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Eagles even series against Grizzlies with big third period

Game 5 goes Thursday in Surrey
Grizzlies forward Julien Cull flips the puck past Eagles defenceman Rylan Bonkowski during Game 4 at The Q Centre on Tuesday night. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The Victoria Grizzlies weren’t expecting it to be a recreational skate to the finish line. It won’t be. The Surrey Eagles, after all, were the Coastal Conference and B.C. Hockey League regular-season champions.

“We knew they would have push back,” said Grizzlies head coach Rylan Ferster.

That’s exactly what the Eagles had in tying the best-of-seven Coastal Conference semifinal series 2-2 on Tuesday night on three third-period goals for a 3-0 victory in Game 4 at The Q Centre.

“They [Eagles] are a very good team. They have some slick, skilled and dangerous players. They don’t need much to get a chance.”

The quick and agile Eagles are built for the Olympic-size ice surface in South Surrey Arena.

“They are built for any ice, in my opinion,” said Ferster.

That was borne out in the second half of the third period as goals by Evan Brown at 10:22, Ante Zlomislic shorthanded at 16:23 and Ryan Evenhuis at 16:48 proved the difference in what was a tight and tense affair until then.

The Eagles also have goaltending in droves, well, at least in a pair. Surrey boasts BCHL first-team all-star Ajeet Gundarah in the crease but on Tuesday instead went with back-up Jaiden Sharma, who recorded the 31-save shutout.

Ferster has pointed to goaltending and special teams as keys in any playoff series. The former was again evident in Sharma’s shutout performance, particularly on a series of saves late in the second period that took away what looked to be almost sure goals for the conference fourth-seed Grizzlies that would have certainly changed the tone of the game. Victoria goalie Oliver Auyeung-Ashton, committed to Colgate University of the NCAA, turned in another nimble performance with 35 saves.

Special teams, however, were a mixed bag for the Grizzlies with the penalty kill stingy in holding Surrey’s potent power play to 0-4. But the Victoria power play allowed the Eagles’ short-handed goal by Zlomislic that was perhaps the fatal and final blow to Grizzlies’ hopes on the night.

NCAA Ivy League Yale-bound Micah Berger of the Eagles was named game first star for his two assists, Sharma second star and Nathan King of the Grizzlies third star.

The series swings back across the strait for the fifth game in Surrey on Thursday night. The sixth game is Saturday at The Q Centre and the seventh game, if required, would be Monday in Surrey.

“We are in the heart of the series now,” said Ferster

“Both teams have won games in the other team’s building.”

Meanwhile, the third-seed Alberni Valley Bulldogs have taken the other Coastal Conference semifinal series by the throat with a 5-1 victory Tuesday night. The defending conference-champion Bulldogs lead the series 3-0 against the second-seed Chilliwack Chiefs with the fourth game tonight in Port Alberni.

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