Monday, 11 January 2016

Why We Play This Game

I just happen to be the father of three teenage hockey players.  One of the unwritten rules about raising adolescent young men, especially hockey players is that you should avoid the use of their language, especially their hockey language.  Words like, "sick", "awesome", and "epic" just don't cut it if you are in your mid-forties.  It really falls flat if you try using them around 14-19 year old hockey players who eat meals at your kitchen table.  You run the risk of hearing the proverbial:  "Dad, don't say 'sick' you sound so lame, you don't even know what it means."  Ah the joys of modern fatherhood.

Most fans arriving at The Q Centre Friday night were probably a bit confused as to why only one club came out for the warmup, the Powell River Kings.  The reason for that was of course because the Victoria Grizzlies had much more important business at hand.  They were busy reminding all of us why we play this game.

As the Powell River Kings were skating their warmup and were likely wondering where the home team was, sitting beside each Grizzly player, in each of the Grizzlies' stalls was a member of the Saanich Braves Midget C Minor Team.  And frankly, while no one needed to say it, every one of them would have given anything to not be there on this occasion.  These were the teammates of Reid Kyfiuk.  Reid was the 15-year old Claremont Secondary student who was lost tragically on the ski slopes of Mount Washington in a skiing accident just days before Christmas.  Standing in the middle of the Dressing Room were Reid's parents along with his brother and sister.  The Grizzlies, lead by Team Governor Lance Black wanted to take a moment and pause to reflect upon what is really important in life and to celebrate Reid's life. 

The Kyfiuks along with the Braves wanted to share his life with the Grizzlies.  The Grizzlies in turn wanted to honour Reid by passing on the Captaincy for the game from Team Captain PJ Conlon to Reid.  This was done through Reid's parents who would wear a Grizzlies Jersey with the #20, Reid's Saanich Braves number, and his last name "KYFIUK" stitched into the name bar.   A few words were passed and I will leave that moment private, but I want all the Grizzlies Gazette readers to understand one key piece about this small private ceremony:  at 6:25pm pretty much everybody in that Dressing Room recognized the fact that the Grizzlies were very late for warmup and might not even get a pre-game warmup at all.

Grizzlies commemoration helmets
And nobody, not one player or coach budged or even flinched.  Not one.

As the ceremony ended and the players exited the Dressing Room for a very short 5 minute warmup, I briefly wondered if this would be of much issue for the Grizzlies.  Did they need this now or could this be a problem I thought?  Those questions were quickly dashed as I walked past the C5 Saanich Braves players, Reid's teammates, who were by this time all standing along the Grizzlies bench.  They were enjoying the opportunity of doing something which almost no Midget Team would ever get a chance to do: stand on a BCHL bench during warmup.  They watched these same-aged young men warm up in preparation for a league game, a league which all of them probably wished that they too could have maybe one day had a chance to have competed in.  Reid's teammates weren't feeling sad at that point or acting like they had just had their hearts' ripped apart.  No, at that point they had something else going on I thought.  They were enjoying the game we all love and they expressed it in that way which only adolescent males do in today's vernacular.

As I walked past the all of the Saanich Braves players on the bench on my way up to the Broadcast Booth, I heard the sounds you would hope to hear from kids who were truly celebrating the life of their lost teammate and the game he loved:  "Pickup and Guiney are pretty sick man, I played with them you know?" , "Check out the size of Bennis and Sterling, holly #$@t!  Epic man." , "Look at Mokhatari's hands man, they're unreal"  , "Benson and Galajda, frickin pros dude" and  lots of "This is f^%$ing awesome!"

#6 D-Man, Brett Stirling just one of the many Grizzlies who impressed the Saanich Braves on Friday
The game was even better.  It all started midway through the first period with Dante Hahn stealing the puck off Powell River's Chris Protopoulous who was trying to exit the defensive zone with the puck.  Hahn's steal soon found line mate Brayden Gelsinger in the crease.  The brand new Lake Superior State University committed forward made no mistake, quickly firing the puck over the shoulder of Kings netminder Jeff Smith to give the Grizzlies a 1-0 lead and put the Q Centre on its feet.  That one was for Reid.  I could almost hear the Saanich Braves players who were sitting below:  "Holly crap, did you see that steal and pass?"  "Yeah.  Did you see that F^%#ing roofer?"  "That was so sick!"

The 2nd period would see more of the same with Cole Pickup scoring quickly to make it 2-0.  Then moments later, Gels would score his second of the night and you were thinking it was going to maybe be a laugher for the Grizzlies in spite of a truncated pregame warmup.  Not so fast.

Lake Superior State committed #22 Gelsinger is lighting the lamp lately. (Photo credit: Bruce Stotesbury)
Just 11 seconds apart the Kings scored two quick goals by Kyle Betts and Liam Lawson respectively and by the end of the 2nd period it was an edgy 3-2 lead for the Grizzlies.  Huge saves by Matt Galajda, plus a second marker by Pickup would see the Grizzlies enter the final minutes of the game up 4-3 with the Powell River net empty.  And after a "No Panic" approach to D-Zone coverage by Cody VanLierop and Brett Stirling, the puck would be head-manned up to Gelsinger who would score on the EN and register the club's first Hat Trick of the 2015/16 Season.  The 1,206 fans in the Q Centre went wild.  As I looked down at the Saanich Braves C5 Midget team, they were all on their feet.  I could only imagine what they were saying.

But the best was left for the end of the game and it was the classy visitors, the Powell River Kings who deserve a ton of props in my humble view.  After losing a tight 5-3 game vs a club they have struggled to beat all year (now 1-5 vs Victoria), the Powell River Kings all stood on their blue line to commemorate one last time the memory of Reid Kyfiuk.  It seems that during the game, someone came up with the idea that each team should sign a stick and present the two respective sticks to Reid's family at the end of the game. 

Classy Kings Honouring Reid post game
You know I get to work with one of the best Play-By-Play guys in the business and Scotty Didmon always knows just what to say but even he had trouble getting the words out.  At that moment I was so proud of the Grizzlies, I was proud of the Kings and I was proud of the BCHL.  "Smart hockey folks, that's why they call the BCHL Smart Hockey" was how Scotty captured the moment, we were both struggling to keep it together, that is all I can tell you.  As I was leaving the building later, I walked past a bunch of Kings players who were stretching post game down in the south end of the Q Centre, a part of the building visitors rarely visit, especially after a loss.  I took a moment to thank them for what they did.  I told them something like "That's why you guys are playing in this league, because it takes special young men to have the character to do something like that after a tough loss, well done.  You reminded us all of why we play this game, thank you."  Trust me you don't need the details, but it is safe to say that the sense of occasion of that moment was not lost on any of those Kings players.

The Grizzlies would double down 48 hours later in the Q Centre on Sunday afternoon with another huge win, a 5-0 victory over the Langley Rivermen.  Galajda registered his 3rd Shutout of the year backstopping 22 shots.  He now sits one half-decimal point out of 3rd place in BCHL in Goals Against Average.  The Captain, PJ Conlon got the game winner and the red hot Gelsinger had another two goals himself.  Gels would have probably earned another Hat Trick on the night after being slashed hard on a last second breakaway, but referee Trevor Nolan decided that with tempers flaring a bit, it was probably wiser to just send both clubs to their respective rooms and avoid the Penalty Shot with the score 5-0 and almost no time left on the clock.

After Sunday's game, the Grizzlies announced the signing of the final and 22nd member of the 2015/16 Grizzlies, 96' born Forward, Brayden Cross from the MJHL OCN Blizzard.  Cross who lead the Kerry Park Islanders in scoring last season in the VIJHL with 61 points signed with the Grizzlies just hours before the Sunday night 8pm roster freeze deadline in the BCHL.  Cross will hopefully add a little bit of 2nd or 3rd line scoring to a Grizzlies team which is really starting to find its stride as the playoff stretch quickly approaches.

Now the Grizzlies will head off on its first major road trip of the 2016 calendar year for four big games:  Cowichan Valley, Prince George, Chilliwack and Surrey.  It will be an honour to watch this amazing group this coming week on the road.  I wonder what special moments are in store?  It is certainly a tight group of young men, these 2015/16 Grizzlies, now finally 22 in number and set for the remainder of the season.  They are a team who reminded us all over the weekend of why we play this game and why there are so many things much more important than hockey.  While I can't quite put my finger on precisely what that thing is that they play for and why they do it, something tells me that it has to do with the descriptive words often used by young, fifteen year old hockey players who simply just love the game.  Young players like Reid.  They are contained in the words which I am really not allowed to use, especially in my own house.  Words like "epic", "awesome" and "sick".  - CC

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