By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers will face the Victoria Royals in the opening round of the WHL playoffs.
However, the teams won’t see the inside of the Royals’ home arena, the 7,006-seat Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.
The Royals will vacate their home arena following their final regular-season game on Friday to make room for the Ford World men’s curling championship. That event runs from March 30 through April 7, but the curlers are to begin setting up on Sunday.
As a result, the Royals have moved their first-round home playoff games to 2,300-seat Bear Mountain Arena, a facility that opened in February 2004. Bear Mountain also is home to the BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies, who also are preparing for playoffs.
“Everything is set and (we are) ready to work around each other’s games,” Royals general manager Cam Hope wrote in an email yesterday. “Should be a great atmosphere in such a tight venue.”
The Kamloops-Victoria matchup became official Saturday night when the Blazers dropped a 2-1 decision to the host Kelowna Rockets. With the victory, the Rockets clinched first place in the B.C. Division, with the Blazers relegated to second.
With playoff seedings on a conference basis, the Blazers will go in at No. 3 and meet the sixth-place Royals. That series will begin with games at Interior Savings Centre on March 22 and 23.
The Blazers and Royals met in the first round last season, with Kamloops winning the best-of-seven series in four games. That ended the Royals’ first season in Victoria after having relocated from Chilliwack.
A year ago, the Blazers had won the B.C. Division pennant, going 47-20-5, while the Royals ended up seventh in the conference, at 24-41-7.
Obviously, the Royals are improved over last season, although late-season injuries have really taken a bite out of their lineup.
They remain without veteran Russian forward Alex Gogolev, who is skating but hasn’t played since Feb. 5. Gogolev, 20, has 65 points, including 20 goals, in 49 games. Also missing has been defenceman Tyler Stahl, an antagonist who has bothered the Blazers in past games. Due to injuries and suspensions, Stahl, 20, has played in only 41 games and hasn’t dressed since March 2.
The Blazers (45-20-5) will conclude the regular season by going home-and-home with the Prince George Cougars. They’ll play here Friday night and there on Saturday.
The Royals (33-29-7) have been locked into sixth place for a while now. They lost 5-2 to visiting Portland on Sunday and will meet the Winterhawks in Victoria again on Tuesday. The Royals will finish the regular season by playing host to the Everett Silvertips on Friday and visiting Everett on Saturday.
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