Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fear of unknown not a problem for Salmon Kings

There aren’t any bench-clearing brawls and none of the Hanson brothers or Reggie Dunlop is anywhere in sight.
But it’s hard not to think about the Charlestown Chiefs of the Federal League when you examine the plight of the ECHL’s Victoria Salmon Kings.
On Wednesday morning, the WHL held a news conference in Victoria’s 7,000-seat Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre to announce that the Chilliwack Bruins are leaving the Fraser Valley and moving to the B.C. capital.
It was kind of like watching folks tap-dancing on a grave as CHEK-TV showed the news conference live from Victoria. Two teams were being killed off in order for the WHL to stake its claim on the capital.
While everyone was smiling in Victoria, moving vans were inside Prospera Centre in Chilliwack, taking gear and supplies from dressing rooms and storage rooms, removing video screens from the scoreclock, taking equipment out of the media box. . . .
The SOFMC has been home to the Salmon Kings for five seasons now. No details were made public yesterday, but it’s assumed that relationship will end when the Salmon Kings play their final game this season.
The Bruins have been purchased by Vancouver-based RG Properties, a real estate development company that just happens to own the Salmon Kings. The $5.5-million deal closed Tuesday. RG Properties holds the management contract for the SOFMC and for Prospera Place in Kelowna.
Ironically, the Salmon Kings played last night, taking to the ice for a playoff game against the visiting Utah Grizzlies about seven hours after the WHL made official what had been known unofficially for a few weeks. The Salmon Kings, who are bound and determined not to go gently, beat Utah 3-2 in overtime — before 3,691 fans — and now lead the best-of-seven second-round series 3-0. Taylor set up Josh Aspenlind, another former WHLer, for the winner 11 seconds into extra time.
The Salmon Kings would appear to be an unlikely contender. They began the playoffs as the seventh seed in a conference in which seven teams made the playoffs.
“We’re doing pretty well. It’s been fun so far,” offers veteran centre Adam Taylor, 26, who has played for the Salmon Kings in each of the last five seasons. He also has had stints with the Pensacola Ice Pilots, China Sharks, Florida Everblades, Rochester Americans and Edinburgh Capitals, which is where he began this season before the team’s financial problems got in the way.
Yes, Taylor has put on some miles since graduating from the Kootenay Ice after the 2004-05 season.
Yes, Edinburgh is in Scotland and the Sharks played near Shanghai.
No, Taylor, who is from Courtenay, never played for Charlestown.
The Chiefs, of course, are the (mostly) fictional team from the movie Slap Shot. The Chiefs, under playing coach Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman), start slowly, then start winning and drawing crowds, all the while with the team in danger of being sold or folding.
The Salmon Kings, then, may very well be a case of real life imitating Hollywood.
“We’ve heard stuff. We’ve heard about it,” Taylor says of the sad saga of the Bruins. “We had a meeting about it. Does it affect us? No, because this is our job. Am I sad to see the Salmon Kings leave? Yeah, I’ve played five years here. And it’s pretty neat to have your family and friends able to come see you.”
You have to understand, or try to, the mindset of the minor league hockey player in order to get at least a feel for how they are dealing with this. The NHL dream is over for virtually every one of the Salmon Kings — and the team has used 43 players this season.
“It’s out of our control,” Taylor says. “It’s our job right now. Our contracts are week to week. Our job right now is to win the Kelly Cup. That would be such an amazing story if we did.”
These guys really do play for the love of the game.
“I keep telling myself every year that I’m not going to play another year. But you know what?” Taylor says. “One month into summer and I’m already thinking what I want to do.”
Right now, though, Taylor and his teammates hope that their summer doesn’t arrive for a few weeks. They’ve got a Kelly Cup to chase.
The players, Taylor says, are single-minded in their goal. It was with that in mind that they put themselves in the story on Monday when they held a news conference right in the middle of their dressing room.
“It was just to say to the fans, ‘Come out and support us here. Tickets are really cheap and we’d really like you to come out and support us for the rest of the run here,’ ” Taylor says.
Like any hockey team at this time of year, the Salmon Kings are looking for any edge they can find. Having an arena full of supporters would qualify.
“Huge fan support in the playoffs can be that seventh man and give you energy,” he states, before continuing the message to the fans: “And this might be the last time you’re going to see some players play in Victoria so why not come out and support us?’ ”
Tickets for these home playoff games are priced as low as $5, and that‘s something you won’t see in too many other leagues.
“When I heard that, I was, ‘Wow . . . $5 tickets!’ ” Taylor says, before chuckling and adding: “When my friends call me for tickets, maybe they can go buy their own.”
“But,” he says, “it’s a great deal. What a great way to come out and see us play. It’s pretty sweet.”
This playoff run is extra special to Taylor, simply because he’s been with the Salmon Kings from the start.
“It was pretty neat to be part of the team right from the first year of the SOFMC,” he explains, “and it’s going to be pretty neat finishing here and hopefully finishing with the Kelly Cup, that’s for sure.
“It would be a great story.”
Yes, it would, like Slap Shot is a great movie.

 (Gregg Drinnan is sports editor of The Daily News. He is at, and


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