Grizzlies look to buck bearish end to season versus Powell River
It’s not the ideal way to enter the playoffs.
The Victoria Grizzlies haven’t won in six games, even if three of the past four losses did come in overtime.
And as the puck drops at Bear Mountain Arena tonight (March 15) for Game 1 of the BCHL best-of-five playoff series versus the Powell River Kings, it will mark a month since the Grizzlies’ last win at home, Feb. 16 over the Alberni Valley Bulldogs.
But playoffs are a clean slate, a time to start over.
“I know (the Kings) will be well prepared to make life miserable for their opponents,” said Grizzlies coach and general manager Bill Bestwick.
The coach of the year winner anticipates a well-prepared Kings team under fellow coach of the year winner Kent Lewis, who won in 2009 and 2011.
“(The Kings) will compete hard and I’m sure they’re not satisfied with their regular season. You can make amends of a season real quick in a five-game series.”
The season hasn’t been the same for the Grizzlies since Gerry Fitzgerald went down for good in January, though the team hung on to finish atop the Island division.
But the Fitzgerald triplets, of which the Grizz were recently down to one, are back to two today as Leo returns to form a top line with brother Myles and David Mazurek.
Myles Powell with skate with Mark McClellan and Pearce Eviston on the Grizzlies second line.
Stefan Nicholishen will centre Keyler Bruce and Brett Hartskamp on a grind line that will surely have the Kings’ defence scrambling to avoid danger.
A four-game suspension for accumulating six fighting majors and six game misconducts this season will keep Turner Lawson out until late in the series, or second round, should the Grizzlies win. Defenceman Jaden Schmeisser will return for Game 2 for a fifth fighting major of the season against Alberni on Saturday. Defenceman Blake Thompson can return for Game 3, as he is banned two games for a blow to the head against Alberni.
Brady Rouleau will start in net for the Grizzlies.
“Our goaltending has been challenged down the stretch. We’re leaning on Brady to get us our first win on Friday night and go from there,” Bestwick said.
“In a best of five, obviously home ice advantage is critical and if you falter there’s no margin for error.”
Coach of the year
The BCHL awards were released earlier this week naming Bill Bestwick the Coastal conference Coach of the Year and defenceman D.J. Jones to the Coastal All-Star team.
It’s Bestwick’s third time winning the award, having won it with the Nanaimo Clippers in 2005 and 2008.
The last Victoria coach to win it was Campbell Blair with the Grizzlies (Salsa) in 2000.
Bestwick is heralded for turning a Grizzlies roster, stripped of its assets and with little in the way of prospects, into a BCHL contender.
Key acquisitions captain Zach Urban from the Penticton Vees and the Fitzgerald triplets from the Prince George Spruce Kings led the turnaround.
Bestwick last faced the Kings in the playoffs with the Clippers in 2008. The Clippers swept the best-of-seven series in four straight.
The Grizzlies last faced the Kings in the second round of the 2011 playoffs. The Kings roared back from being down 3-1 in the series, rallying off a Game 5 overtime win.
Victoria trio leads Vees
Wade Murphy, a former Victoria Grizzlies player from Saanich, was also named a BCHL all-star.
Murphy plays for the Penticton Vees which finished first in the Interior division. He won the RBC Cup national championship with the Vees last year. This year he was seventh overall in BCHL scoring with 23 goals and 47 assists for 70 points, but was second in points per game average. He missed games while playing for Canada at the World Junior A Challenge.
The Vees’ goaltending duo of Chad Katunar and Nic Renyard, both from Victoria, will share the Wally Forslund Award as the Top Goaltending Tandem with the best combined goals-against average of 2.33 per game.