Grizzlies head to Langley needing to win out in BCHL playoff series against Rivermen

Cleve Dheensaw

The prospect of impending elimination has a feel all its own in sports.

“The guys know the ­situation and that they are playing for their season,” said Victoria ­Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon.

The fourth-seed Langley ­Rivermen lead the best-of-seven opening-round B.C. Hockey League Coastal Conference playoff series 3-1 against the fifth-seed Grizzlies heading into Game 5 tonight at George Preston Recreation Centre. The sixth game, if required, would be ­Saturday night at The Q Centre.

The Victoria power play suddenly faded in going 0-7 in two home losses this week. A big part of that equation were the timely saves by Langley goaltender Ajeet Gundarah, who is showing why he was a selection for the BCHL top prospects game before it was cancelled due to the pandemic in January.

“Our power play started out well in the series [three goals in two games in Langley] and we still got our looks at home. Their goalie was good and it’s just a matter of cashing in,” said Didmon.

In sweeping both away games this week at The Q Centre, the Rivermen held in check Matthew Wood. The BCHL MVP and top rookie finalist, projected by many as between the fifth to 10th overall selection in the 2023 NHL draft, scored twice in the split in Langley before being blanked at home.

“Matthew played well and had his chances but their goaltender made the stops on him,” said Didmon.

The Grizzlies have been fighting through key injuries — defencemen Clark Hiebert, Eli Barnett and Michael Adamek all missed Game 4 — but in elimination situations it’s pointless to dwell on who isn’t there, and simply get the most out of who is dressed.

“The guys have to find a way, first to get it back home Saturday, and then to a Game 7,” said Didmon.

“We can’t be passive.”

Devon deVries has stepped up and leads the Grizzlies in scoring with five points while Wood, Jack Gorton and defencemen Isack Bandu and Hoyt Stanley have four points each.

The Langley Max attack — Max Bulawka (five goals) and NCAA Miami University-bound Max Dukovac (three goals and five points) — has proven tough for the Grizzlies to shut down.

Meanwhile, the brackets held steady elsewhere as two higher-ranked teams have advanced to the second round in the Coastal Conference. The top-ranked Alberni Valley Bulldogs beat the eighth-seed Cowichan Valley Capitals and the third-seed Nanaimo Clippers defeated the sixth-seed Surrey Eagles in opening-round four-game sweeps.

NCAA Clarkson University-bound Brandon Buhr had five goals and eight points in leading Alberni Valley past Cowichan Valley. NCAA Cornell-bound BCHL MVP finalist Sean Donaldson, with three goals and five points, led Nanaimo in its sweep of Surrey along with the standout goaltending of towering six-foot-eight NCAA Dartmouth-bound Cooper Black.

ICE CHIPS: There are 21 BCHL alumni in the NCAA ­Frozen Four this weekend at TD Garden in Boston, nine with ­Minnesota State, six with the Michigan Wolverines, five with Denver and one with the ­Minnesota Golden Gophers.