Dustin Johnson has found his home with the Victoria Grizzlies as they blasted through the Nanaimo Clippers in round one of the BCHL playoffs.
In just his third game back with the Grizzlies on Thursday, Johnson scored the first and second goals, lifting his Grizzlies to a 3-2 win, eliminating the Clippers in game five of the best-of-seven series.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Grizzlies, who face the 2010-11 Chevrolet Cup regular season champion Powell River Kings in round two. Game one was yesterday while game two is tonight (March 9) in Powell River.
The series returns to Victoria Games for games three and four, 7:10 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Bear Mountain Arena.
“Nanaimo battled hard, there was never any let up,” said Grizzlies coach Vic Gervais.
“You knew (Nanaimo) would come in here and give us a good hockey game. And the fourth game’s the hardest to win, when you’re up 3-1 against a team playing do-or-die hockey,” Gervais said.
If there was one thing missing for the Clippers throughout the series it was a lucky break, particularly on Thursday night when the pucks seemed land on Grizzlies’ sticks.
“All we really needed was a bounce, some spark that we could really take off from. We never really seemed to get that,” said Colton Cyr, captain of the Clippers.
For Johnson, who has as much skill as he does size, it’s a sweet return to junior-A hockey after a lengthy time away from the team.
The six-foot-two, 210 lbs forward scored five goals in three playoff games against Nanaimo.
“I just wanted to do whatever the team needs me to do to help win,” said the 20 year old forward.
Johnson came to the Grizzlies in a trade from the Merritt Centennials earlier this season but was released after 18 games due to off ice problems.
“I took some time away for some personal issues but now I’m back and happy to be able to contribute,” Johnson said.
While Johnson was humble about his contributions, Gervais was eager to praise.
“We had 20 players who played their hearts out, but it could have gone either way. Johnson is a leader in the room and on the ice, we’re lucky to have him here.”
This comes after Gervais made the difficult decision to release Johnson earlier this season. Prior to his return, Johnson was playing with the Nelson Leafs in the Kootenay International junior league until they were eliminated last week.
“Johnson could be the best AP ever,” Gervais said.
Johnson wasn’t the only returnee to the Grizz’ injury-depleted lineup. David Morley, the team’s leading scorer from the regular season, made his impact felt, scoring the game winning goal on a penalty shot in the second period.
Morley went wide right and, with a couple of slick moves to the left, went back to the right, completely fooling Clippers goalie Charles-Andre Pelletier, sliding it in a wide open net.
“Morley showed his skill, he’s so calm and patient out there. That was a key goal,” Gervais said.
Looking ahead, the Grizzlies’ face a major challenge, having lost to Powell River in all five meetings this year.