Saturday, 6 February 2016

A Plan Is Only a Plan, Grizzlies Hit a Wall

Years ago when I was overseas in the Zhari-Panjway I heard this thing I never forgot.  At the end of a briefing concerning an upcoming offensive, the senior officer commanding the whole thing looked at us and said: "Now let's remember here folks, we all know that a plan is only a plan until first contact with the enemy, OK?  Remember that the enemy also gets a vote in how this whole thing rolls out, so let's stay focussed on the task at hand."

The enemy sure has had a vote in how things have been going for Victoria Grizzlies over the last while.  In the span of just a single week, the Grizzlies have suddenly and rather dramatically lost 4 straight games.  But it gets worse.

The Grizzlies have lost half of the club's No. 1 defensive pairing in Brett Stirling to what looks to be a fairly serious injury.  They have suffered serious injuries to upstart rookie forward, Tyler Welsh and veteran Centre Mitchell Barker as well.  For two games due to suspension, they lost the services of 6'3'' D-Man, Kevin Massy.  Meanwhile Captain PJ Conlon, who now looks a bit like Count Choclua, is sporting a bubble mask due to a Clippers high stick on Sunday which resulted only in a two minute minor.  And while he won't get any of his teeth back, he is forced to play the game in constant pain and with limited vision. There are other players with a raft of issues.  At least one is presently having severe difficulty in shooting the puck.  
In the 1970s we used to give kids pure sugar for breakfast.

And if that wasn't bad enough, the team is suddenly allowing the most SOG for its two rookie 18 year old goalies to deal with each night. Frankly, that's not going so well either if you catch my drift.

And that sums up for me what we seem to have forgotten during the club's 7-0 start to 2016.  The enemy also get a say in how this whole thing rolls out.

Just 24 hours after the biggest win of the season in Nanaimo on Friday, the Grizzlies were simply not ready to host the Alberni Valley Bulldogs and were quickly defeated 6-3 in front of a speechless crowd at the Q Centre.  Shots were 41-19 for AV.  With no Kevin Massy it wasn't even close and the Grizzlies were man handled by the Bulldogs.  Then, late in the 3rd, Brett Stirling went down in the south end of the arena and you were thinking, "Oh God not Sterling, not now."

Then on Sunday afternoon, without the services of Barker and Welsh, it got worse when Nanaimo rolled back into Colwood and promptly reminded Victoria fans why Sheldon Rempal is the best 20 year old in the BCHL. Suddenly the Grizzlies were on a two game slide since their improbable January run.  The game ended 7-2 and the Grizzlies were outshot 44-30 by the Clips.

Jared Virtanen now wearing #19 jersey in Salsa retro jerseys in the 7-5 loss to the Vees on Thursday
But the moment which said it all was Thursday night vs mighty The Penticton Vees on Salsa Jersey night.  After assuming the risk of travelling on the same day as a game, the Penticton Vees rolled into the Q Centre and proceeded to surrender the puck for two periods straight to seemingly every Grizzlies player who was fit enough to play in the contest.  Five straight unanswered 1st and 2nd period goals to Brayden Gelsinger (2), Braeden Cross, Cole Pickup and Alex Peck saw the Grizzlies enjoying a commanding 5-1 lead over the Penticton Vees.  At that point you were suddenly thinking that the Grizzlies were about to defeat the top Junior A team in North America.  It was the loudest I have heard the Q Centre since Game 7 in the 2014 Playoffs vs Alberni Valley.

I suspect that Fred Harbinson, (Vess Head Coach) may have been suddenly remembering indeed that the enemy has a vote in how this whole thing was to roll out.  Well it didn't take him long to remember that philosophy and by pulling his goalie late in the second period on the PP, the Vees struck and it was suddenly 5-2 over a very wobbly Grizzlies team.  You could have heard a pin drop.

In the 3rd period the Grizzlies were outshot 23-4 in the most lopsided period of hockey the team has suffered in several years.  A fan said to me after the game that it was like watching a train wreck, you didn't want to look but you could not help but stare in amazement at two hockey teams going in totally different directions.  On the one hand you had the injury depleted Grizzlies up 5-1 and trying valiantly to hang on to a large lead.  On the other bench though you had two future NHL First Round Draft Picks, Tyson Jost and Dante Fabbro who were frothing at the mouth every time Victoria made a mistake.  The game would end 7-5 for the Vees.  The Grizzlies after being outshot this time 47-33 were less than 24 hours away from facing Alberni Valley with equal froth spewing from the mouths of the Bulldogs at the prospect of playing such a wounded team in the Grizzlies.

And last night, you could almost feel it after the first goal with that Hudson Bay Train locomotive whistle blowing all the way to Bamfield on a Garrett Halls marker just 4 minutes into the contest.  It just wasn't going to be the Grizzlies night.  Outshot 35-24 this time, the Grizzlies really could not mount much of a fight and the Bulldogs skated away with a 4-2 win.  More importantly, they now sit just two points short of the 4th and final playoff spot in the Island Division.  With the tie break formula favoring the Bulldogs, a win tonight vs Penticton would vault the Bulldogs back into a tie for 4th spot overall. They would then need only another singular win in their remaining final 8 to take the final spot in the playoffs should both teams finish even in wins.  And this has all transpired in less that 7 full days time.  It is quite unbelievable. 

At the risk of crying over spilled milk, had the Grizzlies beaten the Bulldogs last Saturday, they would have extended their lead to 10 points on AV.  It would have put the proverbial nail in coffin for the Bulldogs' playoff chances.  Alberni's season would have been effectively over.  Now the Grizzlies will scoreboard watch and pray that the NHL Draft replete Vees can hand the Bulldogs a loss tonight in their final regular season visit to Vancouver Island.  Hopefully the Bulldogs enemy will get a big vote in this contest.

So now the Grizzlies will rest up, heal, likely watch Superbowl 50 and go to bed early on Sunday night.  Because when they board the 6am bus on Monday morning to head off to "The Rock" to face the nearly impossible to beat at home Powell River Kings, they will want to have a say in what is certainly a must win for this suddenly shaken club from Victoria.  I will look forward to talking to you at 2pm Monday from The Hap Parker in a game which could very well tell the tale of the tape for the Grizzlies playoff plans for 2016. -CC


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