Royals' season swept away
By Cleve Dheensaw, Times Colonist
March 29, 2012 3:07 AM
Royals forward Jamie Crooks is double-teamed by Blazers Jordan DePape and Bronson Maschmeyer on Wednesday.
Photograph by: Bruce Stotesbury, Times Colonist , Times Colonist
(Blazers win series 4-0)
The Kamloops Blazers, superior in all aspects of the game, put a decisive end to the Royals' first Western Hockey League season in Victoria with a 4-1 victory Wednesday night at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
But the standing ovation from the 5,277 fans, even in loss, meant a lot to the Royals players.
"It was an emotional day. I had tears in my eyes. It wasn't fun but that's how life is," said graduating 20-year-old Royals forward Robin Soudek.
"We tried our best, that's for sure."
The Royals franchise, formerly known as the Bruins and shifted from Chilliwack to the capital, were swept 4-0 in the best-of-seven Western Conference opening-round playoff series.
"It was a unique season. Not very often does a franchise move," said Victoria GM and head coach Marc Habscheid.
"I'm proud of the season, of getting established, and making the playoffs."
The Blazers franchise, meanwhile, exorcised some demons by advancing past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Now, at least for a few days, their fans can indeed party like it's 1999.
Kamloops was full value for its conference No. 2 ranking against the seventh-seed Royals and now likely awaits the third-seed Portland Winterhawks, who lead the sixth-seed Kelowna Rockets 3-0 in their opening-round series heading into Game 4 tonight.
"They (Blazers) deserved to win," said Habscheid.
When you go 1-10-1 - as the Royals did this regular-and post-season against Kamloops - you just have to figure that team has got your number.
"The guys battled hard all series and that's all we can ask for," said Royals captain Hayden Rintoul, a graduating 20-year-old.
"It goes by really fast. But I couldn't ask for a better place to play my last season."
Ben Walker struck for Victoria just 1:40 into the game but Matt Needham levelled with a bullet from the left side at 12:13. The Royals, as to be expected from a desperate team, came out hard and outshot Kamloops 11-6 in the opening frame. But they were left to wonder what might have been had Logan Nelson, like Walker a native of Minnesota, been able to convert two clear chances on goal in the first period.
"I thought we played some good games but sometimes you don't get the bounces," said Nelson, the 108th-ranked North American skater for this summer's NHL draft.
But the standing ovation at the end will stay with him.
"It's something I will remember the rest of my life," said Nelson. "It was a tearjerker and really sent shivers up the spine."
Brendan Ranford, a seventh-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, scored his first of the playoffs and Dylan Willick rifled one to the top corner as Kamloops took a 3-1 lead in the second period.
The second period bedevilled Victoria the entire series with Kamloops outscoring the Royals 15-4 over the four middle frames.
"We suffered second-period breakdowns in each game and that was the difference in the series," said Soudek.
Willick closed it out with an empty-net goal in the third period.
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