The Barrie effect, owner on the bench for Grizzlies

Len Barrie's larger-than-life presence has personified itself on the Grizzlies' bench

Victoria Grizzlies majority-owner Len Barrie has been a major presence on the team’s bench since mid-February.

The Powell River Kings won Game 7 on Wednesday, 4-1 over the Victoria Grizzlies Wednesday night. It clinched the BCHL conference semifinal series, and completed the Kings’ comeback after the Grizzlies went up 3-1 in the series.

For the Grizzlies, who surprised everyone winning their first seven of nine playoff games, it was a magical ride, albeit over quickly. Powell River were, afterall, the number one team in the league.

But some would have thought Barrie’s presence, having joined the Grizzlies in mid-February, would be less help and more of a hinderance. Barrie came aboard shortly after a media firestorm around scathing words from former NHL teammate and Bear Mountain Resort investor Sean Burke. Burke accused Barrie of living a “lavish lifestyle” despite the foreclosure of the Bear Mountain development and the loss of investment which stung a long list of NHLers.

But Barrie’s presence was 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. Though Powell River fought back to take the series, the Grizzlies run was remarkable all the same.

It’s the first time Barrie has coached with the team since becoming the majority owner a few seasons ago. Previous coaches Geoff Courtnall (NHL) and Jackson Penney (WHL and Europe) were brought in under Barrie’s watch.

Barrie said his role with the club was simply about helping a hockey team win.

“We felt as an ownership group, I had the time and (coach Vic Gervais) 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 from Feb. 8 to March 12.

“The team simplified things and bought into a system, and they’ve stuck with it, led by highly skilled character guys in the room.”

By the end, Barrie’s presence on the bench grew to the point where he was the most vocal. To make room during road games at smaller arenas, associate coach Brad Cook was moved to the press box. Meanwhile, it became apparent Barrie relegated coach and general manager Gervais to a support position.

During games it was Barrie who was in constant dialogue with the referees during the BCHL playoffs. Game six at in particular, at Bear Mountain Arena on March 15, featured Barrie in a heated battle with referee Colby Smith. After the whistles, clever coach Kent Lewis of Powell River was getting his players on the ice after the Grizzlies, despite rules that keep the last line change for the home team.