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Alex Newhook on a 2-on-1. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

“I always wanted to be involved with a team that came back from a 3-0 deficit, but careful what you ask for,” chuckled Head Coach Craig Didmon, after winning four straight for the rare seven game comeback.

“It was a dark ride home after that third straight loss.”

The Victoria Grizzlies hosted the Alberni Valley Bulldogs for game 7 of their preliminary BCHL playoff series at The Q Centre Sunday afternoon and won by the score of 3-1. Bring on the Powell River Kings.

The Grizzlies got on the board first with a goal scored at 6:24 by Finn Withey, who was the trailer on a broken rush, where it seemed every Grizzlies player touched the puck in the scramble. With goaltender John Hawthorne out of position, Withey pounded the puck to the back of the net.  Marty Westhaver and Jordan Guiney earned assists on the play.

“It must have been my cooking,” joked Mena Westhaver, mother of Marty and billet to Withey.

“I was lucky that the puck bounced out to me,” said Withey.

The 18-year-old native of Whistler, BC previously played at the Junior B level for the Campbell River Storm and Comox Valley Glacier Kings of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League. Sunday’s matinee at The Q Centre was just his third game at the Junior A level. He is so new that his jersey is blank where his name belongs.

Grizzlies’ paw to the face. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

Asked about the move from Junior B to Junior A, Withey said, “The compete level is so much higher at Junior A. It took a bit to get used to it, but the team-mates are better, so that makes it easier.”

Both goaltenders looked strong during the first period, but the Grizzlies’ Kurtis Chapman made two outstanding saves in short succession one off of a Christian Simeone shot, where Chapman dragged the right trailing leg to make the stop at the bottom of his pad.

The first period ended with the score 1-0 for the Grizzlies. It was a free-wheeling period that presented several odd-man rushes.

The second period tightened up with the nod going to the Bulldogs for time spent in the Grizzlies end, however, as the saying goes, close only counts in horseshoes or when throwing hand grenades. The period was a little more physical.

Chapman was the difference maker during the second period and throughout the game.

“He wears his heart on his sleeve, but he has been great back there. He lost a good friend a few days ago and that is why he missed a couple of games and was given every opportunity to go home, but he stuck with it, even when we were down 3-0.”

The 20-year-old Chapman hails from Airdrie, AB. Over the past few seasons, he has played at the Midget Triple-A and Major Junior levels, getting some game action with the Kootenay Ice and Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League.

The third period got underway with a little more aggression for both teams. At 4:12, the Grizzlies were rewarded when Cam Thompson wacked at the puck from the edge of the crease. It was a puck that Hawthorne had initially stopped but it somehow popped up and behind the goaltender. Ethan Nother earned the only assist on the play.

At 6:44, after successfully killing off a penalty to Jamie Rome for cross-checking, the Grizzlies broke out 3-on-2, Cole Noble finished the play after receiving a cross-slot pass from Rome, who made up for his sentence of two minutes in the sin bin with the pass. Noble one-timed it into the back of the net. Shawn O’Malley earned the second assist on the play.

Tanner Hopps. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

Alex Newhook gave the fans a taste of what to expect going forward as he dangled two Bulldogs defenders with a fancy, between the legs stick-handle that saw him facing Hawthorne alone. No goal, but it was a crowd-pleaser.

With Hawthorne pulled and with 1:50 remaining in the game, the Bulldogs pressed and managed to break Chapman’s shutout bid with one-minute remaining in the game. The goal came seconds after a Victoria timeout was called. Julian Benner scored. Michael Sacco and Mitchell Oliver assisted.

The Grizzlies not only blanked the Bulldogs on their two powerplay chances, they kept them shot-less. The Grizzlies had earned no powerplays, however, three times there were coincidental penalties called, which opened the ice for the fast-skating teams.

Chapman made 31 stops on 32 shots, while Hawthorne stopped 28 of 31.

John Hawthorne. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

The Grizzlies play the Powell River Kings in the second round.