Story & Photos by Alex Rodgerson/ISN
Riley Hughes had a pair of goals and Kurtis Chapman made twenty-four saves as the Victoria Grizzlies earned a 6-3 road victory over the Coquitlam Express on Friday night. The Grizzlies entered Friday night’s action unbeaten in their last four games, outscoring their opposition 22-4 during that stretch. The Express, who entered Friday night’s game against Victoria tied with the Grizzlies in points, had not suffered a defeat at the hands of any Vancouver Island BCHL team prior to Friday night.
The Grizzlies would go down a man early to start the first period, with Victoria’s leading-scorer and captain Alex Newhook going off for high-sticking. Victoria, who entered the game winning their last four in a row, would be forced to kill an early penalty before going on the attack against the Express.
After getting back to even strength, the Grizzlies would quickly break up ice before Quebec-born forward Alexander Campbell would snap a wrist shot that would ring off the cross-bar. Campbell, committed to Clarkson University for next season, is currently third in team scoring with twenty-eight points in just twenty-two games.
Victoria would spend very little time in their own zone in the first period, establishing a strong forecheck after their early penalty kill. Nearing five minutes left in the frame, Grizzlies Henri Schreifels would get a step on the left wing before firing a laser far-side on Express goaltender Clay Stevenson. For Schreifels, a 2000-born forward from California, this would be his fourth goal of the season split between Victoria, Alberni Valley and Penticton.
Despite usually possessing an opportunistic and smart defensive game, the Express would cough up the puck several times in the first period on route to a 1-0 deficit after twenty.
Coquitlam’s Clay Stevenson would turn aside seventeen shots in the frame, in a period that could have been much worse for the Express if not for the effort of their goaltender.
The Grizzlies would continue to put the pressure on Stevenson to start the second period, possessing the puck well and forcing the Express to run around in their own zone. Still early in the frame, Victoria would suffer a scare as Express forward Dallas Farrell would crash the net, taking out Grizzlies goaltender Kurtis Chapman. Chapman, a former member of the Kootenay Ice, would stay down for a minute before eventually making his way back to his skates.
Farrell would go to the box for goalie interference, and on the ensuing man advantage the Grizzlies would strike again. After Victoria would pass the puck around well on the powerplay, Riley Hughes’ point shot would have eyes and find its way passed Clay Stevenson to give the Grizzlies a 2-0 lead.
Victoria would not be done there however, and while averaging over five goals a game over their four game winning streak the Grizzlies would score a beautiful tic-tac-toe goal finished off by Alexander Campbell. Now up 3-0 and outshooting Coquitlam 23-12, the Grizzlies would completely nullify the Express offence up to this point in the contest. The onslaught would continue near the mid-way point of the frame, with Alexander Campbell looking for his second of the night.
Campbell would use his speed to bust passed the Express defence before having his backhand shot stopped by Stevenson, only to have the rebound pop right out front for Riley Hughes to cash in to make it 4-0 Grizzlies. Coquitlam would finally get on the board at the 12:43 mark of of the second, after a giveaway behind the Grizzlies goal line would lead to Juliano Santalucia wrapping his first of his BCHL career around the outstretched pads of Chapman.
This would energize the Express, who would begin to find success when driving wide on the rush. Coquitlam would get another chance to bring the game within two late in the frame, but a sliding Carter Berger would come back to break up the play for Victoria. Berger, committed to the University of Connecticut, would show great speed and defensive awareness all night while displaying strong stick-checking in his own zone. Officially doubling the Express in shots after fourty, the Grizzlies would take a 4-1 lead into the final intermission.
To start the final frame, Alex Newhook would enter the Express zone in the opening minute and fire a hard wrister off the cross-bar, just inches away from putting the game out of reach. Victoria would press hard to start period three, looking to put Coquitlam away and improve their winning streak to five games. The Grizzlies defence would continue to read the play beautifully in the final frame, stepping up in the neutral zone and breaking up any chances for Coquitlam to form a proper break out.
The Express would refuse to give up however, and on a quick transition Express forward Chase Danol would cut into the slot and snap a shot over the blocker of Chapman to bring Coquitlam to back within two. Nearing ten minutes left in the game, Henri Schreifels would go to the box for boarding after absolutely blasting Dallas Farrell into the boards. Farrell would stay down briefly but would stay in the game, and the Express would head to the powerplay with a chance to make it a one goal game. The Grizzlies would manage to kill off the Express powerplay, before then heading to a powerplay of their own.
After Justin Schulting would go to the box for Coquitlam, Cam Thompson would show some fantastic skill on the ensuing man advantage. Putting the puck in his own feet and using a great drag-move to get around several Coquitlam penalty-killers, Thompson would work a give-and-go before hammering a hard one-timer off the cross-bar. This would be the third time in the game that Grizzlies shooters would cleanly beat Clay Stevenson, only to find iron.
This would come back to haunt Victoria almost immediately, as under two minutes later Coquitlam’s Josh Wildauer would get a stick on a point shot to deflect the puck passed Chapman. This would see the Grizzlies lead reduced to just one after leading 4-0 mid-way through the second period.
However, just when the Express crowd would begin to come to life behind their team, Marty Westhaver would break up a pass in the neutral zone and walk in all alone from the blue-line in. Electing to shoot, the Victoria-native would snap a low wrister passed the pad of Stevenson to give the Grizzlies a two-goal lead once again with just under five minutes left to play. The Grizzlies would then add an empty netter to go on take the victory 6-3 over the Coquitlam Express.
For the Grizzlies, Friday night’s road win this would mark their fifth consecutive victory, and their sixth win in their last eight games. With the two points the Grizzlies would also jump up into a tie for second in the entire BCHL with Prince George and Merritt, while the Express pick up their eighth loss on the year while failing to make up any ground in the Mainland division.
For Coquitlam this would be the first time since October 5th that they would mark back-to-back losses on their calendar, while seeing their strong record at the Poirier Centre fall to 9-4-0. The Grizzlies meanwhile, now see their league-best road record improve to 11-4-0 on the season.
Following Victoria’s 6-3 win on Friday night, I had a chance to speak with Grizzlies leading-scorer and team captain Alex Newhook. Originally from St. Johns, Newhook is an explosive seventeen year old centre with big draft potential. Currently in his second year with the Grizzlies, Newhook has amassed thirty-six points in just twenty-four games — after putting up sixty-six points as a rookie last season. Newhook spoke about his thoughts on the Grizzlies big road victory over Coquitlam.
“Being able to come out strong in our first game of three was big for us, and something we stressed a lot before the game.” said Newhook. “Obviously we had a few lapses in the second and third where they scored a few goals, but we fought back and got the win.”
Now winners of five straight, the Grizzlies have recently been led by an avalanche of offensive output. Over their last five wins, Victoria has scored twenty-eight goals while only surrendering seven. Newhook then gave his thoughts on the Grizzlies overall recent success.
“Our team has really been stressing our D-Zone play and getting to spots quickly,” said the Grizzlies’ captain. “I think that’s really translated to offensive chances. Our offence has really been showing lately and we’ve been getting really good looks on the powerplay.”
After putting up seventy-four points in thirty-three games during his last year in Midget, Newhook’s transition to Junior A has been seamless. Newhook plays a straight ahead style of hockey and uses his blinding speed to beat defenders one on one, while able to create turnovers at both ends of the rink. While constantly a step ahead in terms of agility, Newhook also possesses a lethal wrist-shot, which was on display against the Express during Friday’s victory.
However, despite scoring at a 1.5 point a game pace while currently sitting third in league scoring, Newhook takes a mature and humble approach to his success on the ice. The Grizzlies’ captain then spoke about what’s been working for him offensively this season.
“It think for me it’s just been about plugging away and trying to do whatever I can to create offence and help our team.” said Newhook. “My linemates have been playing great and our team’s been doing well, so it’s all coming from that.”
At the conclusion of the 2018-2019 season, Alex Newhook will say good-bye to the Grizzlies and move on to Boston College. Committed for 2019-2020, Newhook will join the prestigious NCAA division one program that at one time been has been the home to current NHLers such as Johnny Gaudreau, Corey Schnieder and Stanley Cup Champion Brooks Orpik. Newhook then spoke about his excitement to join such a renowned program.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and going to such a high level program is something I’m really excited for.” said the Grizzlies’ high-skilled centre. “Obviously taking this year first and focusing on what I can do to become a better player, but it’s definitely exiting and something I’m looking forward to down the road.”
Next up for Victoria is a Saturday night match-up in Penticton against the Vees, before finishing off their three in three against the Vernon Vipers on Sunday.