You know the weekend started with such promise, with the Grizzlies hosting Powell River on Friday night, a team the Grizzlies had played very well against all year entering play with a 5-2 record. Well it only took 14 seconds for the Grizzlies to surrender the first goal and to find out that Powell River wasn't going to roll over and play possum. And it kind of went downhill from there.
With nothing to play for, some fans felt Powell River might not ice a very strong team. As for the Grizzlies and the Alberni Valley Bulldogs however, all three of the Kings' weekend matchups would have tremendous impact in how the Island Division Playoffs were concerned. The last thing the Grizzlies wanted to do on Friday night was to hand Head Coach Kent Lewis and the Powell River Kings the keys to the Grizzlies' Playoff Bus. Soon both teams skated off the Q Centre Ice with the Kings enjoying a relatively easy 6-2 win over a February struggling Grizzlies squad. Sadly those playoff bus keys were placed squarely in the hands of Kent Lewis and his Kings, arguably the most consistent Island Division team over the second half of the regular season.
The Kings consistency was the one bit of hope held by Grizzlies fans leaving the Q Centre on Friday night, that and Powell River's goal tending and skill level. I even had a few fans say to me: "Well look Clay, Powell River are so much better than the Bulldogs, there is just no way that they are going to lose both games in Alberni on Saturday and Sunday, back to back. No way, it won't happen! They are just too good. They are 4-1-1 vs the Bulldogs, there's just no way they will lose two games to Alberni Clay." I had about five or six fans remind me of those facts on Friday. I too was more than hopeful.
And as everyone reading this knows, in less than 48 hours the Bulldogs would in fact win two back to back games over the powerhouse Kings. To many with whom I spoke, it was as though it was written in the stars. I actually went up to Alberni Valley on Saturday night with the night off just to watch it myself. I wanted to see if any of the conspiracy theories which I had heard about over the course of the past couple of weeks from a large number of folks could have any validity.
Frankly, I just didn't believe any of that nonsense. For the record, I have never prescribed to conspiracy theories. I don't believe in Bigfoot or UFOs. I once met Buzz Aldrin and I can tell you that I do believe firmly that 12 Americans walked on the moon between July 1969 and Dec of 1972. I also believe that Oswald acted alone.
|You only have to talk to Buzz Aldrin for about 5 seconds to know that on 20 July, 1969 he was there.|
What I saw in Alberni that night was a Powell River team who looked like they were mailing it in. That's sure what it looked like. I mean the shots were close, but the Kings were outplayed in every aspect of the game. At one point in the first period, Kings' Backup goalie, Stephan Wornig (.914 season save percentage) had given up 4 goals on 12 shots before the refs called one back due to an Alberni crease violation. On Sunday Wornig faced 61 Bulldog shots which is obscene, but he stopped 59 of them on that day. Now does any of that constitute a second gunman at the Grassy Knoll? Probably not.
|Grassy Knoll? Likely Not. Kings' goalie Wornig was well off on Saturday, but solid on Sunday|
So those keys to the Grizzlies' Playoff Bus which I was talking about after the Friday loss to Powell River were most definitely not only out of the hands of the Grizzlies, they were now firmly in the hands of the AV Bulldogs. Suddenly a single point on Sunday for Alberni would be all that would be required to secure a post season berth for the Bulldogs and complete the miraculous comeback from being down 8 points to the Grizzlies with less than three weeks to play.
|I can confirm that there were no Bigfoot sightings on that long disappointing drive home from Alberni on Saturday night|
But the players didn't seem to take much notice of the results in Alberni and quickly dispatched the Chilliwack Chiefs by a score of 8-5, enjoying their highest goal output of the entire year. Cole Pickup had 4 goals and Captain PJ Conlon added 4 assists himself on his last game in Junior Hockey. It was an inspiring performance by every Grizzlie player and while it was indeed the saddest win I ever saw, it was one of the proudest moments I ever had calling any game I can recall.
But what I appreciated all weekend was watching the Grizzlies support each other. I enjoyed watching the vets take a moment in Chilliwack and just soak it all in. Yes it was emotional and yes, for the 20 year olds especially, it was a season that ended several weeks too early. But in the end I kept thinking about the big picture and about the 7 returning veterans and the 1-10 start, both of which haunted the Grizzlies all season long. For me it really was just a bridge too far.
I am so proud of this fine group of young men and the effort they put in to come back from the worst start in franchise history and how close they came to making life very hard on the Nanaimo Clippers in Round 1, but alas, it just wasn't meant to be. So I will talk to you all in a few weeks to properly dissect the season and share my thoughts about this brave, tight and plucky team. It was a team remember who in spite of everything, raised average attendances at the Q Centre from 881 per game last year to 1,161 in just one season. And they managed all that with a .448 winning percentage, so they must have been doing something right.
This team may have lost the final battle, but they ended up winning the war. They may not go down in history as the best team the Grizzlies/Salsa ever iced and no they didn't win The Fred Page Cup. But they may just end up going down as the team that saved the franchise. Well done Grizzlies, well done. -CC