Victoria Grizzlies sharpen claws for big second half

Jack Gorton and the Grizzlies welcome the Kings to The Q Centre on Friday night. (ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST)

Brian Drewry

The Victoria Grizzlies begin the second half of their season tonight looking to pick up right there they left off prior to their Christmas break, literally.

The Grizzlies beat the ­Powell River Kings 5-1 on Dec. 17 before the players dispersed for their mid-season break, and tonight at The Q Centre Victoria will again face the Kings looking for a repeat performance from a couple of weeks ago.

“Good to be back. The guys are looking forward to some game action again,” said veteran Jack Gorton, who had three points in that Dec. 17 contest to bring his point total to 25 in 28 games, good for third best on the team behind Olivier Picard and Owen Bohn’s 28.

For the non-local players like the Granite Springs, New York, product Gorton, the holiday break got off to a shaky start, was great in the middle, and ended with a bit of chaos, ­courtesy Mother Nature.

The players departed the morning of the 18th, just hours before the mid-December snowstorm hit the city. Some flights were delayed but the players eventually made it back home that day.

The return back to Victoria was another story.

A major snowstorm hit the Eastern part of Canada and the U.S., with mass flight cancelations and delays early this week including in New York and at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, which just happened to be where most of the Grizzlies were catching connecting flights to Vancouver and Victoria.

“It was brutal,” said Gorton, who’s in his second season with the Grizzlies and will head to the NCAA and Boston University next fall.

Gorton was originally supposed to catch an 8 a.m. New York time flight on Tuesday from Newark, New Jersey, to Seattle and then on to Victoria. That got cancelled.

“So I woke up a 3 a.m. [Eastern time] for nothing, but I eventually found another flight from Newark that was going to go to Toronto at 3 p.m. and I would fly direct to Victoria from there … Of course then that flight got cancelled right before boarding.”

A frustrated Gorton, who had a Grizzlies practice to get to the next day, quickly scrambled and found a flight from Toronto to Vancouver leaving Toronto at 8 p.m.

“I ended up taking that but of course didn’t get into ­Vancouver until after 10 p.m. local time so I had to book a hotel room for the night and then I got up a 7 a.m. and caught a seaplane to ­Victoria, had a teammate pick me up and got to the rink at 10:30 a.m. for practice. Fun times.”

And while Gorton made it to Victoria, his luggage did not. His suitcase, which had been stuck in Toronto, finally made it to ­Victoria on Thursday afternoon.

“And I think I was one of the lucky ones. I saw hundreds of bags just sitting around the ­carousel in Toronto.”

Grizzlies defenceman Justin Gibson was home in Pittsurgh for the holiday break and was supposed to fly to Toronto and on to Victoria, but plans quickly changed.

“When we got word of the chaos in Toronto we quickly changed my flight and I went through Houston and on to Victoria. Fortunately that was pretty smooth,” said Gibson.

With the Grizzlies all back in town, although some still without their luggage, the focus now returns to hockey as they try to chase down the Coquitlam Express for third in the conference. Victoria (13-11-2-2) trails Coquitlam by three points but has two games in hand on the Express.

Victoria goes into tonight’s game having got five points from its last three games and they’ll look to continue to ride the hot goaltending of rookie Oliver Auyeung-Ashton. The 17-year-old is tops in the league in save-percentage (.940) and shutouts (5) and second in goals-against average (2.03).

Powell River sits seventh in the Coastal Conference at ­10-15-1-2.

After tonight’s game, the Grizzlies wrap up the 2022 portion of their schedule with a New Year’s Eve clash with the ­Cowichan Valley Capitals at 5 p.m. at The Q Centre.

The Capitals head into their game tonight at the Cowichan Community Centre against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs in last place in the Coastal Conference at 6-20-1-1.