Having the captain back in the lineup has to be a good thing for the Victoria Grizzlies.
But no one is happier about Cody Van Lierop’s return to the blueline than number 7 himself.
“It sucked watching, as much as we were doing good out there, it just sucked watching because I wanted to be a part of it,” said Van Lierop, who made his first home start in two months Friday after suffering through a bout of mononucleosis.
He helped set up the first of Jamie Rome’s two goals in a 7-2 win over the defending B.C. Hockey League and Royal Bank Cup champion West Kelowna Warriors at The Q Centre.
Van Lierop added another assist Saturday as the Grizzlies beat Alberni Valley Bulldogs 6-2 in a road game.
Like all good captains, Van Lierop didn’t try to sugar coat his team’s sluggish opening period against the Warriors, which ended 1-1.
“We kind of had a shaky start to the game,” he said, noting that head coach Craig Didmon gave the players a firm talking to during the intermission about work ethic and their effort level. “We took it to our hearts and came out in the second and battled,” Van Lierop said.
The Grizzlies fired 21 shots at West Kelowna in the middle frame, chasing starting goalie Cole Demers from the net when suddenly offensive defenceman Carter Berger scored his third goal in two games to make it 3-1. Five straight goals in the period, followed by a late Warriors goal, had the locals up 6-2 after two.
Beating the defending champs, while a much different squad than last season, meant a lot, Van Lierop said. “They play the exact same style as last year, so you know if you can beat that style (of team), you can go … far.”
The continued solid play of goalies Matthew Galajda, who made 29 saves against the Warriors including several difficult ones, and Tony Rehm has made a difference in the kind of attack the Grizzlies can throw at teams. Knowing they’ve got someone back there who can come up with big stops when necessary gives the defensive corps lots of confidence and allows them to jump up on the attack, the Grizzlies captain said.
He gave as an example the recent success of Berger, who went his first 32 games without scoring.
Nick Guiney also scored twice against West Kelowna, while Drayson pears and Tyler Welsh had the other Grizzlies goals.
On Saturday in Port Alberni, Lucas Clark broke open a one-goal game with a shorthanded marker 12:03 into the third period and the Grizzlies followed up with a pair of late power play goals to beat Alberni Valley.
The teams were tied 1-1 after one period, then Nathan Looysen scored unassisted to make it 2-1 Grizzlies after two. Victoria’s Cole Pickup and the Bulldogs’ Trevor Cosgrove traded goals 22 seconds apart to start the third before Clark raced in alone to beat Alberni goalie Carson Schamerhorn for the 4-2 goal. Dayne Finnson and Keyvan Mokhtari added the late goals for the Grizzlies.
Rehm stopped 30 shots to pick up his ninth win this season and lowered his goals against average to a sparkling 2.09, to go along with a .936 save percentage. Both would be leading the league had Rehm met the minimum qualification of 960 minutes played (he’s at 775).
Van Lierop, who has been on the ice and working out regularly since after the Christmas break, tries not to look too far forward despite his team’s solid season to date.
“We’re taking it a game at a time and we’re trying to peak at the right time,” he said. “It should be a fun race till the end. We just gotta make sure we’re ready.”
The Grizzlies host Interior Division-leading Penticton Vees this Saturday at 7 p.m.