The Victoria Grizzlies are back. If you don't believe me, just take the short drive on Saturday over the Malahat and talk to the first Duncan resident you see wearing any Capitals gear. Chances are they will tell you a story of high skill, power, speed and total hockey domination. And the team they will be talking about isn't their beloved home team Caps, those descriptions I guarantee will be reserved for the visiting Victoria Grizzlies.
And total domination was the order of the day as the Grizzlies outshot the Capitals 20-5 and lead them by a score of 2-0 and all in the first period alone. It was a period which seemed to reflect a team which was determined to demonstrate to the coach who recruited them, the coach who developed them and the coach who returned as their boss just days ago this simple truth: that they still were the same talented players he once knew so well.
That coach, they all seemed to be trying to impress of course was none other than newly appointed GM and Head Coach, Craig Didmon. Didmon was called back into service with the surprising and rather sudden departure of Brad Knight on Sunday morning. And judging by some of the new/old coach's pregame comments, it wasn't clear to the coaching staff exactly what sort of performance they were going to see on a foggy and wet fall evening in the Cowichan Valley. There was an honest admission, that the return of the former coach might confuse some of the habits and tactics developed so far.
But by the end of the 1st period, many if not all of those questions or concerns harboured by Craig Didmon were quickly answered. In the final minute of the period, after a Meirs Moore steal and headman pass to Jay Mackie, the flashy winger streaked into the Capitals end and with a head fake and burst of speed found his line mate, Dane Gibson to his immediate left. Mackie calmly laid a picture perfect pass to the former Capital and Gibson made no mistake in burying his 10th goal of the season.
By the second period, the defensemen on the team must have gotten the idea that they too needed to remind the returning coach that they had game as well. The second period would witness no less than two back to back Grizzlies goals, both by defensemen and often set up by D-men. The first goal was by way of a solid point shot on the Powerplay by Meirs Moore from Mackie and the second off a driving at the net Cody Van Lierop as he finished off a well played, pass/shot by fellow defenseman Kevin Massy, who would impress on the night with a two assist performance to bring the Victoria native to double digits in scoring on the season.
And all the while, there confidently stood Michael Stiliadis in net, turning aside all eleven of the shots he faced over the first two frames of the game. You wouldn't know it at the time and nobody wanted to say it out loud of course, fearing superstition, but Stiliadis looked like he was more than up for the task of posting his first shutout of this 2014/15 season.
The third period was simply more of the same. More goals, this time from who else, the talented forwards. Jay Mackie and Brett Gruber would put a one sided contest from what was already well out of reach, to the type of distance from a comeback that only one-way NASA spacecraft like the Voyager II tend to experience in the cold outer reaches of the solar system. This game was probably long over in the first or second period, but Mackie and Gruber would dash any final hopes of a Cowichan comeback with their 10th and 13th respective goals on the season thus far.
And that was how the game would end at 6-0. It would occur amid a flurry of Caps fans deciding on their own to toss their Teddy Bears in absence of a Cowichan goal in the game as few in the building including yours truly had remembered that tonight was of course "Capitals Critter Toss Night". That of course is the name the Caps affix to the team's annual Christmas toy drive for local charity. And so it was, with the puck barely out of the net after the Brett Gruber goal, that fans began to shower the ice with Teddy bears, only to turn and walk out the door to face the cold dark night.
So it was a bit of a "what is old is new again" type of a night for the Victoria Grizzlies. The old coach, who is not so old, felt brand new behind the bench. And so did the team he put on the ice who dominated their opponent, on the road no less, in a most impressive win which put the Grizzlies at 12-10-0-5 and 29 points on the season, just 4 behind the Powell River Kings who sit at third in the Island Division. Michael Stiliadis recorded his first shutout of the year in an impressive performance stopping all 19 of the shots he faced.
The Grizzlies will host the Merritt Centennials at The Q Centre tomorrow night. Merritt is coming off a 3-2 comeback OT win against the Nanaimo Clippers at The Frank Crane Centre on Friday night. Game time Saturday at The Q is 7pm. -CC