     The Eagles rushed out of the gates to start the third period, as a Lucas Stratford shot ricocheted off the end boards straight on the tape of Darius Davidson who made no mistake on the yawning cage to continue the Eagles comeback and mark three unanswered goals to make it 4-3 Victoria just two minutes into the final frame. The Grizzlies only had two power play opportunities in the hockey game, but they cashed in when they needed it most, as Cole Pickup capped a strong game with a beautiful centering pass for the veteran Garrett Forster who snapped the one-timer past Davidson to restore the Grizzlies two goal lead halfway through the period. The Eagles refused to quit, as Liam Fordy streaked down the left wing and snapped a wrist shot blocker side on Cleary to cut the lead in half with seven minutes to play in the contest. The Eagles would pull their goalie late, but couldn't capitalize on the extra man, as the Grizzlies secured their second home win of the season, defeating the Eagles 5-4 in a very tight affair. 

     Although it was a win, as a Grizzlies fan, it felt like a loss. The Grizzlies allowed the Eagles to come back from an early 4-0 deficit and nearly allowed the road team to escape with a victory in a contest that should've been a blowout. Give credit where credit is due, the Eagles made a game out of it, but the Grizzlies will need much better sixty minute efforts if they want to become serious contenders in the Island Division. At the end of the day, two points is two points and the Grizzlies will prepare for a matinee game tomorrow afternoon against another Mainland opponent, the West Kelowna Warriors. It wasn't pretty, but the Grizzlies got it done on home ice. -TB