|Guy Charron, the head coach of the Kamloops Blazers, says a key to|
beating the Victoria Royals will be to match them hit for hit.
(Photo by Christopher Mast / mastimages.com)
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.
By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The last time the Kamloops Blazers won a playoff series, Marc Habscheid was their head coach.
When the WHL playoffs begin Friday, Habscheid will be out to beat the Blazers because his Victoria Royals will be providing the opposition.
As B.C. Division champions, the Blazers (47-20-5) go into the playoffs as the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed, meaning they have home-ice advantage in the first round. Thus, Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-seven first-round series will be played at Interior Savings Centre on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Royals (24-4-17) finished seventh, 44 points behind the Blazers and will play host to Games 3 and 4 at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre on the evenings of March 27 and 28.
Going in, the Blazers will be heavily favoured, if only because they took seven of eight regular-season games from the Royals, outscoring them 39-21 in the process.
However, Kamloops head coach Guy Charron knows that now isn’t the time for looking back.
“It’s a whole new season and you can’t look back at what you’ve done,” Charron said Sunday afternoon as he took a break from watching video.
That being the case, Charron hardly will be interested in going back to 1998-99, which is when Habscheid guided the Blazers to the WHL’s championship final where they won the first game and then lost four in a row to the Calgary Hitmen.
The rest, as they say, is history and the Blazers have had to wear it around their necks like an albatross over the years.
In the 12 seasons since then, the Blazers have made 10 first-round exits; they didn’t make the playoffs in the other two seasons, including last spring. In those 10 playoff appearances, they have bowed out in four games seven times, left in five games once and exited in six games on two occasions.
In those 10 appearances, they are 5-40. Throw in the end of the 1998-99 final, and the franchise is 5-44 in its last 49 playoff games.
Of course, none of that should matter a whole lot to the present-day players because it’s not like any of them contributed to the first seven or eight years of that run.
That, as they say, was then and this is now.
And now the focus is on the Royals, who are in their first season in Victoria after five winters as the Chilliwack Bruins.
The Royals booked their ticket into the playoffs with a couple of impressive performances last week when they scored 4-3 and 3-1 victories over the visiting Portland Winterhawks, who are one of three teams to finish with at least 100 points.
Charron and associate coach Dave Hunchak spent some of yesterday watching video of those two games. Charron saw a Victoria team that was more impressive than it had been earlier in the season.
“They had some key guys injured,” Charron said in reference to the Royals. “(Defenceman Tyler) Stahl was hurt all season. He’s a pretty solid defenceman. They built some confidence with the way they need to play to be successful against good teams. Obviously, they did some good things against Portland.
“Victoria is banging them every shift and Portland doesn’t deal with that very well. They didn’t respond the same way towards Victoria. If Victoria is going to be aggressive, you have to be aggressive. You have to match hit for hit and they don’t like it either.
“We’re a north-south team. We forced defences to make mistakes. We have to have the same game plan (against Victoria).”
Kamloops F Chase Schaber, the team captain, missed his sixth straight game with a leg injury Saturday when the Blazers closed out the regular season with a 4-2 loss to the Cougars in Prince George.
Schaber last played March 3, but Charron said he’ll be ready for this weekend.
“We were told by the doctors . . . it’s the type of injury that if it does reoccur he’ll have to work though it,” Charron said. “It’s not going to endanger him in any way.”
The Royals may be without D Zach Habscheid, who turned 20 on Friday, and F Brandon Magee.
Habscheid, who suffered a high ankle sprain while helping unload the team bus, hasn’t played since Feb. 3.
Magee, who turned 18 on Jan. 23, suffered an undisclosed injury — he may have injured a foot while blocking a shot — against Portland on Friday and the Victoria Times Colonist has reported that he may be out for the playoffs. That being the case, the Royals will miss his energy and his offence – he had 47 points, including 23 goals, in 65 games.
On Saturday, Spencer Asuchak, a 20-year-old from Kamloops who was playing his final WHL game, had two goals for the Cougars, giving him 18 this season.
Chase Witala and Reid Jackson also scored for Prince George, which didn’t qualify for the playoffs. Jackson broke a 2-2 tie with a power-play goal at 16:48 of the third period. Asuchak iced it with an empty-netter.
Tim Bozon and Ryan Hanes scored for the Blazers.
Prince George goaltender Devon Fordyce stopped 38 shots, 20 more than the Blazers’ Cam Lanigan.
JUST NOTES: G Cole Cheveldave didn’t make the trip to Prince George with the Blazers as the coaching staff chose to give him the extra rest. . . . F Brendan Ranford led the Blazers in goals (40), assists (52) and points (92). He is the team’s first 40-goal scorer since F Erik Christensen (54) in 2002-03. . . . Bozon led all WHL freshmen in goals (36) and his 71 points left him three behind Vancouver Giants F Marek Tvrdon, who closed with five points in his last two games. . . . Kamloops D Bronson Maschmeyer, who is in his final season, didn’t miss a game in his three seasons with the Blazers, completing a 216-game regular-season run on Saturday.
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