It felt to the Victoria Grizzlies like the B.C. Hockey League’s version of Survivor.
“There’s a lot of relief. It’s great to be alive and still going,” said Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon.
The top-ranked Grizzlies rebounded from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the fourth-seed but tenacious Alberni Valley Bulldogs 4-3 in their best-of-seven first-round Island Division playoff series.
The BCHL says its records are incomplete but that the league believes it is the first time a team has rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to win it since at least 2003-04.
“We knew it was special but did not know it was that special,” said Didmon.
The Grizzlies defeated the Bulldogs 3-1 in Game 7 on Sunday at The Q Centre to advance to the second round against the third-seed Powell River Kings, 4-2 victors over the second-seed Nanaimo Clippers, with the first two games Friday and Saturday at The Q Centre.
“It was a rough ride, for sure. But the boys stuck together and stayed positive throughout the series,” said Didmon.
“The key was that we became a team through the process. We thought we were the better team.”
That the Grizzlies even needed such come-from-behind dramatics came as a surprise after they finished 29 points ahead of the Bulldogs in the regular season. It would have been one of the greatest upsets in BCHL history if Alberni Valley had pulled it out.
The Grizzlies showed their depth in the deciding game Sunday as BCHL rookie-of-the-year Alex Newhook, closely checked by the Bulldogs throughout the series, was held pointless. Newhook is ranked No. 2 by The Hockey News for the 2019 NHL draft behind American prodigy Jack Hughes.
“[Newhook’s ranking] is really exciting and it’s good for our league,” said Didmon. “He has worked very hard for it.”
Finn Withey, Cameron Thompson and Cole Noble gave Victoria a 3-0 lead in Game 7 before Julian Benner scored in the last minute for Alberni Valley.
Victoria goaltender Kurtis Chapman, who was named BCHL player of the week for his four straight wins, was named first star. The native of Airdire, Alta., who began the season in the WHL with the Kootenay Ice, turned in a timely 31-save performance in Game 7. John Hawthorne made 28 saves for Alberni Valley.
ICE CHIPS: Games 3 and 4 of the second-round series go Monday and Tuesday in Powell River. If required, Game 5 is set for March 23 at The Q Centre, Game 6 in Powell River on March 24, and, if necessary, a seventh game would be played March 26 at The Q Centre. . . . Former Bulldogs head coach and three-season Clippers assistant coach Nolan Graham from Nanaimo, now assistant coach of his alma mater R.P.I. in the NCAA, was hit by a car while walking out of a Rite-Aid last week and suffered skull fractures and brain injuries. Doctors are optimistic for a full recovery but the Islander only just got out of the ICU in Albany, New York, and the road back will be long and difficult. Graham is the married father of a young family and a GoFundMe page (gofundme.com/nolan-graham-support) has been set up to help cope with his medical and rehab expenses. The Bulldogs donated all the Game 6 proceeds from program sales and the Frisbee toss toward Graham’s medical needs. “Nolan was a really good coach with Alberni [leading the Bulldogs to a Coastal Conference regular-season title], and is a part of the hockey family, and the Grizzlies are thinking of him,” said Didmon.
ROUND 2 PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
Friday, March 16 in Victoria at the Q Centre Arena – 7pm
Saturday, March 17 in Victoria at the Q Centre Arena – 7pm
Monday, March 19 in Powell River 7pm
Tuesday, March 20 in Powell River 7pm
Friday, March 23 in Victoria at the Q Centre Arena – 7pm *
Saturday, March 24 in Powell River 7pm *
Monday, March 26 in Victoria at the Q Centre Arena – Victoria 7pm *
* If Necessary