You know I thought I saw something very different with the Grizzlies on Saturday night and it all seemed to start with the play of Michael Stiliadis. His body language told me a lot and what it said, at least to me anyway was, "OK, enough of this garbage, I am sick and tired of losing, let's go boys!" He was tracking pucks all night, he was aggressive, once skating to the top of the faceoff circles to beat an odd man rush. His energy and aggressive enthusiasm was like a boiler on a low steam and the more he played, the better he got and by the end of the game he was literally unstoppable.
It was by far his best performance of the year.
And it was high time as well. The Grizzlies entered competition on Saturday night fresh off their first and hopefully only shutout against on the season when Salmon Arm came into the Q Centre and skated away with a 4-0 win on "Heros Night" at The Q Centre on Friday. Forget not that just 48 hours earlier in maybe the low point of the year, the Grizzlies forfeited 3 unanswered goals in the third period up in Port Alberni, losing the game 4-3. Things looked grim and the shutout to Salmon Arm only put salt in the wound.
After taking the lead early on by virtue of a Chilliwack Powerplay goal, which was scored largely due to Stiliadis having had his stick dislodged from his hands, it looked like the Grizzlies were on their way to another struggling loss. But there was Stiliadis, rising to the occasion, you could almost feel it in the Q centre, something seemed to snap in the veteran net minder. It was as though he was saying with conviction those classic words: "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!"
And picking up on that energy was recent trade deadline acquisition Thomas Gobeil. Gobeil, the hottest goal scorer on the team over the last several games was sprung free after a nifty bit of D to D work by Jake Emilio and Chris Harpur. The steely eyed Emilio after breaking out of the D Zone, spotted the 20 year old French Canadian phenom at the far blue line and sent Gobeil free on a clear cut breakaway. Gobeil carried the puck hard at speed to his forehand drawing Chiefs net minder David Jacobson to his left and then with ease pulled the puck to his backhand, firing home his 4th goal in a Grizzlies uniform in only 5 games, knotting the game even at 1-1. The 867 fans in attendance went wild.
Later in the same period on the Powerplay, Cole Pickup would make a sensational play of his own after batting down a Jay Mackie rebound with a borderline high stick and spinning to his right, his hand eye coordination did not fail him. Pickup quickly dispatched his 2nd Powerplay goal of the season and 8th goal overall of the campaign. The Grizzlies suddenly had a lead.
After the First Intermission, the Grizzlies and Chiefs would start the 2nd period with massive puddles all over the ice surface and the wet surface would play a role in the next goal of the hockey game as Brett Gruber would take advantage of a water arrested puck at the feet of the Chiefs right point man, Bennett Morrison. The speedy Gruber would waste no time. Seeing Morrison fan on his point shot with the puck stuck at his feet on the wet ice, the Wisconsin native would negotiate several puddles himself as he carefully set up a soft but ever so precise saucer pass to his line mate Dane Gibson. Gibson would easily score his 21st goal of the season and suddenly the score was 3-1.
Just moments later, Kevin Massy, playing Right Wing on the First Line for the evening, would make the score 4-1 after stealing the puck in the defensive end. Using Jay Mackie as a decoy, the 6'4'' Victoria "Defenseman-turned-Forward" would fire off a quick snap shot which found only the top right corner of the net beating Jacobson easily over the left shoulder.
Later in the period, Gobeil would fire a laser beam slap shot while on the Power Play, his second of the night and 5th goal in as many games in a Victoria Grizzlies uniform. Gobeil would earn the game's First Star.
But the unsung hero and story of the night was the play of Michael Stiliadis. Probably few players on the Grizzlies roster have felt worse about the recent dip in form of the Victoria side than Stiliadis. All night he was called upon to make the routine save, the tough save and by the end of the game even the miraculous save. Each time Stiliadis was equal to the task and by the final whistle he had turned away 25 of 26 shots on net. The only shot which beat him, did so while Stiliadis was without his stick. So all in all it was a "Stick In Hand Shutout" for the Vaughn Ontario native by the end of the night.
In an interesting quirk in the game, the Grizzlies would score their 6th and final goal on the night via the Short Handed variety when Chiefs Head Coach Jason Tatarnic chose to pull his goalie from the net midway through the third period while on the Powerplay. The tactic would boomerang on the first year Head Coach as Sean McBride would gain possession of the puck and fire home a long range empty net shorthanded marker, vaulting the Grizzlies alone atop the BCHL Standings in Shorthanded Goals at 11. The Grizzlies registered only 6 Short Handed Goals last year.
And thus would end the weekend for the Grizzlies, who are 1-1 on the current short 4 Game Home Stand. The Grizzlies are next in action on Wednesday night as they face the Alberni Valley Bulldogs for two in a row at the Q Centre vs the same team, first on the 28th of January and then again on 3 February hosting the Bulldogs with a short break in between for Superbowl Weekend. The Grizzlies will then go on the road the very next night to The Frank Crane Arena in Nanaimo to play the Clippers on Wednesday the 4th of February. -CC