For the second straight week, the Victoria Grizzlies and Powell River Kings entered a Saturday night clash with first place on the line.
The Grizzlies outlasted a strong push from the Kings thanks to a strong night for goalie Matthew Galajda, and pulled away late with a pair of empty net goals for a 4-1 lead, vaulting back into first place alone in the BCHL’s Island Division.
Saturday was the second of three consecutive games for the Grizzlies (15-4-2-3, 35 points) who dispatched the Alberni Valley Bulldogs by a 4-1 final on Friday.
Powell River (17-8-1, 35 points) had won their previous two games, including a 5-2 win over the Grizzlies on November 12. The last time the two teams met, they split a pair of games by identical 5-2 scores at the Hap Parker Arena in Powell River.
The Kings’ 8-1-1 record in their last ten games has propelled them into the first place tie with Victoria atop the British Columbia Hockey League’s Island Division.
With 35 points, the Grizzlies and Powell River each entered Saturday as part of a four-way tie for second place in the BCHL overall standings, trailing only the Penticton Vees, ranked sixth in the most recent Canadian Junior Hockey League top-20.
Head-to-head matchups have reflected the standings with both teams winning two of the first four meetings, Victoria earning one more point because one of the Kings’ wins came in overtime.
After carrying play for much of the first period, the Grizzlies opened the scoring with just 1:18 remaining in the frame when T.J. Friedmann was sprung on a breakaway by Cody Van Lierop and banged his own rebound past Powell River goaltender Brian Wilson for his fourth goal of the season.
The ice breaker continued a recent theme of timely scoring for Victoria, who counted all four of their goals in Friday’s 4-1 win over Alberni Valley in the opening or closing three minutes of a period.
Powell River responded with a strong second period but could not find the back of the net, and the Grizzlies extended their lead with another goal in the final three minutes of a period. This time it was Tyler Welsh wiring his 15th of the season on the powerplay from Brett Stirling and Dayne Finnson to double the Victoria lead to 2-0 entering the third.
The Kings finally solved Grizzlies netminder Matthew Galajda with a powerplay goal from Ben Berrard, his third of the season to draw within a goal and set up a finish fitting of two of the league’s top teams.
That was as close as they would come however, as Galajda was strong in his return to the net after allowing five goals in Powell River a week ago, turning aside 29 of 30 shots on this night to secure a 4-1 win for the Grizzlies.
Wilson stopped 22 of 24 in the loss for the Kings.
Nathan Looysen and Cam Thompson deposited empty netters for Victoria to pad the score.
The Grizzlies were 2-5 on the powerplay while Powell River was 1-3.
Four players scored goals for the Grizzlies, who received a point from eight different skaters.
With the win, Victoria (16-4-2-3, 37 points) pulls two points clear of Powell River (17-9-1, 35 points) for first place in the BCHL’s Island Division.
The Grizzlies conclude their busy weekend with a Sunday afternoon tilt in Victoria against the Trail Smoke Eaters. Puck drop is 2:00pm at the Q Centre.