Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
January 23, 2016, Victoria, BC (ISN) – It is time to give the Victoria Grizzlies their due as perhaps the hottest Junior hockey team in the city right now. With a pair of goals from Captain PJ Conlon, the Grizzlies ran their BC Hockey League (BCHL) win streak to six games with a 4-1 win over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks on Saturday evening at The Q Centre in Colwood.
Grizzlies forward Nick Guiney (18) charges into the Salmon Arm zone Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
With all due respect to the amazingly consistent Victoria Cougars who have a 23-game win streak in the Junior B VIJHL and the WHL Victoria Royals, who have been at the top of the standings all season and with an 8-0 win Saturday over Vancouver, have put together back-to-back eight goal games, the Grizzlies by contrast, had a horrible start to the season, but have battled back to be the hottest team in the highly competitive BCHL. Their 6-game win streak is presently tops of all 17 teams and they now have eight wins in their last 11 games and remain undefeated in 2016, outscoring their opponents 32-9 in that span.
The Grizzlies Alex Peck (61) flies past Salmon Arm defender Ayrton Nikkel (22) as he looks for a shot during the second period Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
They have climbed their way out of the basement of the Island Division, now sitting six points ahead of Alberni, and are now within eight points of the third place Cowichan Valley Capitals and ten points behind second place Powell River.
The Grizzlies Brayden Gelsinger (22) puts up a screen in front of Salmon Arm goalie Angus Redmond (1) (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The win streak looked to be in serious jeopardy early on Saturday, as the Grizzlies came out flat against the Silverbacks, getting outshot in the first period 16-5 and heading to the first break down 1-0 on the strength of a Salmon Arm goal from Ross Heidt, whose wrister from the point eluded Grizzlies starter Matthew Galajda at the 5:36 mark.
However it was a very different squad that came on the ice for period two, and just 1:22 in, Conlon notched his first of the game when he buried a rebound past Silverback goalie Angus Redmond to tie the game 1-1.
The Grizzlies Cole Pickup (14) tries to pull away on a breakaway attempt during the second period of Saturday’s game (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Less than two minutes later, the Grizzlies took the lead on a very similar play, when Redmond kicked out a shot from Grizzlies forward Alex Peck, but right on to the stick of Mitch Barker who buried it from the slot to make it 2-1.
Victoria would keep rolling in the period when Brayden Gelsinger would convert on the power play at the 7:10 mark, wristing in a shot from the top of the faceoff circle after being set up on a nice passing combination by Cole Pickup and Kevin Massy.
Victoria’s Nick Guiney (18) looks for a shot under pressure from Salmon Arm’s Kodi Schwarz (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The story after that would be Grizzlies goaltender Galajda, who with his stellar play, is making a bid for the BCHL’s Rookie of the Year. He is third in the league in goals against average (2.23) and fourth in save percentage (.922) and he showed why on Saturday turning away 36 of the 37 shots that the Silverbacks threw his way, earning first star honours in the process.
Another bright spot for the Grizzlies on Saturday was the attendance at the game. The announced crowd was just short of 1,100, but it looked a bit busier than that. Clearly many are spreading the word that this is a team and a level of hockey worth coming to watch and many are heeding that advice and making their way to the Westshore to support the team.
Grizzlies forward Dante Hahn (88) contemplates his next move around Salmon Arm defender Phil Middleton (2) (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Speaking of supporting the Grizzlies, all hockey fans should do that this coming Wednesday when the Grizzlies will entertain Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg in an exhibition game at The Q Centre. The Red Bull Salzburg are one of the top Junior development teams in Europe and are playing a series of games against BCHL teams. The European squad have defeated West Kelowna 8-6 and lost to Penticton 6-1 to date and will play Vernon on Monday prior to Wednesday’s match against Victoria.
Victoria’s Brett Stirling (6) makes his way around the stick check of Salmon Arm’s Ross Heidt (21) (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Tickets for the game, which begins at 7:00 pm, are $20 each and can be bought at the Grizzlies office at The Q Centre. Tickets are also available for a special Welcome Luncheon at 12 Noon on Jan. 27 at the Westin Bear Mountain that will feature members of the Grizzlies and the Red Bull team and a talk from BCHL Commissioner John Grisdale. Luncheon tickets are $50 and include one seat at the event and a pair of tickets to the game that night. They can be purchased at the Grizzlies office or at the front desk of The Westin Bear Mountain.