Royals ready for high-flying 'Hawks
By Cleve Dheensaw, Times Colonist
March 14, 2012
Game day: Victoria vs. Portland 7 p.m. at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre Radio: The Zone 91.3
FM / TV: None
Perhaps it's only appropriate the Victoria Royals' season comes down to a final home stand against the Portland Winterhawks.
The Winterhawks provided among the liveliest rivalries in the 23 seasons the Victoria Cougars played in the Western Hockey League and they make their first visit to Blanshard Street today in 18 years.
The contrast between the Winterhawks and Royals couldn't be more stark heading into the two-game showdown at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. Tonight's game is sold out and Friday night's is approaching sellout status.
While the set is crucial for Victoria (22-41-7) just to make the playoffs, Portland (48-17-4) is playing for first seed overall in the Western Conference and trails Tri-City by one point in that quest.
While the Winterhawks are the only team in the WHL to have scored more than 300 goals this season, the Royals are the only team to have allowed more than 300.
On paper, this match-up is clearly one-sided, even with the Winterhawks suddenly missing Sven Bartschi's 94 points, recorded in just 47 games this season. The Swiss import, selected 13th overall in the first round of last year's NHL draft, was called up to the Calgary Flames last week and has two goals in his first three NHL games.
"He can be airlifted back [to the Winterhawks] at anytime," cautioned Royals GM and head coach Marc Habscheid.
And the Winterhawks have so many other weapons that even the loss of Bartschi won't slow down this outfit.
"We want to make sure with our young group that we play a team game," said Habscheid.
"When you do that, funny things happen. They [Winterhawks] are a really good opponent, but it doesn't matter. We have to find a way to win. These kinds of situations are why you get involved in sports. The gut is turning, you can't sleep and you're excited to get the games going."
The Royals hold down the eighth and final playoff position in the Western Conference.
Asked if he's into keeping track of magic numbers and the like, Habscheid chuckled: "I failed math. It was optional in Saskatchewan. I worry about winning games."
In other words, win and the magic numbers take care of themselves.
The Royals received bad news Tuesday night as ninth-place Seattle upset the Spokane Chiefs 3-1 to move to within one point of Victoria. The Thunderbirds have three games remaining to the Royals' two. The 10th-place Prince George Cougars also upset Tri-City 5-4 in overtime to move to within three points of Victoria with two games left. Seventh-place Everett is one point ahead of Victoria with three games remaining.
Meanwhile, Royals captain Hayden Rintoul knows the Winterhawks well from meeting them in the WHL final last year as a member of the league-champion Kootenay Ice.
"The Winterhawks are really skilled and you have to play really simple and be defensive against them," said Rintoul.
"We have to give it everything we've got. There is nothing left to save it for."
Habscheid said Tuesday he had yet to decide on tonight's starter in goal.
Keith Hamilton of the Royals played as back-up goalie with the Winterhawks last season and knows them well.
"They have many really Grade A skilled offensive players and you have to be ready for them because they come in waves of attack and can score pretty much as well as anyone in the league," said Hamilton.
Pressure? The Royals players say they know it well by now.
"Every game down the stretch has been like a playoff atmosphere for us," said Victoria forward Brandon Magee.
"I haven't done the math. All I know is that we're in a playoff spot right now and hope to stay there. One win against Portland will have us sitting fairly well and two wins would be ideal."
Magee, however, knows what the form chart says about this Victoria-Portland set.
"They [Winterhawks] have a highly-skilled team that can score." he noted.
"We have to put the puck in dirty areas of the ice and outwork them there."
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