Saturday, 30 January 2016

The Secret Formula: Grizzlies 7-0

Ask any hockey coach in any league and the formula is simple.  Combine great goaltending with a strong defence and timely goal scoring and you have the makings for winning hockey.  Throw in solid Special Team play and you pretty much have the whole package.  It is a formula for winning which can take you very far. 

Well guess what?  That's the 2015/16 Victoria Grizzlies.  Well now it is anyway....

The Grizzlies have great goaltending and not only that but it is a very deep position.  Mitchell Benson was likely not expecting to start in Nanaimo last night after getting the nod vs Red Bull Salzburg on Wednesday.  But with a precautionary rest to Matt Galajda, the versatile back-up came in and stopped 44 shots out of the 47 he faced and stonewalled the frustrated Nanaimo Clippers for the very first time this season.  Dam Buster Benson as I like to call him did it again.  On 27 Sep he registered his team's first very BCHL win and broke the win-loss dam wide open.  Last night he blew open the dam on the (previously 6-0 vs Victoria) Nanaimo Clippers in front of almost 1,700 screaming fans at the Frank Crane.  The atmosphere there was electric!  Best BCHL game I have watched in years.

Benson, first to register a win vs Clippers this season
One week earlier it was Galajda in a 36/37 stop performance vs the superb Salmon Arm Silverbacks at The Q Centre in a game which gave the net minder 1st Star honours in the come form behind 4-1 win.  I have been saying this all year: for 18 year old goalies, Galajda and Benson are easily the best 1-2 punch in the entire league.  They stack up almost even statistically vs the older and more experienced pair of Brodeur and Driscoll in Penticton. And they do this in spite of being on a Victoria team which started the year 1-11.  Think about how hard that is to do?  That's an incredible turnaround.

Then you add to that formula, the uber strong Grizzlies defensive corps this season and things soon get very tough on opponents. Last night is a case in point.  After retaking the lead for the second time on another patented Kevin Massy walk-in play from the point, the Grizzlies had a problem. Suddenly finding themselves down to 4 defensemen with injuries to Drayson Pears and an ejection to KMass early in the third, the Grizzlies needed help on D.

#2 Bennis and #4 Stevens key to win in Nanaimo
And what did the Grizzlies D-Corps do?  Well for starters, Team America World D, Jake Stevens and Chuck Bennis, they just flat out put the entire Grizzlies team on their back at one point and basically said:  "Don't worry everyone all the terrorists are dead." The D-pair simply blocked shots, made huge hits, cleared pucks and made countless smart defensive plays all night.  At one point in the game The Undertaker, Chuck Bennis on a Lucas Finner breakaway chased the Clipper player so hard that with one hand and that classic 9' reach of his, he managed to dislodge the puck from Finner and send it harmlessly to the corner while avoiding a penalty which 9 times out of 10 would occur to a lesser defenseman in that situation.

Stalwart Defensemen like Chuck Bennis, are a big part of the Grizzlies Secret Sauce in 2016
But it didn't end there.  Brett Stirling who lead all Grizzlies last night with a +4 rating on the evening had no less than 2 back to back solo rushes ahead of his forwards in the third period alone. He did this knowing full well that not only was his team down to only 4 defensemen for the entire 3rd period in a tight 5-3 game on the road but that trusty Equipment Man, Mel Smith had forgotten to bring the team's Oxygen tank on the bus. Cody Van Lierop was equally outstanding with a +2 rating and an assist on Dante Hahn's late first period go-ahead goal.

Could #6 Brett Stirling's "Boy Band Good Looks" and rock hard play soon be signing a deal with Boost Oxygen as their new franchise spokesperson?
Offensively, it was a night of late back breakers for the hapless Clippers.  No sooner would Nanaimo take the lead when an unlikely Grizzlie player would answer.  A perfect example was #61 and red hot Alex Peck, jumping on a lose puck and burying his 4th of the year with just 1.9 secs left in the 2nd period.  Timely goal scoring indeed.  That's been the formula since The Mid Island Meltdown and the forwards are bringing it every night.

I would bet that preparing to face Victoria must be very tough for opposing coaches on most nights.  You just never know which Grizzlies forward is going to step up and hurt you.  Mitchell Barker, who has scored 4 goals in his past 5 games, assisted again last night on Massy's tying goal in the first period.  Barker who unfortunately was later ejected for a Hitting From Behind Minor Penalty has been as good as any of the suddenly white hot 3rd and 4th Liners for the Grizz.

#26 Barker, is just one more veteran getting hot at the right time of the year

And the leaders continue to just do their business night in and night out.  PJ Conlon (+2) sporting what Moe from Slap Shot would have called  "a very deep cut" after getting a stick to the face, just skated back to the bench and let Steph Tamboline patch him up and send him right back out again.  He never missed a shift.  Conlon who is quietly rocketing up the scoring stats with another 3 points last night is leading players like Cole Pickup (also 3 points and +3), Brayden Gelsinger (1 assist and +1) and Dante Hahn (1 goal, +1) with a quiet and understated leadership style which reminds me at times of a younger Brian Skrudland.

PJ Conlon (right), alongside Cole Pickup (left) in the Frank Crane Dressing Room last night after getting repairs

The Grizzlies will take on the Alberni Valley Bulldogs tonight in the hopes of pushing this 7-0 BCHL winning streak to 8 wins tonight in front of what will hopefully be a very big crowd at The Q Centre.  In the meantime, we will await any league supplementary discipline which could get handed out to Massy or Barker in view of the aforementioned ejections from last night. We shall see. 

Regardless, my sense is that this Grizzlies team is starting to seriously turn some heads around the league.  With Alberni HC Kevin Willison and A/HC Adam Hayduk both in attendance scouting the game last night, in Nanaimo, it was clear to me that important people are definitely starting to pay attention.  With a night off, it would not surprise me at all if I saw Clippers HC Mike Vandekamp and AC Blake Clement in Colwood this evening.  I think it is safe to say that a lot of hockey officials and fans are becoming very much interested in this Grizzlies Secret Formula.  See you tonight. -CC

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