Grizzlies fans go wild for face-saving last game win

The Revelstoke Grizzlies finished their season with a last-minute win. We look back on the season and ahead to changes in the off season.

Heading into last Friday’s final game

Heading into last Friday’s final game

Minutes after the final whistle had sounded on the Revelstoke Grizzlies 2013–2014 season, the security guards were coaxing down jubilant fans from the Plexiglas.

In the stands, fans chanted the victorious team’s name for several minutes after the thrilling third period had come to a close. On the ice,  team-mates hugged, snapped souvenir photos and celebrated their late-season success.

All this for a pride-saving, come-from-behind 5-4 win over Trans-Canada rival Sicamous Eagles. It was a light at the end of the long, forlorn tunnel that started in 2013; the Grizz went one for 28 prior to the Feb. 21 home closer.

Halfway through, the game was shaping up to be a sad final chapter in an abysmal 9-39 with four overtime losses – the worst ever for the Junior B Revelstoke Grizzlies.

Grizzly Brendan Jay brawled with Eagle Darien Head midway through the first, earning both pugilists an early end to the regular season. Grizzly Damin Devlin and Eagle Derek Miskiman also exited in the first following a one-sided flurry of fists instigated by Devlin.

To their credit, both teams resisted the temptation to descend into a ender-bender brawl.

The Grizzlies were down 3-0 before game standout Matt Lucero avoided a collapse with a goal at 5:41 left in the second period.

The Revelstoke Forum beer section was happy to cheer for fights, but responded even better to goals, sending beer-cup pyramids tumbling as they hooted and smacked their palms against the glass in response.

Visiting coaches and owners often marvel at the support the Grizzlies get at home. Despite a season-long clinic in futility, there wasn’t an empty seat from the beer table at the home-team’s goal-line to the visitors’ blue line (on the beer side of the arena, at least). ‘I can’t get those numbers when we’re winning,’ the visitors say.

The Grizzlies played their best period of the year in the third. Down 4-1, goals by Jeremy McGregor, Riley Creighton and Matt Lucero (2 goals, one assist) evened it up – the last coming with only 1:33 left.

The Forum groaned when the next shot pinged off the post. The fans wanted a win for the boys bad – just one win – something they hadn’t accomplished at the Forum since Nov. 15, 2013.

With only 30 seconds left in regulation, Brodie Buhler put the team up 5-4. The celebration on and off the ice out-did those after the Canadian men’s Olympic final two days later.

The players on ice crashed into the boards, jumping at the arms of fans who’d climbed the boards to reach over for a high five.

Coach Sheldon Nohr called it an “excellent, excellent game.” He took over a fatally-wounded team in December following the resignation of coach Darren Naylor. The Times Review has editorialized on the teams’ problems before, and little has changed.

The coaching assignment wasn’t secured in the off-season, and the team failed to recruit effectively. The Grizz were on their third coach by mid-August; Naylor was the fourth. Players gravitate towards a strong coach, one who will bring success and help an individual player’s development.

“When a team starts their camp and haven’t done very much recruiting it definitely makes a difference,” Nohr agreed. “The end result is it does put a burden on a team.”

Players came and went in the first months of the season; the team struggled to establish systems. “You need your team to gel and be a team as quick as possible,” Nohr said – something that didn’t happen. “It was hard for the kids to really bond and become an actual team.”

Shortly after Nohr’s arrival, captain Devon Hascarl and goalie Aaron Brandoli jumped ship from the KIJHL and headed for Alberta.

“You have to play the cards that you are dealt,” Nohr said. He was out of trades by December and couldn’t bring players in.

The off season and next season

Nohr, who worked without a proper contract after being thrown into the coaching position, said he’s exploring ways to be “part of the organization” next year; whether that means serving as head coach – or more than that – is something he’s not willing to go on the record about yet.

If he does come back, a key consideration will be his relationship with the current ownership group. “Do they want to be involved or do they want to be a silent owner – it’s a juggling act,” Nohr said.

A fan’s perspective

At the final game, the Grizzlies awarded Jennie Johnston with the senior fan of the year award. It’s the second time she’s won it – in part for never missing a home game. Her first award came during the 2009–2010 season, when the Grizzlies were Keystone Cup-winning Western Canadian Champions.

I chatted with Johnston in between periods. She loves the games – including the “fisticuffs” – and considers herself a “true fan.” Some of the other season-ticket holders threw in the towel months back. They asked her why she keeps coming when all the team does is lose. She said it’s about being a “true fan.” To her, that means staying with them through the good times and the bad.

Johnston knows a thing or two about moulding boys into fine young men. Her son’s a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian Air Force, and has acheived postgraduate university degrees. I ask her what the Grizzlies need to do to get back to their championship form of 2010.

To summarize, she said everyone has their role to play in the organization and they need to stick to it.

Owners own, managers manage, coaches coach and players play.

When the lines between roles get blurred and things go wrong, accountability becomes problematic.

Seems like a good start.

Correction: A previous version of this story said the Grizzlies went “9-52” on the season. The error was also repeated in the photo caption. In fact, they managed nine wins in a 52-game season. Stated correctly, their record is 9-39 with four overtime losses. We regret the error.