Friday, 6 February 2015

What Goes Around Comes Around: Grizzlies v Clippers

Its been a little while since my last post and a few games have been played so I better just get right to it.
Remember that old saying: “What goes around comes around?”  Well a funny thing happened on the way to the Playoffs last night at The Frank Crane Arena, but more on that in a moment, we need to catch up on what has been going on over the last week in the Grizzly Nation.
Photo Credit - Christian Stewart (ISN)

Photo Credit - Christian Stewart (ISN)
After losing two straight games, including a season first ever 4-0 Shutout at home to the Salmon Arm Silverbacks two weeks ago, the month of January looked like it would come in like a lion but go out like a lamb.  Or so goes the saying as far as Grizzlies fans were concerned.  But the Grizzlies would surprise many with a series of major bounce back games with lopsided wins against the Chilliwack Chiefs (6-1), and two vs the Alberni Valley Bulldogs by scores of 8-3 and 4-0 respectively.  During that recent 4 game stretch, Michael Stiliadis recorded his second shutout of the season in the 4-0 win over the Bulldogs on Tuesday, but the bigger story for me was the offence.  In short, the Grizzlies offence has exploded in the last two weeks.  Last night was a 5-4 OT loss in Nanaimo, but 4 goals in Nanaimo vs the #1 Goalie in the BCHL, Guillaume Decelles, is still very good indeed.

Photo Credit - Christian Stewart (ISN)
So what is happening, just how and why have the Grizzlies acquired such offensive prowess all of a sudden?  The answer is that the offence was always there.  Its just that now with the likes of Tom Gobeil, Kevin Massy and Jay Mackie there has been a transformation a fantastic Top Line into an unstoppable Top Line.  The first line just plain scores every single night, full stop.  Couple that with Line #2, The Hands Line, Gruber, Kennedy and Dane Gibson and the Victoria Grizzlies suddenly have what might very well be the best top 6 forwards in the BCHL.  Don’t forget that they are achieving this in the absence of Garrett Forster, who is still out nursing an upper body injury.  When Forster gets back, which should be soon, that top line will get even better. 
Bottom line, the Grizzlies have outscored their opponents 22-9 in their last four games going 3-0-0-1.  Dane Gibson is now 3rd in BCHL scoring and Tom Gobeil has registered 10 points in 8 games, 7 of them goals. And who can forget Brett Gruber and his team leading 30 goals?  Gruber has been flat out fantastic in January/early February.  Jay Mackie and Matt Kennedy have also been offensively explosive, with the former on a four game point streak and the later with a pair last night in the OT loss at the Frank Crane Arena.  The defense has been solid and the goal tending has also improved.
Photo Credit - Christian Stewart (ISN)
Back to last night.  A franchise record ten overtime losses is not a good stat to quote, but I really liked what I saw last night and here is why.  Going into action yesterday, Nanaimo had won 4 of 6 games vs Victoria this season.  Each game was won by a single goal and while last night was no exception, the Grizzlies came back and tied the game on no less than three separate occasions.  And you could see the frustration in the Clippers.  By the second period, tempers finally boiled over. 
After a fight where Meirs Moore was jumped by Ryan Forbes at the Clippers bench, the seemingly nitro-glycerine fuelled Nanaimo Head Coach, Mike Vanderkamp, sporting a foot cast for some reason, finally started to crack.  Once Game Misconduct and Instigator penalties were handed out to Ryan Forbes, but not to Moore, who was clearly ambushed on the play, Vanderkamp looked on with incredulity.
Photo Credit - Christian Stewart (ISN)
Amazingly Vanderkamp seemed pleased that with his team up 3-2, he would see Ryan Forbes instigate a fight.  Even more miraculous, nobody in the building seemed to notice or care that Referee Zack Sletto appeared to completely re-write the BCHL rule book all on his own as he dolled out the penalties.  Incredibly and for the very first time in this hockey writers career, I along with the other 932 fans on hand witnessed a "3 Minute Penalty".  Incredible, I thought that only happened in my "Beer League" because beer leagues typically run the clock, but there it was for all to see, a 3-minute penalty, awarded to the Grizzlies.
Rather than get in a massive explanation, suffice to say, Sletto completely mis-understood and mis-applied the very black and white BCHL Refereeing Supplement which was well briefed to all BCHL officials prior to the start of the season.  That Supplement if it had been understood by last night's officiating crew would have seen a 4 on 4 situation for 4 minutes, followed by three minutes of PP time for the Grizzlies after the two Moore minors were completed.
Photo Credit - Christian Stewart (ISN)
Regardless, that butchered call really got the Nanaimo Coach going.  Strike #1 on Vanderkamp.  Then only 5 minutes later after Tom Gobeil and Cole Maier were both given 10 minute misconducts, with an extra 2 minutes to Maier for a Cross-Check, Vanderkamp got even hotter and the benches started passing pleasantries.  Strike #2 on Vanderkamp.  But only minutes later when the returning Moore fired a bullet shot tipped by Matt Kennedy tying the game at 3-3, the Nanaimo Head Coaching bundle of nitro-glycerin was finally forced beyond molecular stability and off went Vanderkamp for Strike #3.
Challenging Victoria Assistant Coach Scott Hawthorne to a fight at the bench, Vanderkamp was immediately ejected from the game.  But not before sharing with all in attendance a series of insults, profanity and expletives not heard during even the longest of sea going voyages by the hardest alcohol-fueled navy men know to travel the high seas.  Gone was Vanderkamp but not before appearing in the Grizzlies side of the tunnel, only to be restrained by arena security as he attempted to entice the far calmer Hawthorne to a fight.
Hawthorne would have none of it, likely for both the simple fact that he was far too wise to fall for such lunacy, but probably also for the fact that few have so assailed in single handed combat any credibility from fighting an incensed coach with a broken foot.
After a Dane Gibson PP goal, the Grizzlies would eventually take the lead in the 3rd period, a rare sight for Nanaimo at home this season, but the lead would not last and OT which you could sense was in the cards all night, became a reality.  Sadly the game would end on a poor line change with a partially screened point shot by ex-WHL and Clippers newcomer, Ryan Coghlan and the Grizzlies would collect their league leading 10th OT loss of the season. 5-4 was the final, but the Grizzlies outshot the Clippers 40-36 on the night.
Photo Credit - Christian Stewart (ISN)
In the meantime, what I liked once again were the multiple comebacks and the overall team response.  Best of all I liked the fact that the Grizzlies are a team which shouldn't be on the mental radar of the high flying Nanaimo Clippers, but they certainly are now.  And as evidenced by the multiple game ejections by the Clippers and lack of self-control, the Grizzlies are not just on their proverbial radar scope, but they are now firmly in their hockey minds and thoughts.  This Victoria team is an ever growing mass of blinking red video return in the psyche of The Clippers who suddenly recognize this new and very serious threat located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, a threat which the Grizzlies now clearly represent.  I would conclude only by saying that the secret is out.  Let's just hope that for Grizzlies fans, that "what goes around comes around" come Playoff time in March. -CC

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