Friday, 6 March 2015

Survive and Advance: Grizzlies v Kings Games 1 & 2

A couple of years ago the surviving members of the 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack were getting together to have a 30 year reunion from their National Championship season and it occurred to ESPN Films to make one of those 30 for 30 documentaries about the iconic event.

If I was ever asked, I would often say that the only thing which could ever instantly bring me to tears was the final 15 minutes of To Kill A Mockingbird.  Well in 2013 when ESPN 30 for 30 released Survive and Advance, I had to add that film to my short list.  It's still the finest documentary I have ever seen.

The Wolfpack's Head Coach in 1983 was a funny and outgoing young Italian American from Queens New York named Jim Valvano.  Jimmy V was a lot of great things, but what he was most known for was his ability to trust his convictions and lead his team in the only way he knew how, by being himself.

Literally against all odds, the 83' Wolfpack won College Basketball's most coveted prize, the NCAA Men's National Championship.  The 30 for 30 Episode which commemorates that moment talks about the highs and the lows of that entire 82'/83' season, but most of all it captures Coach V's constant pre-game message during that Final Four:  "Survive and Advance".

Photo Credit - Christian Stewart ISN
Just survive the next game and then advance to the next one.  That was his message.  Just find a way to win and we will advance, somehow, some way and we will worry about the next game when it comes.  That 83' Wolfpack team saw him invent tactics in the spur of the moment.  He called timeouts and issued instructions for his players to commit intentional fouls.  It was done only to get the ball back and put pressure on the opposition.  It had never been done before.  Yes Coach Jimmy V invented the intentional foul.

Photo Credit - Christian Stewart ISN
The Grizzlies in many ways are right in the middle of their very own "Final Four".  Well actually the BCHL somehow managed to invent a "Final Three" but I think you get what I am getting at.

After a miserable 7-2 opening game loss in front of a sparse crowd at the Q Centre on Tuesday night, the Grizzlies looked like a truly emotionally beaten team.  Nothing went right.  Pucks bounced off sticks, passes went wide or were too long and ended up in an icing call, shots were deflected into the Q Centre netting by the dozens all night.  With only 6 games left in the series and the Grizzlies needing to win 4 out of the 6, the task was looking tall going into the Hap Parker Arena for three straight games this weekend.

Photo Credit - Christian Stewart ISN
And that's when I started thinking about Jim Valvano.  After a one year fight with cancer, Coach Valvano would die in 1993 shortly after the 10th year anniversary of the 83' Championship.  On Tuesday night I started to think about what he would if he were alive to the Grizzlies during this treacherous road to the Fred Page Cup.  I started to think long and hard about Survive and Advance.

Down early in Game 2 on a Powell River Johnny Evans goal, the Grizzlies looked like they were on their way to another long night.  But before the period was out, Ayden Macdonald, fresh off a two game suspension, would tie the game at 1-1 on a beautifully crafted play by Kevin Massy.  Best of all, the tie game held firm as both goalies turned away shot after shot.

Photo Credit - Christian Stewart ISN
With less than 3 minutes to play last night and with the score all knotted up at 1-1, I literally saw first-hand the principles of Survive and Advance.  Michael Stiliadis faced Brent Lashuk literally 5 feet in front of his crease, alone with the puck. One shot, a save, a second shot up higher, another save, a Grizzlies defenseman to the rescue, a sudden clearance and the danger had passed.  Or so it seemed.  Only moments later another wide open blistering shot, this time from the left D man and another huge stop by Stiliadis.  Survive and Advance.

With overtime looming the Grizzlies went to their Dressing Room with a 32-25 shot advantage.  No matter what happened in OT, the players would be able to look in the mirror with the full knowledge that they could do it, they could compete and play with the Kings.  The chances on net, not only the shots were far more in favour of the Grizzlies.

Photo Credit - Christian Stewart ISN
The Overtime literally played out almost in slow motion. Three minutes in, facing the Kings top line of Keats, Lashuk and Lukosevicius and under serious pressure in the Grizzlies end, Cole Pickup would tip a pass to the point and through the legs of Tony DeVito.  The play would see Pickup stretched at arms length and sprawled on the ice in a full extension to knock the puck free.  Using every inch of his 6'1'' frame, the Langford native would get just enough of the puck to send it down the right side of the ice and down towards the Grizzlies bench.

Seizing the moment, PJ Conlon who had been stymied numerous times in both games would sprint down the ice at full stride and beat the Kings defenseman Colton Sandberg to the puck.  After battling to retain possession, Conlon would pass the puck back to the point to Pickup who had re-joined the play.  It was at that moment that Chris Harpur would power his way into the offensive zone and yelling for the puck, Pickup would oblige the Niagara On The Lake born defenseman with a smooth saucer pass.  Taking his time, Harpur would quickly fire off a trademark left handed wrist shot high and over the left shoulder and glove of Kings goaltender Brett Magnus.  The puck found the top right corner of the net.  It was the biggest goal of not only Harpur's career but the biggest for the hockey club all season.

Photo Credit - Christian Stewart ISN
The Q Centre erupted and the series was tied 1-1.  Survive and Advance.

With Games 3, 4 and 5 all set for this weekend, the Grizzlies will travel to the Hap Parker in an attempt to accomplish something which they have not done all series and that of course is lead.  Heck the Grizzlies have yet to actually lead in an actual game.  Yes, the Grizzlies have not yet won a game this year at The Hap, but that's OK, they seem to have a new mentality going and it is serving them well.

Survive and Advance.  Jimmy V would be proud. -CC

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