The Victoria Grizzlies played the first half of back-to-back home games when they faced off with the Langley Rivermen on Friday night at the Q Centre in Victoria. The visiting Rivermen provided a stiff test but the timely offence and 37 saves from Matthew Galajda led the Grizzlies to a 4-2 victory.
Victoria (7-2-2-3-2) entered play on Friday in a tie with the Cowichan Valley Capitals for first place in the British Columbia Hockey League’s Island Division with 19 points. Langley meanwhile, came into the game in a three-way tie for third in the Mainland Division with 11 points (4-7-2-1)
Friday was the second meeting of the season between the Grizzlies and Rivermen, following a 3-3 tie in Langley on September 24. Similarly, Victoria’s last action was a tie by the same score at Cowichan Valley on October 15.
End-to-end flow dominated the first period with very few whistles in the opening 20 minutes. Despite the up-tempo pace, neither team was able to generate many prime scoring chances as the goaltenders, Matthew Galajda for Victoria and Langley’s Bo Didur kept the game scoreless through one period with the Rivermen holding a 7-6 edge in shots.
The Rivermen were buzzing around the Grizzlies crease in the opening minutes of the second period but Galajda, who entered with a goals against average of 2.29, third-best in the BCHL, continued to stand tall and received the benefit of a shot off the post at the five minute mark.
The penalty boxes were busy early in the second with both teams taking coincidental penalties and each going 0-1 on the powerplay all before the period was eight minutes old.
The contest looked to be settling into a goaltending battle, but it quickly changed complexion with three goals in less than three minutes midway through the second period.
Tyler Welsh broke the deadlock 8:29 into the period, firing his sixth goal of the year past Didur to give the Grizzlies the first goal of the game. Captain Cody Van Lierop and team scoring leader Cole Pickup drew assists on the play.
Langley evened just 71 seconds later on Brendan Bundy’s fourth goal of the season but Victoria quickly restored their lead thanks to Nick Guiney’s second goal of the season on an assist from defenseman Dayne Finnson.
The Grizzlies found themselves shorthanded late in the middle frame but it was Jamie Rome who had the best scoring opportunity, being denied on a shorthanded breakaway early in the kill, which was Victoria’s second of the game, and period.
Back at full strength, the Grizzlies found an insurance marker with 1:18 remaining in the period to go up 3-1 thanks to Cole Pickup’s 10th goal of the season from Tyler Welsh and Brett Stirling. Pickup and Welsh each recorded their second point of the night while Stirling notched his first point in his return after missing nine games due to injury.
Down a pair heading into the third, the urgency of the Rivermen rose notably in the final period, carrying much of the play but Galajda stood tall for much of the period. Finally on their fifth powerplay of the game, Langley finally converted and pulled to within one on Max Kaufman’s 10th goal of the year to make it 3-2 with six minutes remaining.
Despite furious pressure in the dying moments, the Rivermen were unable to find the equalizer as Galajda backstopped the Grizzlies to the 4-2 win with 37 saves including facing 16 shots in each of the final two periods.
Langley outshot the Grizzlies by a final total of 39-27. The Rivermen were 1-5 on the powerplay while Victoria went 0-2.
Jamie Rome potted the empty net goal, his sixth of the year, in the final seconds to put it away for Victoria.
With two goals allowed on Friday, the Grizzlies have allowed the fewest goals in the BCHL, 42 in 15 games.
Cole Pickup and Tyler Welsh led all scorers, each with a goal and an assist. Pickup is now tied for second in the BCHL with 23 points and 10 goals.
With the win, the Grizzlies improve to 21 points (8-2-2-3-2) and maintain a share of the Island Division lead with Cowichan Valley who defeated Port Alberni in double overtime, 5-4 on Friday night.
The Grizzlies are back on the Q Centre ice on Saturday night when they face off against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. Puck drop is at 7:00pm.