Just under 51 minutes into Sunday afternoon’s B.C. Hockey League matinée, fans at Bear Mountain Arena let out a collective sigh of relief as Myles Fitzgerald finally managed to put the hosts on the scoreboard.
Fitzgerald’s 22nd tally of the season, at 10:51 of the third period, was enough as the Victoria Grizzlies pulled out a 1-0 squeaker over the visiting Vernon Vipers.
On a fabulous day, where fishing might have been a great option, the Grizzlies were nearly left to ponder the one they let get away.
With the Vipers playing their third game in three days, the Grizzlies needed the late heroics, finally getting to goaltender Austin Smith, who was clearly the best player on the ice. He held the Vipers — who had won in Nanaimo on Friday and Cowichan Valley on Saturday — in the game, stopping 37 of 38 shots.
Smith made a huge save off Gerry Fitzgerald midway through the second period and then turned aside former teammate Pearce Eviston — who was traded from Vernon at the deadline — later in the frame.
Victoria call-up Shawn McBride had a couple of swipes at the opening goal seven minutes into the third, but Smith thwarted those opportunities as well.
He couldn’t quite get to Myles Fitzgerald’s blast, however, on a long rebound through traffic.
Mike Stiliadis, meanwhile, had a fairly easy time of it earning the shutout, stopping 23 shots and just five in the third period.
The Grizzlies entered the game with a one-point lead on Penticton for the overall league lead and will remain in the penthouse.
Victoria was still without suspended players Kade Pilton, Keyler Bruce and Turner Lawson. Stefan Nicholishen is now lost due to a gash on his calf that he suffered in Friday’s Grizzlies’ win over Cowichan.
The Grizzlies will now play host to Merritt on Friday and Powell River on Saturday, both at 7:15 p.m. at Bear Mountain Arena.
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