Goalie Liam Souliere helps power Victoria Grizzlies’ surge

After missing the first four months of the B.C. Hockey League season, Liam Souliere isn’t back to 100 per cent yet.

You’d never know it.

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The 20-year-old from Blainville, Que. has posted victories in his past seven starts and has the Victoria Grizzlies surging at exactly the right time. With one week left in the regular season, the Grizzlies (23-30-1) are 7-1-1 in their past nine games and are comfortably locked into the first of three wild-card playoff spots which would see them open the BCHL post-season against the third-place team in the Interior Division, currently the Salmon Arm Silverbacks (28-20-5).

“I’m happy where I am right now, but I’m definitely not 100 per cent in terms of timing yet and the goal is always to keep getting better and hopefully come playoff time I’m really into form and ready to help this team do something special,” Souliere said as the Grizzlies prepared for tonight’s trip to Duncan to take on the Island Division-leading Cowichan Valley Capitals (34-15-7).

After being named the Central Canada Hockey League’s top goaltender last year in an impressive season for the Brockville Braves, Souliere earned an NCAA Div. 1 scholarship to Penn State beginning next fall. He was hoping to keep up the strong play with the Grizzlies in September. The early knee injury delayed those plans. But now Souliere has posted impressive early numbers going 8-4 with a 3.38 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in his first month of work.

“I always have high expectations for myself and I knew, once I was 100 per cent healthy that I could really play well in this league so I wanted to take my time rehabbing the injury and make sure I was totally ready to come back, not just physically but mentally as well, which is very important in goaltending,” Souliere said.

“And it helps that guys have really picked it up this last month or so and are playing with a lot of intensity and emotion in front of me and that’s what you need come playoff time.”

It wasn’t all chocolates and roses when Souliere made his BCHL debut in early January in Penticton against the Interior Division-leading Vees. The high-flying Vees put up an eight-spot on Souliere.

“Oh, I didn’t worry too much about that,” he said. “That was my first game, the pedigree they have on that team is very good and the crowd was big and noisy so I just tried my best to stay focused and keep smiling and having fun because I was just happy to be back playing games.”

Now Souliere and the Grizzlies are turning their attention to getting ready for the playoffs. Victoria has four games remaining — tonight against the Capitals, and then three straight against the Powell River Kings, beginning Sunday afternoon at The Q Centre and finishing with games next Friday and Saturday at Hap Parker Arena.

“The guys are skating hard, winning battles and that just shows that we have the will to win now,” he said.

“We have a bunch of guys scoring goals now, like [rookie] Kahlil [Fontana] the other night, he just shows what kind of work ethic is needed to be successful and even though he’s just a first-year guy, the others see that and they bring it too. And when everyone on this team brings it, like we’re doing right, now, we’re a pretty good team.

“We just won back-to-back games against a team that had a better record than us so we’re on the up-swing right now, and we plan on keeping that going right into playoffs.”

LOOSE PUCKS: The Grizzlies should get two key forwards back tonight as Eddie Yan returns from a nagging injury suffered in the recent Div. II B world junior championship where he played for Team China, and Brendan Bowie, with goals in two of his last three games, returns from sitting out Tuesday due to a lower body injury.

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