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April 1st, 2014

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   Victoria Grizzlies Jr A Hockey Club:
Saturday, April 5, 2014 - Submitted by Sharie Epp / Times Colonist

A tumultuous season for the Victoria Grizzlies has ranged from thrilling highs to controversial lows and back again, but the team persevered, right up till the clock was closing in on midnight on Thursday.

That’s when the Coquitlam Express scored a triple overtime goal and a 4-3 victory to knock the Grizzlies out of the B.C. Hockey League post-season. The remaining scheduled games in the round-robin semifinal will be cancelled, and Coquitlam and the Vernon Vipers will meet in the BCHL best-of-seven championship, starting April 11 in Vernon.

Long after the fans left The Q Centre, senior players drifted onto the ice, wrapping up their junior careers in memories.

“I couldn’t ask for more from these guys,” said Grizzlies captain Mark McLellan, who’ll be playing at Middlebury College in Vermont next season. “I loved coming to the rink every day.

“I couldn’t ask for better guys to go out with.”

With the Fitzgerald triplets each scoring to put the Grizz up 3-2 with a minute to go in regulation, Coquitlam captain Ryan Rosenthal, a terror with the puck all night, scored the tying goal.

“He’s a good hockey player, and he took a perfect shot at a perfect time,” said Grizzlies coach Craig Didmon, who moved from assistant to head coach in December, after Bill Bestwick was fired. “It was great coaching these guys — seeing this group build as a team. I could go on and on about the amount of character guys we have in the room.”

The Grizzlies had countless chances to put the game away, including a five-minute power play in the first OT, after Coquitlam’s Joey Santucci was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for hitting Garrett Forster in the head. Shortly after Coquitlam killed off the penalty, the Express were awarded a penalty shot, when Victoria was called for delay of game, but Grizzlies goaltender Alec Dillon stood tall.

The Grizzlies outshot the Express 61-47 but Coquitlam’s nearly invincible goalie, Gordie Defiel was strong all game. With both teams exhausted, somehow the Express found a burst of energy, and opened the third overtime swarming the Grizzlies’ zone. The pressure turned into a goal, tipped in by Danny Lange at 6:51.

“It is what it is,” said Didmon, whose team finished second in the BCHL during the regular season with a record of 37-15-3, then eliminated Alberni Valley (4-3) and Powell River (4-2) in the playoffs. “The guys worked hard, they deserved a better outcome.”

Now, it’s on to next season, and finding top-line players who can come close to replacing the firepower of Gerry, Myles and Leo Fitzgerald, who are attending Bemidji State University in Minnesota this fall, and others such as Jesse Schwartz, who’s headed for the University of Connecticut. Didmon has been searching in Chicago and the Toronto area, and the Grizzlies are running a camp this weekend for prospects.

“We need to find a couple of top-six guys up front, no doubt about it,” GM Pete Zubersky said, adding he feels the Grizzlies will be OK with goaltending and returning defencemen. He’s also negotiating a new contract with Didmon.

“I was really happy with the coach. He’s a West Shore guy, and I think he did a great job.”

During the off-season, Zubersky plans to focus on building relationships with businesses and fans in the community. This year, the Grizzlies ran a campaign to put more bodies in the seats by donating $5 of each ticket sold through a stretch of 10 games to little Hannah Day, who’s battling leukemia. They raised close to $20,000, and brought a few hundred more fans to the rink.

“We know, off the ice, we’ve got work to do. We’re on the right track, not where we need to be, but we’ll get there,” Zubersky said.

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