Brett Stirling (6)

Victoria Grizzlies 2-0 after home opener BCHL weekend

Rookie forward Justin Michaelin turning heads early with new club, scoring both winners

Justin Michaelin is fast making his impact felt with the Victoria Grizzlies.

The 18-year-old rookie forward out of Michigan scored the winning goal in both of the Grizzlies’ home opening weekend games, including an unassisted marker in the second overtime Saturday that gave Victoria a 5-4 win over Alberni Valley.

In his B.C. Hockey League debut Friday at The Q Centre, he notched the eventual winner in the third period as the Grizzlies won 2-1 over the Powell River Kings.

The Grizzlies play the Cowichan Valley Capitals in Duncan on Tuesday (Sept. 13) then host the Surrey Eagles this Friday (Sept. 16) and the Caps on Saturday, both at The Q Centre at 7 p.m.

Keyvan Mokhtari scored twice, including the 4-4 goal midway through the third period, and set up another goal to lead the Grizzlies on Saturday.

Goals by Sage Englund and Mokhtari gave the Grizzlies a 2-0 lead in the first period, but the Bulldogs tied it at 2-2 later in the second on a goal by Connor Welsh. The Grizzlies Cole Pickup replied just 37 seconds later to restore the lead heading into the second intermission.

Cayden Kraus and Auggie Moore gave the visitors their first lead of the game, 4-3, by the 7:01 mark of the third, but Mokhtari tallied unassisted at 10:04.

The Grizzlies outshot the Bulldogs 10-2 in the two overtime periods – 39-31 overall – and goaltender Mitchell Benson notched his first win of the season.

After the home opener, head coach Craig Didmon gave kudos to his team for giving the Kings all they could handle.

“Powell River’s a very good team, you could see that right from the start, and I think it just shows that we are a good hockey club,” he said. “To start the season off with a victory against them, it feels really good.”

Brett Stirling and Michaelin had the goals for the Grizzlies while netminder Matthew Galajda was nearly flawless in making 27 saves on 28 shots, his only blemish coming on a goal by Liam Lawson in the game’s final minute.

For Michaelin, a Michigan native making his BCHL debut, the rebound goal came with helpers from linemate Nick Guiney and defenceman Cody Van Lierop.

Michaelin, Guiney and Englund combined to give the Grizzlies a dangerous looking second trio, with only Guiney having a year under his belt as a Grizzly.

“It’s a good feeling to get (the first goal) off my back,” Michaelin said, giving credit to his linemates. “We work really well together off the ice and I think that leads to chemistry on the ice.”

Stirling opened the scoring for the Grizzlies with a power-play marker and was a big part of a Victoria blueline that managed to limit the Kings to a lot of outside, low-percentage scoring chances.

“I thought our D played smart. I thought they kept it simple and less was more for these guys tonight,” Didmon noted. “They’re very skilled hockey players and they probably could have done a little bit more, took some more risks, but we have a team that can wait for opportunities and capitalize.”

Unusually, the game was halted about five minutes into the opening period when The Q Centre’s fire alarm went off. The 1,017 fans in attendance were ushered out of the building and a delay of about 15 minutes ensued. If any of the Grizzlies had any nerves as the game began, the break in the action may have helped, Didmon said.

“They were so excited, maybe it even helped us settle down a little bit. Emotionally they got to restart,” he said.

– with files from Don Descoteau

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