Thursday, 25 February 2016

Nick Jermain and Boston Bar: Improbable Grizzlies Destiny in 2016

In spite of starting the year with a record of 1-10 when this Grizzlies season is finally all over and sports writers sit down to dissect the year, I doubt many will remember the name Nick Jermain. The fact is that this Merritt Centennials forward might just go down as one of the most significant opposition players to have positively impacted a Grizzlies season in quite some time.  Few as well will remember a broken drive shaft bearing under the Grizzlies bus in Boston Bar, BC on a snowy Saturday night in January, but that too could prove to be of equal significance in a year which never ceases to amaze this writer.
Last Saturday night as the Grizzlies were travelling over the Coquihalla Connector after losing 5-0 to the Penticton Vees, Connecticut born Nick Jermain was busy just a few kilometers away as his Centennials trailed the visiting Alberni Valley Bulldogs late in the 3rd period by a score of 2-1.  Had the score stood up, the Bulldogs would have overtaken the Grizzlies in the standings that night and taken over that 4th and final playoff spot.  It was a massive moment for the Grizzlies and yet few if any Victoria fans had much knowledge of the name Nick Jermain.  With less than two minutes to play, it would be Jermain who would score for the Centennials with his team's net empty in favour of the extra attacker and force overtime.  Then, just moments into the first OT period Jermain would score again, denying the Bulldogs that vital second point of the night.  Alberni would remain tied in points with the Grizzlies at the conclusion of play on what to most would view as just another day in the regular season.  For Grizzlies fans, the moment was simply enormous.

                                         GP  W  L OTL
 PTS  GF      GA    DIFF   PCT
1xy - Nanaimo Clippers5636181
2x - Powell River Kings5532193
3x - Cowichan Valley Capitals5627233
4Alberni Valley Bulldogs5621274
5Victoria Grizzlies5623294
(*even the league's web site shows the Grizzlies in 5th spot in the Island Division Standings which are so tight and confusing even BCHL computers can't get the tie-break formula straight.)

The Grizzlies now enter play in this final weekend of regular season action tied with Alberni Valley in points.  However the Grizz still enjoy the razor thin advantage of the first tie breaker by virtue of having won more games than the Bulldogs on the season.  Had the aforementioned Jermain not scored late in that 3rd period, the Grizzlies would now trail the Dogs by a single point and no longer be in a position to control their own destiny.  Perhaps at no time in franchise history have the Grizzlies ever been involved in such a dramatic and potentially cataclysmic conclusion of a regular season.  With precisely two games left to play for each organization, the Grizzlies and the Bulldogs will each try and play their way into the 2015/16 BCHL playoffs with the winning prize being a first round matchup against the offensive powerhouse, Nanaimo Clippers.  To some that may seem like quite the underwhelming prize for such a daunting task, but for a Grizzlies team who essentially started the year with a single win in its first 11 games, that will probably suit them just fine.  Call it fate, but it’s just been that kind of a year.
This final chapter will all get underway on Friday night as the Grizzlies will host the Powell River Kings, a team with whom the Grizzlies have enjoyed some relative success thus far in 2015/16 with a 5-2 season series lead.  Powell River, secure in 2nd place and with nothing to play for in terms of playoff position, will come to Vancouver Island with the ability to play the role of either “Spoiler” or “King Maker” for the Grizzlies or the Bulldogs.   The Kings will finish the weekend with two contests in Alberni Valley at the Weyerhaeuser Arena on Saturday and Sunday after they play the Grizzlies Friday night at The Q Centre.  The Grizzlies will travel to Chilliwack on Sunday to play a Chiefs team who have also secured their playoff fortunes and have nothing to play for other than perhaps a little momentum in preparation for a First Round matchup against the Coquitlam Express.  But that 4pm Sunday Chilliwack game if you remember, is only happening as the very last game in the entire league by virtue of a broken bus in Boston Bar.  The Grizzlies were scheduled to play the Chiefs that night, 16 Jan if you recall.  With half the team sick with the flu, plus a few nagging bumps and bruises and coming off the longest day of bus travel in the year after departing Prince George the night before, I for one did not like the Grizzlies chances.  Remember that they lost the previous encounter against the Chiefs in the Bauer Showcase in September by a 4-0 margin.  But as luck would have it, the Grizzlies bus for the first time in franchise history would fail to deliver the team to its game night destination and the game would have to be rescheduled.  We will never know but maybe, just maybe that was a blessing in disguise that broken drive train, that broken bearing.
Grizzlies minority owner Mark Wagstaff does not visit the broadcast booth very often, certainly not on the road.  But the following day in Surrey he popped in to the booth during pregame and told me something which I will likely never forget:  “You know, what’s so strange about that broken bus last night?  In all those years that I owned Penticton, the Salsa and the Grizzlies, not one time in over 25 years had any of those teams ever failed to make it to a road game.  Not one time did we ever have to cancel a game.  Not even once, very strange.”   Very strange indeed.  That game could prove to mean absolutely nothing, or it could turn out to be a very useful insurance policy for the Grizzlies come 4pm this Sunday afternoon if things don’t go perfectly on Friday and Saturday.  Is that fate, luck or destiny?  Or is it just a bad episode of Twilight Zone?   
The Grizzlies “Magic Number” now sits at just 2.  Any combination of a Grizzlies win and a Bulldogs loss will send Victoria into the playoffs.  But the Bulldogs’ “Magic Number” sits at 2.5 games.  Thank you Nick Jermain and thank you broken bus.  If the Bulldogs lose both games to Powell River this weekend, that too will achieve the “Magic Number” of 2 no matter what the Grizzlies do.  I said three weeks ago, just prior to the Cowichan Valley game that in order to qualify for the post season, the Grizzlies would need to win 3 of its final 6 games or play exactly .500 hockey and that prediction looks like it may run true to form. 

With a crescendo of 4 goals in Period #1 last Sunday vs Langley, the Grizzlies held serve in the Island Division standings and got that second vital win of its six remaining games.  The first goal in Langley came by way of The Plumbers.  Crashing the net hard was Joey Visconti, after a Spencer Hunter rush, Visconti put away a goal mouth loose puck and gave the Grizzlies the early lead.  Then it was up to Keyvan Mokhtari who buried a Brayden Gelsinger rebound top shelf to make it 2-0.  It was the young rookie’s first goal since 17 Dec, 2015 but none of that mattered to a Grizzlies bench which erupted in adoration of the BWC product who was helping his teammates see their playoff hopes suddenly restored.  The next Grizzlie goal would come by way of the extra man on a perfectly timed Ovechkin like one-timer by Dante Hahn from an equally beautiful cross-crease pass by Gelsinger.  It was Hahn’s 3rd PP Goal of the season and it put the Grizzlies up 3-0, all in a weekend devoid of much offense where the Grizzlies had failed to score against Penticton on Saturday night and in a 2-1 loss to Wenatchee on Friday. 

The massive Sunday first period onslaught by Victoria would end with Nathan Looysen of the VIJHL Victoria Cougars, scoring his first goal of the season in a Grizzlies uniform and the rout was on.  Looysen, who won the VIJHL Scoring Championship this year with 101 points, looked fantastic all weekend in Grizzlies white, black and yellow-gold and took his goal well having already picked up an assist on Hahn’s PP marker earlier in the period.  Mitchell Benson would turn away all 24 Rivermen shots and collect his first shutout and fifth win of the season in front of a disappointed Langley crowd of 1,358.  Benson was solid all night and will likely feature in the backup role to Matt Galajda this weekend as the Grizzlies attempt to ice out the 2015/16 regular season and earn that final playoff spot on the island. 
The regular season will end at Prospera Centre by virtue of the Grizzlies first ever cancelled game on 16 Jan, 2016
Four games, two for the Bulldogs and two for the Grizzlies and three of which will feature perennial playoff matchup team the Powell River Kings are all that separate an early end to the season or a trip to the big dance.  Call it what you like, crazy, ridiculous and unnecessary or just plain exiting.  No matter what, there won’t be a single true Grizzlies fan anywhere on the globe this weekend who won’t be paying close attention to every second of action in this most tumultuous of final games for the club.  And if the Grizzlies eventually do indeed qualify for the playoffs, likely few will ever remember those strange quirky moments which could end up deciding the team’s fate.   It just may be that the way this season will finish could come down to a couple of very late out of town goals on a Saturday night in the smallest building in the BCHL, the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena in Merritt BC, with goals scored by a Connecticut hockey player named Nick Jermain.  Well that and a troublesome bearing under a team bus in a little place called Boston Bar.  Talk to you all on Friday night from the Q Centre. -CC        

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