The Victoria Grizzlies in my humble opinion may just end up at the end of the year being the BCHL's most improved team. And while there are no blue ribbons, that team more often than not is the one that goes on a nice playoff run.
When we last talked, the Grizzlies had gone 1-2 on a very average road trip to the Interior. There was improvement, but it was hard to spot. The team were being called Team Ikea by some of the young people and fans I talk to outside the Q Centre after games. "I tell ya Clay they're Team Ikea, all hard work and fine craftsmanship but no finish."
Then the Grizzlies travelled up to Nanaimo two weeks ago and experienced what I will refer to as "The Mid Island Meltdown". Even after Scotty Didmon's stirring and motivational pregame speech as the bus unloaded at The Frank, the Grizzlies still lost. Leading 4-3 with 35 seconds to play, they would somehow end up losing 5-4 in regulation. It may have been one of the worst losses in franchise history. In many ways it was the Grizzlies' Chernobyl.
|Frank Crane Arena as seen from the air on 28 Oct, 2015|
The following night back at The Q Centre the Grizzlies outplayed and outlasted the Powell River Kings. They won 3-1 on the strength of an early lead, great team play and outstanding goaltending by Matthew Galadja. The next night and it was the Cowichan Valley Capitals. Once again it was a nice tidy 3-2 win with only two unfortunate short handed goals to blame on an otherwise picture perfect night of balanced hockey. Then on Friday the Grizzlies would win a 2-1 squeaker at The Q Centre on Parents Night. Suddenly the Grizzlies were 3-0 since the Mid Island Meltdown.
And just hours ago, the Grizzlies blew away a very frustrated Prince George Spruce Kings team 7-3 and it is now 4 wins on the bounce. What is going on in Grizzlies Land?
|Parents Weekend pre-game ceremonies for The Grizzlies on Friday|
The Victoria Grizzlies are doing a lot of things really well at the moment and that starts in goal. I believe that the Grizzlies possess the best "One-Two Punch" in goal in the entire league. While Matt Galadja is universally excellent, Mitchell Benson is perhaps the best kept secret in the BCHL. I think he may even be the most under-rated player in the entire BCHL. On the nights when he starts, he is flat out fantastic in net. The Grizzlies are also playing very well defensively. Van Lierop, who at times can keep the puck in the zone by simply using the back of his trailing skate, has been outstanding. But so too has the rest of the D-Corps who are now all beginning to add a goals and helpers from the point.
|Cody Van Lierop high fives his adoring fans at The Q Centre|
In short the Grizzlies have made a serious turn on their season. With three lines capable of scoring and doing so on a regular basis, suddenly the pressure is coming off the leaders in the Dressing Room.
But much work is still left to be done. To say that the Powerplay has issues is a bit like saying that Dr. Phil's guests may need to "do a little work on themselves." The Grizzlies PP is currently dead last at 17th in the league with a 12.24% efficiency rating. But if you calculate in the 8 Short Handed Goals Against, that stat drops to 4.081% in terms of overall effectiveness. The good news is that the PK is second only to that of the Penticton Vees. The PK is solid and was a big part of the recent 4 game win streak.
|Dr.Phil recently discussing the Grizzlies Powerplay and SHGA|
One last word about those humiliating "Most Improved Student" blue ribbons. You know those little boxes/chests people keep usually in their garage or attic with mementoes and pictures from days gone by? Well I just went downstairs to have a look at mine.
There's a whole pile of report cards in there and some high school football pictures. At the bottom are these three blue ribbons and you will never guess what they say? There's even a picture of me and Barb Graham at the Grade 8 Graduation Dance. I guess sometimes even Dudley Do Right can get a second chance. Talk to you in Powell River on Tuesday Night. -CC