Despite a rough start to the B.C. Hockey League season, the Victoria Grizzlies aren’t pushing any panic buttons.
As they start a three-games-in-three-nights stretch, the Grizzlies are relishing the opportunity to improve their record.
Tonight’s home game against Alberni Valley, Friday’s contest in Duncan against the Cowichan Valley Capitals and Saturday’s game back at The Q Centre against the Surrey Eagles give the team a chance to get back into the thick of things in the BCHL’s Island Division, team captain P.J. Conlon said earlier this week.
“Some people might look at that as a tough schedule, but the guys in the room are looking at that as an opportunity to get things back on track here,” he said. “We’re a confident group and I think you’re going to see that this weekend.”
Having just one win in eight starts heading into tonight’s game and averaging less than two goals scored per game, the Grizzlies have worked on some specifics, Conlon said.
“A lot of the games early on we’ve found that we’ve been getting a lot of chances, but we haven’t necessarily been scoring on them. So our focus in practice this week has been bearing down in those opportune moments and trying to make sure we’re stronger around the net and finishing all the pucks we can.”
It’s not as if the Grizzlies are getting blown out. Of their six losses, only two have been by more than two goals, and one of those, Sunday’s 4-1 loss to Vernon, saw the visitors score an empty netter at the end.
“Our goalies have given us a chance in every game,” Conlon said of Mitchel Benson and Michael Galajda.
“Anytime you can have two rookies come into the league and battle as hard as they have in net; they’ve kept us in some games where maybe we struggled a bit at times; that radiates a lot of confidence within the dressing room and gives us a lot of hope moving forward. So if we can finish off some opportunities and along with some strong goaltending, we’re going to start winning some games.”
Through eight games, Benson had better numbers, going 1-2 with a 2.50 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. Galajda was still looking for his first win after five starts, having posted a 3.58 average and .883 saves mark.
Alternate captain Cole Pickup, like Conlon one of the key veterans on the team, agreed that goaltending hasn’t been an issue for the Grizzlies, but maintaining focus and working hard every shift has tended to be a challenge at times.
“It’s not like we’re getting dominated five-on-five … it’s just that we’ll lose a battle and then one mistake costs us a goal,” he said.
In Sunday’s 4-1 home loss to Vernon, the Vipers turned their game up a notch in the third period, breaking open a 1-1 game with a big play and keeping the pressure on until the end.
“It’s just playing a full 60-minute game and making sure we’re doing our job when we’re out there,” Pickup said. “It’s a little battle in the corner, or chipping the puck in at the blueline, it could be anything.”
There’s definitely been some bright spots. As Pickup pointed out, the Grizzlies’ penalty killing is in the top half of the league. Offensively Nick Guiney is emerging as a scoring threat and newcomer Brayden Gelsinger has been steady, leading the club with more than a point per game. And Pickup, a buzzbomb in the offensive zone, and steady defenceman Kevin Massy, quarterbacking from the point, are both making regular contributions to the attack.
Pickup, who’s played on teams without good chemistry, said a positive sign is that everyone is sticking together on and off the ice.
Conlon added that the older players try to support younger teammates as much as possible.
“I think most importantly we have to show up every day and work as hard as we can and set a strong example on the ice,” he said. “The veterans really believe in the group that coach (Craig) Didmon has assembled here and it’s just about coming together as a group and trying to turn around some of these close results.”
Grizzlies at home
• Oct. 10: vs. Surrey Eagles, 7 p.m., The Q Centre
• Oct. 16: vs. Powell River, 7 p.m.
• Oct. 18: vs. Cowichan Valley, 2 p.m.