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Hedquist the hero as Bulldogs push Grizzlies to the brink

Cleve Dheensaw

It’s an old adage in hockey but simply can’t be overstated. Goaltending is crucial in the playoffs. Hobie Hedquist provided sterling crease play for Alberni Valley on Tuesday night at The Q Centre with 45 saves in a 6-2 B.C. Hockey League victory over the Victoria Grizzlies.

Alberni Valley scored six unanswered goals, five in the third period, to propel the Coastal Conference third-seed Bulldogs to a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven conference quarter-final series against the sixth-seed ­Grizzlies. It also extended Alberni ­Valley’s overall record since the ­Christmas break to 24-4-1.

The Grizzlies threw everything they had at Hedquist over the first two periods, launching 35 shots at the Minnesota native through two, with only a 2-1 lead to show for it, and were perhaps dispirited by that. Alberni Valley had 18 shots after two periods on Grizzlies goaltender Oliver Auyeung-Ashton, one of three finalists for both the BCHL rookie-of-the-year and top goaltender awards. Then came the third-period Victoria collapse with five Alberni Valley goals

The Bulldogs won the first two games 7-5 and 4-0 in Port Alberni. The Grizzlies must now win out, beginning with Game 4 tonight at The Q Centre. A fifth game, if necessary, will be at the Alberni Valley Multiplex on Friday. If required, a sixth game will be Sunday at The Q Centre and a seventh game next Tuesday in Alberni.

Both teams sensed the stakes in skating to an edgy and scoreless opening period Tuesday night. Olivier Picard, who knows a thing or two about the playoffs after winning the Memorial Cup last year in major-junior with the Saint John Sea Dogs, opened scoring for Victoria by tipping home a Nathan King point shot at 8:16 of the second period. Victoria defenceman Eli Barnett, an NHL draft pick of the San Jose Sharks and committed to the NCAA Div. 1 University of Vermont Catamounts, extended that to a two-goal lead just over a minute later.

Nebraska-Omaha NCAA-bound Matthew Maltais, with his second of the series, pulled the Bulldogs to within one at 17:39 of the middle period. The Victoria margin could have been wider if not for Hedquist.

Goals in the first five minutes of the third period by Dakota MacIntosh, on the power play, and A.J. Vasko, gave Alberni Valley a 3-2 lead. Six-foot-three power forward Ethan Bono from Port McNeill, headed to NCAA Div. 1 Merrimack University, made it a two-goal lead for the visitors at 10:15. Chase Klassen, on an assist from Bono, made it 5-2 at 13:11 before Bono put it away at 17:05 with his third goal of the series.

In the other Coastal Conference playoff quarter-final series, the conference top-seed Nanaimo Clippers — with interim coach Dave Liffiton behind the bench in place of the suspended Colin Birkas — tied their series 2-2 against goaltender Ajeet Gundarah and the feisty eighth-seed Langley Rivermen with a 5-1 victory Tuesday night on the Lower Mainland after losing 3-1 to the upset-minded Rivermen late Monday night with Gundarah making 36 saves. The fifth game is Thursday night at Frank Crane Arena.