By GREGG DRINNANIt’s going to be Hockey Nights in Kamloops and Victoria.
Daily News Sports Editor
Daily News Sports Editor
The WHL announced Tuesday that the entire first-round playoff series between the Victoria Royals and Kamloops Blazers will be carried live by Shaw TV.
Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-seven affair are to be played at Interior Savings Centre on Friday and Saturday nights.
Dan Russell, the long-time host of CKNW’s Sportstalk, will call the play, with Bill Wilms providing the analysis. Andy Neal, a former radio voice of the Prince George Cougars, will be the program host. Peter Loubardias, a former play-by-play voice with Rogers Sportsnet, also will provide analysis on the telecasts of the first two games.
Neither the Blazers nor the Royals set the world on fire coming down the stretch, both going 4-5-1 in their last 10 games.
However, Kamloops head coach Guy Charron feels his team played better than that.
“I don’t think we have reason to (be concerned),” he said. “In some ways you want to finish on a good note. But it hasn’t been because our play has been bad.
“I’m not saying, ‘Holy sheesh, we’re going into the playoffs and not playing very well.’ We’re playing well enough to win games but we’re not finding ways to score and the goaltending has been the difference. We’re playing fine . . .”
Charron said he and associate coach Dave Hunchak have been harping on their players about defensive commitment.
“We’ll get our chances. We’ll score goals,” Charron said. “But it’s the commitment defensively. If we do that, we can have a lot of success in the playoffs. We can’t just play run-and-gun. In the playoffs, if you score, great, but if you don’t, you can get hurt.”
Charron also is well aware that the Royals, who gave up a WHL-high 325 goals, have the ability to score. After all, they do have five 20-goal men on their roster.
“Just do the things you need to do,” Charron said. “Their defence can be vulnerable, but if you don’t exploit their weaknesses, it’s like anything else . . . you allow the other team to stay alive and they have the ability to score. They have guys who can put the puck in the net.”
Jamie Crooks led the Royals in goals (37) and points (67), with Robin Soudek (27), Brandon Magee (23), Logan Nelson (23) and Steven Hodges (21) also getting more than 20. Soudek missed the last three regular-season games with an undisclosed injury. Magee, meanwhile, isn’t expected to play after being hurt in the Royals’ last game of the regular season.
As well, defenceman Hayden Rintoul struck for 17 goals, 13 of them on the power play.
There hasn’t been a WHL playoff game on Vancouver Island since 1989 when the Blazers eliminated the Victoria Cougars 5-3 in a best-of-nine first-round series. The Cougars then missed the playoffs for five straight seasons before moving to Prince George over the summer of 1994.
The Royals, of course, are in their first season after spending five winters as the Chilliwack Bruins. In Chilliwack, they qualified for the playoffs in four of those seasons but have yet to advance past the first round, going 4-16 in the process.
The Blazers won the season series with the Royals, 7-1, outscoring them 39-21.
“Some people are picking them in three games, not just four,” Marc Habscheid, the Royals’ GM/head coach, told the Victoria Times Colonist. “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.”
Habscheid continued: “They are a good team and ranked highly. They have earned that status and are an older team built for this season.
“They've got all the pressure on them.”
Never mind The Hunger Games; in the WHL, the mind games are underway.
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