Grizzlies struggle to find finishing touch

Getting 60-minute effort from team proving tough, coach says

Playing with a lead is something the Victoria Grizzlies are having a tough time working with, especially late in the game.

The B.C. Hockey League squad dropped a 6-5 decision to West Kelowna on home ice Sunday after leading by two goals three separate times.

The Grizzlies escaped with a 5-4 victory at The Q Centre over the Surrey Eagles the night before, having jumped out to a 4-0 lead after one period. They weren’t so lucky last Wednesday against Nanaimo, as the visiting Clippers overcame a 4-3 deficit with 7:40 to go in the third to beat Victoria 5-4.

“It’s kind of been how we’ve played most of the year,” a clearly frustrated Grizzlies assistant coach Micah Aivazoff said after Sunday’s loss. “We play a good period, a good two periods and then we fall back into some of our old traps that we’re trying to work out of.”

The Grizzlies held period leads of 3-1 and 5-4 against West Kelowna, but failed to put the cap on the game. Michael Buonincontri tallied his third of the game for the Warriors on an early third period power play to tie it, then Andrew Johnson notched the winner, his second goal of the game, 6:57 into the period.

Victoria fired just five shots at West Kelowna goalie Scott Patton in the final frame, a couple of which came in the dying minutes as they played desperate hockey.

“We’ve got a group here that’s new and we’re trying to get them to understand that winning is hard and you have to compete for 60 minutes,” said Aivazoff, who was guiding the team with head Brad Knight serving the last of a three-game suspension. “We do it at times and then we revert back to some old bad habits and it costs us. It cost us tonight.”

Penalties cost the Grizzlies big time, as the Warriors scored three times on five power play opportunities. The locals did, however, score on two of their own three man advantage chances.

Cole Pickup led the Grizzlies attack with two goals and an assist, while singles went to Cody Van Lierop, Brett Gruber and Matthew Kennedy. Jay Mackie added a pair of assists.

Starting goaltender Sean Cleary was pulled for backup Michael Stiliadis when Buonincontri scored to pull his team to within one at 4-3, 9:58 into the second period.

The loss left the Grizzlies (6-6-0-2) with a 1-2 record for the home stand and marked their 11th straight one-goal decision, during which they’ve gone 4-5-0-2.

“We obviously want to play a better brand of hockey at home,” Aivazoff said. “If we score five goals at home we should win the hockey game. It’s pretty obvious that defensively we’ve got some work to do and as a group, they’ve got to learn that it’s hard to win and you’ve got sacrifice to win.”

On Saturday, Mackie scored twice while Dane Gibson and Pickup had two points each. Cleary stopped 23 of 27 shots for the win.

Against the Clippers, Gibson scored twice to lead the Grizzlies, including a shorthanded marker to open the scoring 3:30 into the first period. Garret Forster, Meirs Moore and Gruber chipped in two points each.

After Gibson’s second goal made it 4-3 Victoria, Nanaimo got a power play goal from Yanni Kaldis at 14:34, then got the winner from Cole Maier with 1:56 to go.

editor@goldstreamgazette.com