Friday, 28 November 2014

Victoria Grizzlies Mid-Season Report Card

     It's hard to think we're basically at the midway point of the 2014-15 BCHL season, but with half of the season in the books, it's time to look back at what was the first half of the Victoria Grizzlies season. Head Coach / GM Brad Knight had a lot of work to do when he came into the job, and the team needed a big overhaul after the departure of the Fitzgerald triplets. The Grizzlies currently sit with a record of 11-10-4, good for 26 points and 4th in the Island Division standings. It's been and up and down season so far, but let's give the Grizzlies a report card for their efforts in the first half of the season. And yes, I'm a tough marker.

Photo Credit: Tony Burrows

Offence: B

     Coming into the season, the offence was the biggest question mark undoubtedly. With the gaps to fill with the Fitzgeralds aging out, it left those wondering who would step up and "fill the vacuum" for Victoria. Luckily, the three veteran forwards in Jay Mackie, Dane Gibson and Garrett Forster stepped up to the plate and became true leaders offensively for the Grizzlies. A good supporting cast is always helpful, and the veteran forwards have gotten just that from newcomers such as Matt Kennedy, Brett Gruber and Mitch Barker. The defence has also chipped in with potting goals, especially the Grizzlies top pair of Meirs Moore and Zach Dixon as part of a brand new defensive end. The return of Jake Emilio brought much more offence to the back end, and he's looked sharp since returning from his October injury. The Grizzlies have had patches where the offence ran dry, and they've also had stretches where they've scored at will. On the whole, the team has combined for 84 goals this season, which stands as average amongst the rest of the league. If the Grizzlies want to move up in the standings in the second half of the season, their offence will need to be more consistent.

Photo Credit: Tony Burrows

Defence: C+

     The Grizzlies came into the season with a brand new defensive unit that took a while to get clicking, but the majority of Victoria's struggles comes down to team collapses in their own end and some breakout troubles. While they've improved drastically since the beginning of the season, the Grizzlies have had times where the passes get sloppy and the feet stop moving, allowing for the opposing team take advantage. The Grizzlies have had some nice defensive efforts from forwards like Storm Wahlrab, Brett Gruber and Cole Pickup, but the Grizzlies forwards have lost too many battles down low leading to scoring chances, and most of it comes down to sheer size. If you look at the Grizzlies goals for/against differential, they currently sit at -10 on the season, which isn't ideal if they want to move up in the standings. Again, there's been patches where the Grizzlies defence has been outstanding and stretches where Victoria gets trapped in their own end for long periods of time. For the Grizzlies defence, it comes down to being more consistent as they move forward.

Photo Credit: Tony Burrows

Goaltending: A

     In this case, numbers lie. Although they both sport save percentages under .900 and goals against averages over three, the goaltending duo of Michael Stiliadis and Sean Cleary has been outstanding for the Grizzlies this season. While Stiliadis has been given the majority of the starts playing against playoff contenders, coach Knight isn't afraid to switch it up with Cleary against any opponent in the league. The Grizzlies netminders have made some highlight reel saves night in and night out and kept the Grizzlies in the game numerous times throughout the season. Between a sprawled out Stiliadis stopping a barrage of shots and Cleary diving left and right to make miraculous stops, the Grizzlies have relied on their goaltending heavily thus far. It's a common hockey code that you never blame your goaltender, but there's no sugar coating when it comes to the Grizzlies netminders, they have been the real deal this season.

Photo Credit: Tony Burrows

Overall: B-

     With a massive turnover both on and off the ice, the Victoria Grizzlies have handled their new personnel very well and in doing so have entered the mid-way point of the season with a record over .500. However, looking at the bigger picture, the Grizzlies currently sit in fourth in the Island Division and must move up in the standings if they want to make a serious push in the post season and get home ice advantage. For the Grizzlies, they should be satisfied with their position due to the amount of new faces and rust. The second half of the season brings a lot of opportunity for this Grizzlies team to make a move on the top teams in the league. There's been patches of unmatched glory, 10-goal collapses and everything in between for the Victoria Grizzlies, and the second half of the season should prove to be just as entertaining as the first half. It's been a rollercoaster season for the Victoria Grizzlies, and this rollercoaster isn't slowing down any time soon. -TB

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