Monday, 12 January 2015

The Fortress In The Forest

For those who have never had the pleasure of visiting Hap Parker Memorial Arena in Powell River I will do my best to describe it in a few short words. It sits tucked away in an old growth BC rain forest in the upper escarpments of the tiny town of Powell River on BC's Sunshine Coast. "The Hap" as it is known to locals was built in 1974 when the Pulp and Paper Industry was strong an the company owners had the cash on hand to build a two sheet building for local hockey and skating.

If 1974 seems like a long time ago to some, I will remind the few readers who may remember that the year's significant stories included the Patty Hurst kidnapping, Streaking, Watergate and the Vietnam War. Oh and how could I forget?

That summer while "The Hap" was being erected in Powell River, a middle-aged daredevil by the name of Evel Knievel attempted to ride a rocket sled over Idaho's Snake River Canyon. It was at the time the world's largest ever pay per view audience for a performance. I was 6 years old and I cried like a baby that day in August when my dad wouldn't take me to the $20 showing of the jump. It was being shown that day on a massive screen on the rink floor of the OHL's Ottawa 67s rink in the nation's capital. I stood on my driveway all afternoon waiting for my dad to come home so I could find out if Evil had made the jump, a stunt my father told me "would probably kill the poor bastard."

Old enough for ya?

Well after visiting the Hap Parker twice this past weekend and thrice in the last week, the Grizzlies would leave the old girl winless in four attempts on the regular season. But it provided this sports writer with a little name for The Hap which I coined on the bus ride home last night: The Fortress In The Forest. And that is precisely what "The Hap" has become to almost any Island Division team who must visit this somewhat anachronistic image of small town BC Junior Hockey. Did you know that during a recent visit to the Hap Parker this past season, The Cowichan Valley Capitals recorded their first away win in over seven seasons?  Seven seasons x 4 away games = a lot of hockey games. You may not like the building, but you sure have to respect it. The Hap truly is The Fortress In The Forest.

The Hap Parker would be the initial setting for the Grizzlies first major test of 2015, along with the team's next major series of internal changes, but what else is new?

Have you ever heard the saying that all big things in life usually come in threes? Well it was a weekend of threes for the Victoria Grizzlies. In the past three days, the Grizzlies would play three games, earn three points and make three major roster moves. If there was ever a single word to describe the past 72 hours in the Grizzlies Nation it would be the word transformative.

Friday started with the long bus trip from Victoria, to catch the 3:15 pm ferry and on to the Hap Parker where the between period intermission plan was a $50,000 give away to a lucky fan. But by game time, the promised sellout crowd proved as disappointing as the result on the night for Grizzlies fans, a 4-3 OT win tot he Kings. But it was not for a lack of effort as all in attendance would agree that the game was a very fast and competitive affair with high speed hockey being the order of the day. And so, contest #6 was in the books and the team retired to the hotel for the night. But importantly, the Grizzlies secured a single point on the night all by virtue of the OT.  Nevertheless, it was one of those games you just didn't deserve to lose.

The Grizzlies would awake Saturday on what is also known in the BCHL as Trade Deadline Day. They would awake amid a flurry of phone calls and text messages from player agents, parents and even ex-coaches all of which made the already impossibly challenging day even more difficult for all concerned. By the pre-game meal, the coaching staff had briefed the team on the details concerning the player moves which were met with respectful silence. Released and traded were Storm Whalrab and Justin Sadler respectively and joining the club was Thomas Gobeil of the Cowichan Valley Capitals. It was the most significant set of Trade Deadline Day transactions by the hockey club in recent memory. But such is the nature of Junior Hockey, its a business. And any sense of innocence felt by the remaining players was shed that drizzly day, all of which steeled the team towards the prospect of their final regular season visit to The Fortress In The Forest.

Unfortunately in spite of another excellent performance by the Grizzlies including a first ever BCHL goal by Campbell River Storm AP call-up, Tyler Welsh, the Grizzlies would fail to hold off the Kings and would loose the game 6-4. It would mark the fourth and final visit to "The Hap" until the playoffs which look everyday more and more likely to feature a Victoria vs Powell River first round matchup. A coach on the ferry later that night was heard to remark while in the heads, "It will be a long time before this team loses again."  Prophetic words indeed and much easier to say with The Fortress In The Forest in the rear view mirror.

Sunday's game was very different. It would offer a chance to return the favour to the Coquitlam Express who beat the Grizzlies in the final second of Double OT back on 19 Dec, 2014 during the Grizzlies' 3 game pre-Christmas road trip to the Lower Mainland. That heartbreaking loss was a distant memory as the Grizzlies dominated play, but not the score, due to the incredible goaltending performance by Express net minder, Chris Tai. Tai stopped all but 5 of the 43 he would face in the afternoon matinee matchup at the Q Centre on Sunday. The 5-3 Grizzlies win would mark the only home game the Q Centre for Grizzlies in this current span of  nine games from 2-23 Jan, 2015.

It was Thomas Gobeil's first game in a Grizzlies jersey and he looked very dangerous all night in the #1 Centre's role. Gobeil, while held pointless on the night, nevertheless he was involved in no less than an even twelve soild scoring chances. If not for the athletic Tai, Gobeil could have easily recorded the team's first Hat Trick of the 2014/15 season.

In conclusion, the Grizzlies find themselves in a safe but familiar place in the Island Standings looking way up at the Nanaimo Clippers who look to have disappeared with the Regular Season Island Division Title. But they are also looking down at the Alberni Valey Bulldogs and Cowichan Valley Capitals, neither of whom appear at this stage to pose any major threat to the Grizzlies position in the standings.

The question most fans are now asking is where Game 1 of the Playoffs will start for the Victoria Grizzlies. Will it be at the Q Centre or at the The Fortress In The Forest?  Either way, I suspect the series will live up to the drama an intensity of that aforementioned famous stunt attempt which took place in the year in which the iconic "Hap" was first built.

Oh and if any of you kids or players are reading this story and are wondering what ever happened to Evel Knievel on that infamous day at The Snake River Canyon in 1974. I suggest that you stand at the end of your driveway for four hours and wait for your Dad to come home and tell you himself.  That's how we got our news back in the day.

Or I suppose you can always Google it on the ride up to Cowichan Valley on Tuesday night.  I hear that the bus will probably have WiFi. -CC

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