With five games left before the Christmas break, the Victoria Grizzlies (21-5-3-3) find themselves near the top of the B.C. Hockey League.
Only two teams stand in the way of the top spot in the overall standings, and Victoria will have a chance to gain ground on one of them this Saturday when they host the Wenatchee Wild (24-5-1-0) at The Q Centre.
At its heart, the Victoria-Wenatchee contest looks to be a battle between a tight-checking defensive team in the Grizzlies and an offensive juggernaut in the Wild.
With their 5-2 win in Nanaimo last night, Victoria had allowed just 73 goals so far this season, the second-lowest figure in the league, while Wenatchee has scored a BCHL-best 164 following their 12-0 drubbing of Coquitlam.
The Wild have seven forwards tallying at least a point per game this year, including Brendan Harris, the league’s leading point-getter with 12 goals and 54 points in 30 games. Linemate Charlie Combs leads the league in goals with 33, while Troy Conzo sits sixth in the league scoring race with 42 points.
“You’ve got to be careful with those guys because they can make you pay if you make mistakes,” said Grizzlies head coach Craig Didmon.
To counter that, Victoria will need continued steady play from a veteran defence that’s been solid top to bottom, giving Didmon the luxury of being able to trust his entire blueline group in most situations.
“That’s a reflection of our record. Our D-core is very established,” he said, while adding extra praise for Victoria native Drayson Pears, the youngest of the Grizzlies’ returning veterans. “He’s outstanding. We get (down) three on five and I’m throwing him out and he’s making a difference.”
Forwards Jamie Rome and Lucas Clark continue to shine in their own zone and Didmon expects they’ll be asked to provide heavy minutes against the Wild’s top scorers.
“Those two are big, physical guys who can skate really well and they’re really hard to play against. They’ve had that type of assignment all year and relished in it,” he noted.
Absent from the weekend’s games and likely gone until after the Christmas break is top goaltender Matthew Galajda. On Wednesday, it was announced that Galajda had made the Canada West team for the upcoming Junior A Challenge.
The tournament, which will feature both Canadian and international squads, will take place from Dec. 11 to 17.
Galajda’s absence will give Didmon an extended look at backup Tony Rehm, who could be a candidate to take the reins from the Cornell-bound Galajda next season.
“It’s a great opportunity for Tony. He’s shown me that he’s a good goalie in this league already. He’s a battler. He works hard in his crease,” Didmon said.
Shawn Parkinson, who has played 20 games this season for the Peninsula Panthers of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, may also get a look in net during Galajda’s absence.
The Wild beat the Grizzlies both times the clubs faced each other last season, shutting them out at The Q Centre on Dec. 12 and taking a 2-1 decision south of the border.
“The boys talk about Wenatchee as one of the most exciting games from last year … I know the guys are going to be excited,” Didmon said.
The Grizzlies are set to face the Clippers again for a Sunday afternoon (2 p.m.) game that serves as the host team’s annual Teddy Bear Toss. Bring a bear to donate to charity. For more details, visit victoriagrizzlies.com.