It was with mixed emotions that Victoria Grizzlies fans said goodbye to the 2012-13 regular season at Bear Mountain Arena on Saturday night.
The B.C. Hockey League team almost pulled off the rare worst-to-first scenario, improving on last season’s woeful 21-38-1-0 campaign for 43 points with an impressive 33-13-0-10 log for 76 points. Victoria was dead last in the Coastal Conference last season, while recording the third-worst record in the entire league.
It did, however, end with a six-game winless skid after a 6-4 loss to Island Division rival the Alberni Valley Bulldogs — not exactly how you want to enter the post-season, which begins Friday at home to the Powell River Kings.
The Bulldogs scored five power-play goals — four on their first nine shots — as officiating became the object of dismay for the announced crowd of 1,595.
Chase Paylor, Kurt Gosselin, Jared Wilson and Ryan Lough all scored man-advantage goals for the Bulldogs, chasing Victoria goalie Brady Rouleau from the net early in the second. They added a fifth on a man advantage early in the third on backup Mike Stiliadis on Chase Van Allen’s goal. Zach Funk ended Alberni’s scoring with a late marker.
Myles Fitzgerald, with a pair, David Mazurek and Brett Hartskamp replied for the Grizzlies, who were a frustrated lot in a game in which it was a continuous stroll to the penalty box. A strange evening on fan appreciation night.
But, to their credit, the Grizzlies can finish no worse than third overall as Surrey grabbed first and Penticton could clinch second today.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better year,” said Grizzlies business manager Reza Binab. “The coaching has been wonderful, they’ve handled the kids extremely well and, on top of that, most of our players will be back next year.
“The reaction from the community has been outstanding as well.”
The Grizzlies averaged 1,209 fans heading into the final regular-season game, highest in the division and fourth-best in the league behind Chilliwack, Penticton and Vernon.
The bad stretch on the ice continues, however, on a greasy skid.
They are without five regulars including Gerry and Leo Fitzgerald, D.J. Jones, Pearce Eviston and Stefan Nicholishen.
Turner Lawson also picked up a four-game suspension from Friday’s game as he was involved in his sixth fight of the season (which earns him three games) and his sixth game misconduct (which gets him one more game). He could miss the entire playoff series if it’s a sweep.
The best-of-five begins with Games 1 and 2 in Victoria on Friday and Saturday.
Alberni Valley will face Nanaimo in the other Island Division matchup, also starting Friday in the Harbour City.
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