The Victoria Grizzlies have forced the Alberni Valley Bulldogs into a Game 7 of their B.C. Hockey League semi-final playoff series after winning 3–1 on Tuesday in Port Alberni.
“It’s been a rollercoaster ride here the last few days, having the opportunity to close out Victoria, being up 3-1,” Bulldogs’ head coach and general manager Kevin Willison said. “They’re a determined team and they don’t quit. We have to learn what got us here the last six weeks. We’re a team that had our backs against the wall.” The Bulldogs needed to win their last game of the season to make the playoffs, and had to work to get to that point, he added.
The Bulldogs were up 3-1 in their playoff series with Victoria, but the Grizzlies won 9-2 on Monday in Victoria to pull within one game. They tied the series on Tuesday.
Grizzlies’ Jaden Schmeisser opened up scoring at 7:34 of the first period with a power play marker. The Bulldogs tied it up at 9:43 of the second period with a goal from Kurt Gosselin, however Mark McLellan scored Victoria’s game winner at 18:30 from Brandon Egli, and Jesse Schwartz added the insurance marker at 19:17.
The third period was scoreless, but filled with penalties — including bench minors for both the Grizzlies and the Bulldogs for too many men on the ice.
Bulldogs’ captain Tryg Strand could be suspended for the next two playoff games—Game 7 on Wednesday and the opening game of the Island Division final on Friday (March 14) against Powell River if the Bulldogs make it through. Strand was handed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind at 16:15 of the third period.
A check from behind penalty carries an automatic two-game suspension; Willison said the team will appeal. “To me it didn’t look like an intentional from behind. It looked like the other guy stopped and Strand kept going. Strand’s a big boy.”
“It could be pretty tough” without the team captain, he acknowledged.
“Tomorrow night’s going to be a challenge for us.”
The games have gotten chippy between the Bulldogs and Grizzlies, and Willison said he has cautioned his team to be disciplined. “Victoria is known for embellishing high sticks or elbows,” he said. “We’ve always told our guys, don’t get too close to them because they embellish it all the time. They suck you in…you get caught once in a while with a two-minute minor.
“The team that has the most discipline and works the hardest usually comes out on top.”
Willison gave a nod to goaltender Connor LaCouvee, who earned his third BCHL Player of the Week title last week. The 19-year-old from Qualicum Beach posted a 1.51 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage as the Bulldogs went up 3-1 in their playoff series. He was named first star in games two, three and four and up until then had faced 156 shots and allowed just six goals.
“He’s the reason we’re here today,” Willison said following the Bulldogs’ loss on Tuesday. “We have to sometimes hit some homeruns for him…so he can relax. He’s handled the pressure really well coming down the stretch.
“He’s a young goaltender that has come in here and done an unbelievable job. We give him the opportunity to play each and every night and he’s been stellar.”
The Bulldogs travel to Victoria on Wednesday for Game 7. Puck drop is 7:15 p.m. at the Q Centre (formerly Bear Mountain Arena). Catch the action on 93.3 PEAK FM or live streaming at www.bchl.ca (look for the broadcast links under Scoreboard).