Victoria Times Colonist article (Royals ready to beat the odds against Kamloops)March 20 2012 at 6:56 AM
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Royals ready to beat the odds against Kamloops
By Cleve Dheensaw, Times Colonist
March 20, 2012 3:03 AM
Rain Man was named best picture and the Berlin Wall was still standing the last time a Victoria team played in the Western Hockey League playoffs, during the spring of 1989.
That was followed by five consecutive seasons of missing the post-season before the hapless Victoria Cougars franchise was moved to Prince George in 1994. Nothing has changed much for the latter team - the Prince George Cougars are still missing the playoffs. But the Victoria Royals, who played as the Chilliwack Bruins before moving to the capital this season, are in and will meet the Kamloops Blazers in a best-of-seven Western Conference opening-round series starting Friday and Saturday in the Interior.
Games 3 and 4 are Tuesday, March 27, and Wednesday, March 28, at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. If required, the remaining games would be Friday, March 30, in Kamloops, Monday, April 2, at the Memorial Centre and Wednesday, April 4, in Kamloops.
But according to some pundits, the seventh-seed Royals (24-41-7) needn't bother with the first WHL playoff games by a Victoria team in 23 years because it's apparently a hopeless cause against the second seed Blazers (47-20-5).
That's fine. Bring on the bulletin board clippings, says Victoria GM and head coach Marc Habscheid.
"Some people are picking them [Blazers] in three games, not just four," he chuckled.
"We shouldn't even go to Kamloops, the way it sounds. All I know is, we'll show up Friday when the puck is dropped."
Kamloops has its own sorry recent history with which to contend. The Blazers' halcyon era of the three Memorial Cups was in the mid-1990s when Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine were in first run on TV and Donovan Bailey was still running on the track. The Blazers haven't been past the first round of the playoffs since 1999.
On paper, that 13-year streak of futility should end, as Kamloops is clearly favoured to get past Victoria to the second round.
Habscheid, of course, isn't giving away an inch of pre-series ground. But he does give credit where it's due. The Royals were 1-6-1 this season against a Kamloops squad that had a remarkable turnaround after missing the playoffs last year.
"They are a good team and ranked highly [No. 8 among major-junior teams in North America]," said Habscheid.
"They have earned that status and are an older team built for this season."
Which means the Blazers have more to lose, too.
"They've got all the pressure on them," said Habscheid.
And an intriguing recent trend is that the Royals seem to be coming on while the Blazers have struggled of late. Both teams are 451 over their last 10 games, with the Royals already having gone through playoff-like games just to clinch one of the final two post-season berths in the Western Conference, which they did in the final period of the final game of the regular season Friday.
"We've [essentially] been in the playoffs now for three weeks and are in that mode already," said Habscheid.
"We've been scratching and clawing."
The Royals will need to be wary of a deep Kamloops team that includes Swiss sensation Tim Bozon, who was second this season in WHL rookie scoring with 36 goals and 71 points and is ranked No. 39 among North American-based skaters for the 2012 NHL draft.
The Royals head into the series with team third-leading scorer and graduating 20-year-old Czech import Robin Soudek day-to-day with an upper-body injury, and the highly useful forward Brandon Magee likely out for the entire post-season after catching an edge in the final regularseason game on Friday. Royals defenceman Zach Habscheid has returned to skating on his injured ankle, but gingerly, and is unlikely for the Kamloops series.
SERIES SCHEDULE: ROYALS VS. BLAZERS
Friday: Victoria at Kamloops, 7 p.m.
Saturday: Victoria at Kamloops, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, March 27: Kamloops at Victoria, 7: 05 p.m.
Wednesday, March 28:
Kamloops at Victoria, 7: 05 p.m.
x-Friday, March 30: Victoria at Kamloops, 7 p.m.
x-Monday, April 2: Kamloops at Victoria, 7: 05 p.m.
x-Wednesday, April 4: Victoria at Kamloops, 7 p.m.
x - If necessary
© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist
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