Thursday, 22 October 2015

Thuring Points, Mercury Cougars and Bobby Smith: The Grizzlies Get Weekend Split

Whenever I think of the term "turning point", I don't think of the iconic "TSN Turning Point", I think of the great Bobby Smith.  I still remember those rides home with my Dad after Ottawa 67s games as I sat in the passenger seat of that big American built, 1975 Mercury Cougar.  For those of you who have no idea what that might have been like, let me provide you a quick visual description.  The 75' Cougar was half boat/half luxury car/half army tank.  It was so fast and powerful that it actually won the 1976 Daytona 500.  The car was so big and so intimidating that Clint Eastwood would one day make one of his finest films about the very vehicle which inspired the Cougar, the Grand Torino.  In 1975, the Cougar's massive Q-code 351 "Cobra Jet" V8  engine was so big that to this day, some environmentalists still claim that the Cougar was likely the primary and singular cause for modern day climate change.

1975 Cougar, a greenhouse gas, muscle car if there ever was one

I remember sitting in the passenger seat after those Ottawa 67s games, unable to see over the massive front dash board of the great beast, but still able to hear my Dad's predictable question:  "Well Clayton what did you think was the turning point tonight?"  Back in those days, my answer was almost always something like, "I though Bobby Smith's 3rd period Power Play goal was really cool." (give me a break, I was 9).  True story, Bobby Smith, who played for the Ottawa 67s from 1975-78 was actually a patient in my dad's medical practice at the time. 

Smith, played as a 20 year old in 77-78 winning the OHL Scoring Race
Yes, it's true.  When the great Bobby Smith, the player who beat Wayne Gretzky in the 1978 OHL scoring race was playing Junior for the 67s, he used to visit a doctor on Carling Avenue in Ottawa who drove a gas guzzling 2 door luxury sedan which only got about 3.9 miles/gallon.  His family doctor's name was Brian M. Cochrane, MD, my dad.

Bobby Smith's former doctor with grand kids & (Grandmom) long after the 75' Cougar
Soon Smith would be drafted 1st overall by the Minnesota North Stars and on his way a Calder Trophy, later a Stanley Cup in 1986 with the Montreal Canadienns.  But back in those days, in that old 75' Cougar, Bobby Smith was just the normal topic of post-game hockey conversation, as our family car spewed primordial levels of carbon monoxide and other untold gases up and down the Ottawa Valley on those long trips home in the dark.  If Jane Fonda only knew, she would have been outraged.
Smith in NHL, his goal celebrations were to skate back to Centre Ice

The point of those conversations though, often centred, not on the 6'4'' stalwart 67s Centre, although my Dad often pointed out to me how "Bobby never celebrates beating an opponent", but on the importance of turning points and momentum in hockey games.  I also learned that not very often, but occasionally, there is a play in a game, which not only turns a game around, but it can actually end up as a momentum changer which can turn around a whole season.  Other than Coach Didmon's return behind the bench last December, I can't think of a singular on-ice moment which was a season changing moment.  But I think that an actual on ice, season turning point may have actually occured at The Q Centre last Friday night.

With the Grizzlies on a 6 game losing streak and facing the Island Division leading Powell River Kings on Friday, nobody was worried about turning points; certainly not the Grizzlies who just needed a win.  Trailing 2-1 after two periods, a four goal 3rd period explosion suddenly took place lead by Cole Pickup(4th), Chuck Bennis(2nd), Kevin Massy(3rd) and Keyvan Mokhtari(1st).  The sudden offensive outburst not only ensured a victory against the top team in the BCHL at the time, but it may very well have turned around the expectations and outlook on an entire season.
#5, Falconer, a Grizzlie Rookie Forward finding his game
But let's get back to that turning point for a second, because I don't want this moment to be lost on any one reading this article.  It wasn't a goal.  It wasn't a save.  In fact, at the time it wasn't even very noticeable at all.  But it was huge just the same.

With just seconds ticking down in the 2nd period, with the Grizzlies trailing yet again in a hockey game, a mad scramble suddenly ensued in front of the home net.  Powell River's Liam Lawson broke free of his check near the crease with a wide open net in front of him.  After putting the puck on net, a quick thinking Keyvan Mokhtari, seemingly coming out of nowhere arrived in the crease and with the puck dribbling ever so close to the goal line, the young Grizzlies rookie batted the puck clear.  The buzzer sounded.  His defensive intervention, not only saved an obvious goal and kept the game to within reach for the third period, it might have saved the Grizzlies entire season.

Every Grizzlie contributed to the 5-2 win over Kings on Friday

Think about it.  Had that puck gone in, both club's would have gone to their respective dressing rooms with the visitors up 3-1.  It would also have been another of those dreaded buzzer beaters, pure momentum killers.  With a Grizzlies team who at that point was averaging well under 2 goals/ game, the prospect of a comeback would have been slim.  But with that innocuous goal line puck clearance by Mokhatari and the rest of his line mates, the Grizzlies made a statement. "Not tonight. Not on my watch".

It changed the whole game and I think it may end up changing the whole season.

The Grizzlies came out of that final intermission like men possessed.  They moved the puck so quickly and they threw the body around so hard, the Kings never stood a chance.  The Grizzlies would not quit.  Two nights later they would show the same intensity, this time in a losing effort to another team vying for the Island Division title, the upstart Cowichan Valley Capitals.  Disappointingly, the game would end in a 5-4 loss, but not before another rookie, this time #17 Joey Visconti would score a pair of goals, including his first of the season.  Visconti's first was also the club's first short-handed goal of the campaign.  In short, the Grizzlies would end up going 1-1 on the weekend but only after scoring a total of 9 goals. Amazingly, those 9 goals on the weekend represented almost half the number of goals they had scored in the previous 12 contests combined.  The Grizzlies are scoring again.  The team is finding its form and confidence.  Best of all the rookies are contributing offensively just as the injured defensemen are beginning to return to the roster.
Trivia Question: Which Grizzlie buried this season's 1st Shortie?
Now if you will excuse me, I have to run out and go pick up one of my son's from hockey practice.  I don't know what we will discuss tonight on the ride home, but I am sure hockey will be the subject.  All I know is that our post practice talk will take place in a fuel efficient, ultra-low emission, Japanese built, Acura 1.7 EL, a vehicle which can run on a thimble of fuel.  It's also a car which I am pretty sure will never, ever win the Daytona 500.  Don't worry, I only drive it to impress Jane Fonda.

Talk to you Friday night from Salmon Arm. -CC

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