The Victoria Grizzlies climbed on the bus this morning for their first B.C. Hockey League weekend road swing of the season.
The gauntlet sees the Grizzlies take on the Silverbacks in Salmon Arm tonight (Oct. 17), the Vees in Penticton the next night and the Merritt Centennials on Sunday afternoon.
Grizzlies head coach Brad Knight said the road trip through the Interior is coming at precisely the right time.
“We need to be more successful at home, and maybe we can find the secret of that success on the road,” he said. “This gives us an opportunity to re-establish who we are and what we stand for.”
Coming off a 4-3 home loss to Island Division-leading Nanaimo that saw their third-period comeback fall short, the Grizzlies will face three teams from what Knight called one of the toughest divisions in the league.
Penticton is a league-best 8-1-0-0 heading into this weekend’s play, their only loss a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Merritt back on Sept. 27. And Salmon Arm (4-3-0-2) and Merritt (5-4-0-0) are not far behind.
“We’re going into a division that’s really, really good,” he says. “We need to be respectful of where those teams sit in their standings, but at the same time we need some wins.”
Having won their own division the past two years, the Grizzlies have a target on their backs, he adds.
“Victoria’s one of the top franchises in the league in regards to our expectations. It’s good to have teams that get ramped up against us, but at the end of the day, it’s about us playing well as a team. The big thing for me is (getting) a consistent work ethic.”
Sports history is filled with stories of road trips helping teams bond, but Knight said his players already have good chemistry. What they are in the process of learning together is what it takes to win, he said, in other words, not taking a bad penalty when the team has momentum, or getting a big save at the right time.
“I’m seeing sporadic moments of that and also moments where we’re falling back. It’s a work in progress.”
Last Saturday at The Q Centre, the Clippers took a 4-1 lead with three second-period goals that chased starting Victoria goalie Michael Stiliadis, then held off the Grizzlies in the third for the win.
Garrett Forster and newcomer Jake Emilio, with a late power-play goal, scored for Victoria in the third as the Grizzlies outshot Nanaimo 11-6.
The result was the fifth straight 4-3 decision the Grizzlies have been involved in, including a home win over Cowichan Valley on Oct. 8. Brett Gruber led the attack with two goals, while Dane Gibson scored once and set up both of Gruber’s goals.
The Grizzlies trailed 2-1 after one period, but scored the next three goals – the last was a shorthanded marker from Matthew Kennedy in the third – to take the lead for good. Sean Cleary picked up the win in net, making 23 saves.
The Grizzlies next home game is Wednesday, Oct. 22 (7 p.m.) against Nanaimo.
In the den … A pair of new acquisitions saw their first action with the Grizzlies on Saturday night against Nanaimo. Twenty-year-old defenceman Jake Emilio and first-year forward Ayden MacDonald, who turns 18 next week, came over in a trade from Vernon last week for Brandon Egli and Mitch Meek, who Knight said were moved to give them more opportunities.