It’s advantage Grizzlies.
With a last-gasp home-ice serve tonight to the Bulldogs.
The Victoria Grizzlies took a 2-1 lead in the B.C. Hockey League best-of-five Island Division final with an inspired 4-1 victory Monday evening over Alberni Valley before 1,119 fans at Bear Mountain Arena.
The fourth game is tonight at Weyerhaeuser Arena in Port Alberni. A fifth game, if necessary, would take place back at Bear Mountain Arena on Wednesday evening.
The series winner will advance to meet the Surrey Eagles — 3-0 winners over the Chilliwack Chiefs in the Lower Mainland final — in the Coastal Conference championship series.
“At this point of the season, it’s the will to win that matters,” said Grizzlies GM and head coach Bill Bestwick. “Tonight, I thought we played our best game of the playoffs.”
The shots were a telling stat as Bulldogs goalkeeper Jay Deo earned his keep with 34 saves. Brady Rouleau of Victoria made 14 saves for the victory.
The Victoria defence was stellar.
“It was a good collective effort,” said Grizzlies blueliner Nolan De Jong, headed next season to Ann Arbor to become a Michigan Wolverine in the NCAA.
“All six defencemen played a ton of minutes. Blocking shots and taking away lanes is all part of it in the playoffs,” added De Jong, named player of the game.
The Grizzlies held a 12-0 shots advantage before Alberni Valley got its first shot of the game with 4:45 left in the first period, although that turned out to be a breakaway by 20-year-old Manny Gialedakis that was stopped by Rouleau.
The Victoria first-period pressure paid off with a 15-5 shots advantage and a 2-0 lead on a power-play tally by Myles Fitzgerald at 13:31, his fourth goal of the post-season, and a snap-shot by Pearce Eviston at on a fine assist from behind the net by Myles Powell at 18:03.
Fitzgerald later left the game with an injury that could be of concern to Victoria, as could a late-game shot taken off the foot by fellow-forward Mark McLellan.
“Our depth is a concern and has been since Jan. 12,” admitted Bestwick.
“We’ve manufactured goals here and there. It’s all hands on deck.”
In the second period, tenacious Alberni forward Teal Burns caused a Victoria turnover which allowed Matthew Hansen to score short-handed and pull the Bulldogs to within one at 10:40. But Victoria prevented that from being a momentum shifter by scoring on the same power play. A powerful point shot from Grizzlies defenceman Kade Pilton caused a rebound which allowed David Mazurek to make it 3-1 at 11:45 of the second.
“We need to come out with more energy [tonight in Port Alberni] and not get walked all over like we did tonight,” said Burns, a 20-year-old with loads of WHL and BCHL junior experience with several teams. “We want to keep playing.”
Powell stuck the dagger at 7:23 of the third period with his first goal of the playoffs to close out scoring.
“We’re missing guys and that has been hard on us, so everyone has to step up,” said Powell.
Monday it was him, as he flitted around the ice like a water-bug and ended up with a goal and key assist.
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