Thursday, 20 November 2014

Subtle Change or Hardly Subtle? The Grizzlies 5-4 Road Win Over Nanaimo

There is only one true constant in life, and that constant is change. I can't remember who said that first, it might have been Albert Einstein, but frankly I am too tired to Google it, so there you go. But its a famous saying nonetheless and most will agree with its accuracy. What is lost on most people however, is how subtle that change is most of the time. Oh we have terrible and often watershed, defining moments like, Pearl Harbour, the Kennedy assassination and 9/11. Events where at one moment we were one thing and seconds later we were something else. But most change comes in small little doses, like the little pills we often are prescribed by doctors take to ward off illness or disease. The change they tend to produce is often very slow and can be hard to notice. In a word, change is usually quite subtle.

I have been thinking that way about this year's Grizzlies for a long time now. I have been thinking about how this band of mostly rookies is very slowly changing and growing into something very special, but more to the point about how slow they are changing their narrative. That changing narrative is at times is almost imperceptible to the naked eye. But today I also thought about it in my own circumstances in that today also just happens to be my birthday. Yes, I know, its a problem we all have once a year I am afraid. Well tonight I got my birthday present, which I may have mentioned the last time we spoke. So thanks there boys, but let's get down to what you read this blog for, not about a sportswriter's birthday plans: let's talk about tonight's game and what I think it all means.

You know here is why I just love the BCHL. Only in this league do you get a team like Victoria to come into a building like the Frank Crane Arena, fresh off a 3 game losing streak and while on the last game of a very tough 4 game road trip, you see the underdog Grizzlies pull off an away win to hand the mighty Clippers a 5-4 loss. That doesn't happen in many other leagues anywhere, but it happens in the BCHL. And why? It is because this game is played by brave young men from the ages of 16-20 and they are each about as hungry for success as a pack of starved dogs are for a bite to eat.

What league can see the Grizzlies with their #1 Power Play go 0 for 6 on Sunday, drop to #5 and only three days later, they score 3 on the PP and move right back up to #1 in Special Teams?  And they do it all during that stretch without power forward and PP specialist Dane Gibson. Instead they do it with heart and they do it with a total team first approach.  I will tell you what league sees that kind of madness, it is the British Columbia Hockey League.

And what kind of team does it take to give up two late goals in the 3rd period against a statistically superior opponent like Nanaimo and set themselves up for, let's be honest, yet another heartbreaking loss in a season with too many so far?  No its not the Grizzlies, its the "Drama King Kids From The Q!"  I just like the way that sounds and kind of jingles off the tongue, Drama King Kids From The Q, lots of great "K" sounds in there. 

The Drama King Kids, just keep turning a page and somehow, just when the naysayers are starting to say that they can't get the job done, they go ahead and score a Power Play goal in the final minutes of the 3rd period. Watch out BCHL fans, the Grizzlies are changing the narrative on the season, one page at a time. Yes, they have given up a lot of leads and lost games late this year, but they keep getting better. They don't lose games and then subsequently fail to learn from the experience. They give up leads from time to time and then learn how to avoid doing that, maybe not the very next time, but eventually.

But its very subtle you see. You really have to read between the tea leaves to see it.  Here let me try and give you an example.

Sunday 26 Oct, the Grizzlies give up a 3-0 lead at home and lose to a "better on paper" West Kelowna Warriors team. They lose 6-5 and the team is incredulous at the prospect of what had just occurred.  Then, a mere eighteen days later, this past Saturday, they hold off the same team with a narrow lead until the 60th minute of the contest when the Warriors score to tie it with 20 seconds left and force an unfair OT where the Grizzlies lose yet again. Subtle improvement?  I can see it, but just barely. Can you?

Now look at how subtly they are closing in on the #1 offense in the league, the powerhouse Nanaimo Clippers. This same Grizzlies team loses no less than 3 straight, one goal contests vs the Clippers over a two month period, coming into tonight's game in Nanaimo. 27 Sep, Grizzlies lose 4-3 at the Crane, then 4-3 again on 11 Oct this time at the Q Centre. Then one week later another 5-4 loss, this one again at the Q Centre. All regulation losses to a dreaded and powerful divisional opponent. Tonight, they go down a goal and everyone is thinking, oh boy, here we go again, we have no Dane Gibson, its curtains.  But change can be subtle sometimes remember.

And the Grizzlies answer back.  They get a break on a routine Chris Harpur point shot for his first of the campaign and its 1-1. Then they go down 2-1 and you are thinking, its the Clippers, put a fork in it, this game is over. But before the period is out, Jay Mackie scores on the PP. The Power Play?  I thought we were 0 for 6 or something in Vernon and dropped out of the league lead?  We did, but change can be very slow and deceiving at times. Game tied 2-2 at the break.

Period #2 starts and before you know it, Zach Dixon scores his first of the night on the PP no less. Then Ayden MacDonald with King Kong on his back scores a sublime marker to record his first goal in the BCHL. Funny, I never saw anybody grab him the puck. Oh well, I wouldn't worry about it #26, there will be many more where that came from. So the Grizzlies are up 4-2 and for me, what occurs next is the most subtle moment in this season long series so far: Nanaimo coach Mike Vandekamp, elects to pull Goaltender, Guillaume Decelles after Ayden MacDonald's 4-2 marker. As he does this, the Joliette Que native throws his stick down the Clipper's tunnel with words and epitaphs that would make a sailor cringe and trust me, I am a sailor and I was cringing. And so in goes his back-up, rookie Jakob Severson. OK, maybe not all change is that subtle.

But the Grizzlies would not be the "Drama King Kids From The Q" if they didn't have a little drama would they? The Clippers claw 2 goals back in the 3rd period and half way through the frame you are thinking, its either going to be another OT loss or we just cave late. Sorry but that's what you're all thinking, I know it. But the Grizzlies are one day at a time, one period at a time, one Special Team's play at a time, slowly evolving into that team you just pray you don't have to face in the playoffs.

First hint of Nanaimo trouble: Nanaimo hits a post late and then Clipper's Forward, Ryan Forbes (who is a Penalty Killer Expert but wait for it) gets a misconduct call by saying a naughty word or two/nine to the referee. Subtly getting under the Clippers' skin are these Grizzlies, they just keep getting a little better. Every game, every period. Oh they are so infuriating these Grizzlies! And those uber loyal visiting fans! Good grief shut it would you!

And then it happens, Nanaimo's Sheldon Rempal, with his team leading 29 points, loses his head and hits Meirs Moore hard from behind. Referee Jeff Eden has no choice but to call a minor for Boarding with just under 3 minutes to left to play. Brett Gruber then does what he and the other Centres have been doing all night, he wins the draw cleanly back to Meirs Moore and with a soft neat pass over to Zach Dixon, the right handed Dixon, playing on the left point no less, fires home his second of the night and 3rd on the season and the Grizzlies are up 5-4. Significant improvement, subtle, yes, but unmistakably there for all to see.

And that's how she would end folks, the Grizzlies finally shake off the Clippers in what I am calling the best overall win of the year so far. Ayden MacDonald and Chris Harpur each score their first goals of the campaign. And now, after removing the large primate which had been residing rather uncomfortably on Big Mac's rear loins, he enters the Grizzlies Rookie Forwards Goal Scoring Race with the likes of teammates Spencer Hunter and Quinn Thompson. 

And here I stand on my birthday, looking into the mirror, one year older than I was last year, brushing my teeth before bed. Just a middle aged man, reflecting on another glorious Grizzlies win at The Frank Crane Arena. But all the while, ever mindful of that little fact which I like to hide in denial just a little bit. That would be the fact that my "Movemeber" mustache this year has one or two more grey hairs in it compared to how it looked the last time my calendar read the 19th day of November. Oh well, I guess its a good thing after all, that most of the change we tend notice in life, is thankfully rather subtle. -CC



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