Victoria Grizzlies head coach Craig Didmon’s goal for the team heading into this five-game road stretch was for the team to improve on its record away from The Q Centre.
Mission accomplished. Heading into Wednesday night’s (Nov. 18) B.C. Hockey League game against the Clippers at Frank Crane Arena in Nanaimo, the Grizzlies had collected five of a possible eight points on the road.
And the Island Division fourth-place Grizzlies (9-13-0-3) have the second-place Clippers (13-10-0-1) in their sights, having pulled to within six points by going 7-3-0-1 in their last 11 games.
Three weeks ago, with the Grizzlies struggling to find the win column, other teams in the division were likely thinking making playoffs would be a cinch with the Grizzlies dropping out, Didmon said. “But (now) we’re right in the hunt.”
The weekend’s three-game swing through the mainland and Interior ended with a narrow 2-1 loss in Trail on Sunday, but Didmon, speaking as the team left Cominco Arena, said his players “answered the bell and never quit. I think we outshot the other team every night.”
With a couple of days’ rest this week, he added, “I know we’ll be ready for (Nanaimo).”
Against the Smokeaters, Victoria’s Dante Hahn gave the visitors a 1-0 lead late in the first, but Trail came back with a power play goal from Kale Howarth and a shorthanded marker from Spencer McLean in the second.
The Grizzlies outshot Trail 12-5 in the third and 30-15 overall in a game that saw Smokeaters goalie Linden Marshall named first star.
On Saturday in Merritt, Victoria led 3-1 in the second after scoring three straight goals and hung on for a 3-2 win. Tyler Welsh had a goal and an assist to lead the Grizzlies, while defenceman Brett Stirling, with his first of the year, and Brayden Gelsinger also scored.
Goalie Matthew Galajda stopped 25 of 27 shots for the victory, including 12 in the final period, while Trail counterpart Colten Lancaster turned aside 29 of 32 Victoria shots.
On Friday in Coquitlam, Luca Leone scored 1:58 into the second overtime to give the Express a 4-3 win over the Grizzlies.
Victoria battled back from a 3-1 second-period deficit. Nick Guiney converted a Stirling pass late in the middle frame to make it a one-goal game, then Cody Van Lierop tied it up 6:47 into the third on a pass from Keyvan Mokhtari.
A first-period marker from Gelsinger made it 1-1 after 20 minutes.
The visitors outshot the Express 37-31 overall and 15-13 in an action-packed third period. The game saw just one minor penalty handed out between the two teams.
Overall, Didmon said the road trip showed that, “we’re a team that is just getting better and better and each week.”
The Grizzlies have a chance to continue improving their lot in the Island Division, as four of their five remaining games in November come against Island teams.
Victoria’s next game back at The Q Centre, the first of five straight at home, goes Thursday (Nov. 19) and sees a rematch against Trail. On Friday the division-leading Cowichan Valley Capitals return to the building in which they’ve lost their last two games. Puck drop is 7 p.m. both nights.
The Bear Facts … Playmaking wizard Gelsinger continues to lead the team in points (26), with five goals and 21 assists in 25 games, good for 18th in the BCHL. Guiney leads in goals with eight, while Welsh, Mokhtari and P.J. Conlon have 16, 15 and 14 points, respectively.