Sunday, 8 November 2015

Is There a Most Improved Award? Grizzlies On a 4-0 Roll

It never seemed to matter what year it was for me, I always loathed the moment.  Nearly every year it was the same thing, winning the dreaded Most Improved Student Award. The school would even phone my parents to make sure that they were in attendance.  The whole student body would be sitting in the auditorium and all the smart kids and all the athletic kids would get trophies and awards.  Eventually near the end of the ceremony, they would present a blue ribbon for the student who showed the most improvement for that year. And each year they would call up this awkward looking idiot savant to collect his ribbon.  And trust me back then, there was way more "idiot" than there was "savant".

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
What was missed however was how well the Grizzlies played in the first 59 minutes and 25 seconds of the game. I saw an offensively challenged team suddenly erupt with 4 goals over one of the best teams in the entire league.  Sure it was a bad loss, but I saw it as a positive sign in many respects.
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
Before I answer that, I want to explain why I used to dislike so intensely that award for Most Improved Student in Middle School.  Even as the Principal read out the award, it always translated in my head like this:  "In September this young man was without question the #1 worst student in school.  This student was an absolute grease fire when it came to math, English and science.  In fact, this student was so bad, many on the faculty wondered if maybe there wasn't a village somewhere looking for its requisite idiot."  Then they called my name and I walked past Barb Graham who used to like me when I was the class clown, but not so much since I changed into Dudley Do Right.  I climbed up on the stage to receive that blue ribbon from our school Principal with my parents snapping photos and looking so proud.  To me the whole thing was a humiliating episode.  I remember secretly promising myself that one day, I would burn the ribbons.  Remember, I was only 12 and I had a crush on Barb Graham at the time.

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
Maybe best of all are the forwards.  Everybody is contributing now.  "The Senior Line" of Pickup, Conlon and Barker are routinely +1 each night.  "The Smoothy Line" with Hahn, Gelsinger and Livingstone score goals and cause fits in the offensive zone.  Then there is the fan favorite "The Shock and Awe Line" of Welsh, Mokhtari and Guiney.  The line has quickly become one of the most fearsome line combinations in the league and they seem to improve each night.  There are PGA golf balls which fly through the air slower that Mokhtari when he gets going.

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
So while they don't hand out little blue ribbons at the end of the season for "The BCHL's Most Improved Team Of The Year", the Grizzlies can take solace from the fact they are slowly pulling themselves out of a very deep hole. This slow improvement could pay off huge come playoff time.

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

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