The Victoria Grizzlies are headed to the next round of the BC Hockey League playoffs after defeating the Alberni Valley Bulldogs 4–0 in their best-of-seven opening series.
The Bulldogs came within a goal of extending their playoff season on Wednesday night in Port Alberni, losing 3–2 to Victoria.
Alex Newhook set the tone for the Grizzlies just 15 seconds into the game, converting a pass from Kyle McGrath into a goal. The Bulldogs ended the first period down 1-0 and behind 21-5 in shots on goal.
Michael Hodge evened the score with an unassisted goal off a funny bounce at 9:58 of the second period and it looked like a new game for the Bulldogs.
Victoria took a 2–1 lead at 3:17 of the third period though, when Carter Berger scored from Charlie Campbell and Ryan Nolan. They went ahead 3–1 on an empty-net goal by Henri Schreifels at 18:06.
The Bulldogs kept pressing for the next two minutes with goaltender John Hawthorne on the bench in favour of another attacker, and the strategy almost worked. Marcus Walker (from Aaron Bohlinger and Keaton Mastrodonato) drilled a goal with 33 seconds left, stopping fans in their tracks as many were already getting up to leave.
Although the Bulldogs had one solid scoring chance after the faceoff, Victoria closed out the game with a 3–2 win.
“We’re proud of how our guys competed. I don’t think there’s any ‘quit’ in our group,” Bulldogs’ head coach Matt Hughes said after the game.
“Victoria’s a very good hockey team. They’re a veteran group, but I thought they did a very good job and they earned everything they got.”
The Bulldogs had at least a dozen players on their roster who had never seen playoff hockey in the BCHL before this series, Hughes said.
“Last night we had a real good chance to win a hockey game (they lost 6–5 in overtime). Their power play took it over in the second period and we fought back. Tonight…we had our looks. It was not enough at the right times.”
Victoria head coach Craig Didmon gave the Bulldogs credit for their effort in the past two games. “Their goalie (John Hawthorne), he’s a real good goalie and he made it real tough for us. He really gave their team a chance to win tonight,” Didmon said following the game.
“I think it’s a good young team there. We had a few more veterans in our lineup that helped us down the stretch in this series.”
Didmon said the final two games of the series were a different picture than the first two games, in which the Grizzlies outscored the Bulldogs 13-3. “After they made some adjustments after Game 2 there wasn’t much room for anybody out there,” he said.
“I take my hat off to their team. Right to the bitter end they could have tied that up again late. We feel fortunate to be moving on.”
Hughes agreed that the series changed once the teams left Victoria. “That first game, we weren’t really involved at all (they lost 8–3). I think our guys were ‘oh boy, this is the playoffs, this is a whole new level,’” he said.
“The second game we competed harder, we just weren’t able to get any offence (they lost 5–0). I thought we stood around a lot and watched in the first two games.
“We really focused on our forecheck and getting bodies to the net” for Games 3 and 4, and that worked, generating more chances, he said. Just not enough to win.
While the Victoria Grizzlies will take a day off before heading back to practice, the Bulldogs will begin exit interviews with the players on Thursday so they can head home. The coaching staff will be busy scouting the remaining playoffs.
“For us, there really isn’t much of an off-season as a coaching staff. We’ll be off recruiting next week and getting the team ready for next year.”