The Victoria Grizzlies answered any questions as to whether they were for real these playoffs with a 5-2 win over the Powell River Kings on Saturday night.
The Grizzlies believe it, and so should every one of the 1,546 fans in attendance witness the Grizzlies’ execute a lights out performance on Saturday, as the Grizzlies took a 3-1 lead in the BCHL conference semifinal. Games five and six are in Powell River on Monday and in Victoria on Tuesday.
The question now is, how far will the Grizzlies will go?
“It’s a total reversal from two years ago when we were the best team in the league and (Powell River) knocked us out in round two,” Grizzlies captain Sean Robertson said.
Robertson is one of two remaining Grizzlies from the star-studded 2008-09 RBC Cup hosting team that won the league but was upset by Powell River in seven games, also in the conference semifinal.
Robertson was 17 years old then and, along with Madison Dias, has survived two complete team-overhauls by coach and general manager Vic Gervais. It’s paid off as the Grizzlies are doing what that team was meant to do, succeed in the post season.
Saturday’s was the Grizzlies’ third straight win over Powell River, who finished the regular season as the top-ranked junior A team in the country. Madison Dias and Dustin Johnson scored the overtime winners as the Grizz’ edged Powell River in games two and three.
Despite Dustin Johnson putting the Grizzlies ahead 1-0 on Saturday, the Kings battled back with two goals early in the second period for a 2-1 lead.
That’s when the Grizzlies executed discipline, refusing to get sucked into retaliatory penalties, and let the powerplay do the talking. And what a powerplay it was, led by the formidable first unit of David Morley, Dustin Johnson and Joel Lowry up front, with Justin Fillion and Taylor Pernerowski on the points. The combination scored four straight powerplay goals, Morley with two of them, Fillion and Pernerowski the others.
“(These two) teams didn’t like each other before the series started,” Robertson said.
By the mid-point of the second period, post-whistle skirmishes became a constant feature for the rest of the game.
“The coaching staff is constantly harping on us to stay disciplined. Instead of putting ourselves down we get the powerplay. “It’s the playoffs and when you’re up against the number one team in the country you’ll do anything to win,” Robertson said.
Powell River coach Kent Lewis said he has his opinions about what’s not working for his team but wouldn’t make any excuses following Saturday’s game.
“We played nine minutes of good hockey and then we were awful.”
Lewis said game two’s overtime win gave the Grizzlies the confidence which led to three straight wins.
“We’re supposed to be ‘The Team’ in the playoffs this year and we haven’t shown squat. But I still wouldn’t take any other team in the league.”
Speaking of headshots
Pearce Eviston knocked out Josh Bardarson early in Saturday’s game with what Victoria Grizzlies’ play-by-play announcer Scott Didmon deemed a blow to the head.
Bardarson did not return and Eviston was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct.
In the second period Victoria’s Dustin Johnson was the victim. Johnson had to pick himself off the ice and skated woozily to the bench after a highly visible elbow to the head by a charging Powell River player. Missed by the referee, possibly due to the traffic surrounding the hit, Johnson nevertheless returned for the third period despite being unable to stand up straight following the hit.
The Barrie effect
Part-owner Len Barrie has been a major presence on the Grizzlies’ bench since mid February.
Just weeks prior to Barrie joining the team he was under fire in the media by former NHL teammate and Bear Mountain Resort investor Sean Burke.
Burke was accusing Barrie for living lavishly despite the losses surrendered by a long list of NHLers on the Bear Mountain development.
But Barrie’s presence has been anything but a distraction for the Grizzlies, who burst ahead of the Powell River Kings with a 3-1 series lead in round two after eliminating Nanaimo in five games.
Barrie said his role with the club is simply about helping a hockey team win.
“We felt as an ownership group, I had the time and Vic and I have worked together before.”
Barrie said it’s nothing he’s done in particular that led to the Grizzlies winning 11 of 14 games going back to Feb. 8 of the regular season.
“The team simplified things and bought into a system, and they’ve stuck with it, led by highly skilled character guys in the room.”