Friday, 16 January 2015

Preview Of Big Northern Road Trip

First of all, before I even talk about last Tuesday or even contemplate discussing the two upcoming games this weekend vs the Chilliwack Cheifs Friday and the Prince George Spruce Kings Saturday, I want to take a moment to pause here and reflect on Kyle Horesman and his family in Sechelt, BC and his extended hockey family in the Cowichan Valley Capitals.

There is no way to properly express my sadness and regret at the news which we all heard Tuesday night about the tragic passing of the Capitals Team Captain's father just the night before we faced the Caps at The Island Savings Centre on that night this week up in Duncan. A moment like that transcends the game and puts into perspective what we do in the BCHL every day.  Kyle lost the man who brought him to the rink every morning, the man who along with his mother, brought him into this world and I want to take a moment to express my sincere condolences to Kyle, his family and anyone in the Cowichan Valley Capitals in this profound period of sadness. My prayers and thoughts are with you all at this time.

While a loss, especially one in OT, is certainly painful, I must admit that I probably felt a lot different leaving the rink Tuesday night than many other Grizzlies fans did in many ways.  First of all, there were far bigger things going on in the Cowichan Valley Capitals organization that night and a hockey game, at least for this sports writer, was just what took place, it wasn't the whole story on the evening.

But look, let's face facts, its was yet another 1 goal game in a year just full of them and this time it was yet another tough heartbreaker of an OT loss.  WE have seen way too much of that this year, no question.  I wrote a blog many months ago about the fact that the Grizzlies are going to be a very different and fun team to watch come February and I still maintain that point. Heck they are a joy to watch now but the team has not yet figured out how to step on the throats of their opponents, when they have them on the ropes.  That will come in time.

The Grizzlies were chasing the Capitals all night at "The Stick" on Tuesday, let's not mince words. Yes, Brett Gruber had a beautiful Hat Trick his first of the season and first for the organization as well and yes the Grizzlies did score a Short Handed marker and looked dangerous at times but for me you could just sort of feel the moment in the rink.  This night was all about The Capitals trying to win a gutsy one for their Captain who of course was back in Sechelt, BC attending to his family.  The 650 Capitals fans who did come to the game went home happy of course but I want to make one quick point about the Capitals here before I go on to set up this weekend's action.

I said several weeks ago that I felt that the Capitals would move up and grab that final playoff spot in the Island Division standings.  People I know, many people all said I was crazy and maybe I am.  But I see trends, I see the game, I see what is happening and let me tell you this: Any team that can find a way to get a lead at home, lose that lead and then tie the game very late and eventually win it in OT, all while one of their top players, let alone, their Team Captain is away bereaving the loss of his dad, any team that can do that, can and will make the playoffs.  I know they are way down on points from the Alberni Valley Bulldogs who have a tone of games in hand on them, but remember, the Bulldogs just lost Evan Tironese to season ending shoulder surgery and that will hurt them badly down the stretch.  Mark my words, The Cowichan Valley Capitals will sneak into the playoffs on the last day of the BCHL's Regular Season and knock out the Bulldogs.

OK, enough about the other teams, let's get back to the Grizzlies.  Its a big road trip this weekend and there are two very big road games vs opponents who just happen to really be struggling at the moment and that's good for you Grizzlies fans reading this and here is why.  These games can serve as the first true look and test of "The 2014/15 Victoria Grizzlies".  We got a bit of a glimpse of them on Sunday vs the Express at The Q Centre, but make no mistake, the 22 players which you see now are now the team which is either going to win The Fred Page Cup this year and suprise everyone except me, or they are going to die trying.  This is your team.

The roster is now set and the contractual clauses which kept Tom Gobeil out of the lineup on Tuesday vs his former club are now complete.  Gobeil, who I liken to a young Mark Messier (more on that in a later blog), is full of pro talent and I expect him to make a major mark on the club this weekend.  I haven't yet seen the lineup cards for tonight yet and I don't want to say too much because I don't have all the info about some potential injuries at the moment, but I will say this: Tom Gobeil, #25 in a White Victoria Grizzlies shirt will have his coming out party on the road this weekend and I can't wait to see it.

But best of all, is what a player like Gobeil can do for the 3rd and 4th lines, along with the defensemen and goalies that I am most looking forward to seeing in Chilliwack and Prince George.  Remember, this is your team now. I suspect that he will make a potent First Line even more dangerous. The impact of that is that it will allow the "Hands Line" to see more space on the ice as the Second Line. Best of all, that will allow the Cycle Line, Line 3, Conlon, Pickup and Barker or even Guiney, even more room to play and score.  The defensive pairings which used to be able to shut down a line or two will now have 2-3 problematic offensive lines to deal with for the very first time this season.

I also think that the stronger offense will help the D-Men who let's face it have been the best 7 Defenseman in the BCHL this year bar none.  That in turn will add confidence to the goal tending pair of Stiliadis and Cleary, one of whom is nursing a lower body injury at the moment.

We actually saw glimpses of that on Sunday when Gobeil was in the lineup, but with Justin Tai in net for Coquitlam, putting up what I can only describe as maybe the best goal tending performance which the Grizzlies have faced all season, Victoria could only must 5 goals.  That won't be the case vs two struggling Mainland Division foes who are either full of injuries or full of poor recent performances or full of both.  I am picking the Grizzlies to come away with all four points this weekend so that they can return to the Island and relax for a change and maybe watch the Seahawks win their second straight NFC Championship en route to their own version of The Fred Page Cup, the Lombardi Trophy.

Talk to you Friday night at 6:45pm (PST) for the Pre-Game Show.  It should be a good one folks. -CC


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