It may be early in the season but the Victoria Grizzlies are learning that every game is an uphill battle when you don’t play your best. The team travelled to Nanaimo on Friday losing 4-2, then falling 3-2 at home Saturday against Coquitlam. These counted for two of only three regulation losses for the team that is now 5-3-0-1 on the season. The Grizzlies currently lead the Island Division of the BCHL.
The two games were an early season litmus test for the Grizz as both Nanaimo and Coquitlam look to be teams who will vie for the Coastal Conference crown. These squads are looking to bounce back from middle of the pack 2011-12 seasons.
The Grizzlies, who were ranked eighth in the country this year when the first Jr. A rankings were released, never led in either of the two games but clawed their way back to tie each of the games. The inability to get the winning goal when needed is surely something that coach Bill Bestwick and team will stress as they prepare to host Salmon Arm next week, another team looking to improve upon a poor 2011-12 season.
Friday night’s game was a homecoming of sorts for GM/coach, Bill Bestwick. The Grizzlies leader had previously served twelve years in the same capacity for Nanaimo before being released at the end of the 2010 season. Once the puck dropped all niceties were forgotten and it was just another game for the new Victoria bench boss.
Both teams were ineffective on the power play with Victoria going one for nine while Nanaimo was one for eight. Victoria couldn’t take advantage of a five-on-three power play in the first period. Both goalies faced 33 shots with Nanaimo keeper Jayson Argue getting the result over Victoria’s Michael Stiliadis.
As a result of a goaltender interference call on Friday in Nanaimo, Victoria’s Myles Fitzgerald was suspended for one game on Saturday. The BCHL automatically suspends the offending player if it is the team’s second goaltender interference penalty in a season.
The tilt back in Victoria at Bear Mountain Arena did not start well for the home team. The Grizzlies looked tentative and the Coquitlam Express carried the play taking an early 2-0 lead after seven minutes. Coquitlam played the night before at home, suffering a 2-1 loss to the Eagles, before travelling over to the island.
However, the Grizz fought back with a late first period goal by Justin Polischuk and an early second period power-play goal by highly-touted rookie Dante Hahn, bringing life back to the 1008 Victoria fans in attendance.
The third period was an equal affair until late in the third when Ontario Hockey League import David Mazurek was given a five minute major for checking to the head. With the Coquitlam player lying on the ground, no initial call appeared forthcoming, but a referee conference after the whistle resulted in the ejection and penalty for the twenty year old Victoria player.
The resulting power play saw Coquitlam rookie defenseman Callum Hofford score his first goal of the season, providing the margin of victory for the Coquitlam Express. From then on, all the Express needed to do was hold on as the power play expired. Victoria could not muster any late offense while short-handed.
The Grizzlies’ next game is Friday at home before the team heads up to Powell River on Saturday. For tickets or more information visit www.victoriagrizzlies.com or call 250-385-1555. The Friday game is Salmon Arm’s only visit on the season.