By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The Victoria Royals will be without their leading scorer, veteran forward Alex Gogolev, for a first-round WHL playoff series with the Kamloops Blazers.
Gogolev, who hasn’t played since Feb. 5, was cut by a skate and has had surgery to repair tendon damage in his left leg.
Despite missing the last 20 games, the 20-year-old Gogolev led the Royals in assists (45) and points (65) in only 49 games. He was honoured as the team’s MVP on Sunday and was on crutches at the event.
A 20-year-old from Moscow, Gogolev was acquired from the Calgary Hitmen prior to the start of this season.
The Royals and Blazers will open the series at Interior Savings Centre, playing Games 1 and 2 on Friday and Saturday nights. The series then will shift to Victoria’s 2,781-seat Bear Mountain Arena — 7,006-seat Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre is occupied by the Ford world men’s curling championship — for Games 3 and 4 on March 26 and 28.
The Royals, who a couple of weeks ago scratched seven players due to injuries and/or illness, also have been without Patrik Polivka, their starting goaltender, and defenceman Tyler Stahl, their captain.
Polivka, a Czech who turned 19 on March 4, hasn’t played since March 5 when he left after the second period of a 6-0 loss to the host Blazers. When the injury list came out Tuesday, he was shown as being out one to two weeks with an undisclosed injury.
Stahl, who turned 21 on Jan. 29, has had an injury-filled last two seasons. He played in 20 games last season and 41 this season. He played in only six games in February and last played on March 2. The injury list shows him as day-to-day with an undisclosed lower-body injury, but he also has a history of concussions.
The Royals also have been without forwards Luke Harrison and Trent Lofthouse, although the latter may be back in time for Game 1.
The Blazers, meanwhile, wrapped up their regular season in Prince George on Saturday, beating the Cougars 7-0 behind a 31-save performance by goaltender Taran Kozun, who posted his second shutout.
Cole Ully, with two, Kale Kessy, Tim Bozon, Dylan Willick, Deven Sideroff and Connor Clouston scored for the Blazers, while Brendan Ranford drew three assists. Sideroff, playing his second WHL game, scored his first goal, as did Clouston, who was in his fourth game. Sideroff also had an assist and was plus-4.
The Blazers finished 47-20-5, which was their record last season when they won the B.C. Division. This time, they finished nine points behind the Kelowna Rockets (52-16-4).
The Blazers go into the playoffs as the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed. Victoria, which won just three of its last 17 games, placed sixth, at 35-30-7.
Like the Royals, the Blazers also have injury problems.
Centre Aspen Sterzer (concussion), who last played on Dec. 29, is at home in Calgary and isn’t likely to play again this season.
The Blazers also have been without centres Matt Needham (undisclosed) and Joe Kornelsen (leg).
“Needham is going as scheduled,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said, adding that Needham, who has missed 13 games since last playing on Feb. 15, should skate later this week.
“Kornelsen is probably a question mark,” Charron said. “The kind of injury he has may need more time.”
The Blazers are hoping that Kornelsen, who missed the last six games, is able to skate at some point this week.
Neither defenceman Joel Edmundson nor right-winger JC Lipon played on the weekend. Both sat out, Charron said, for precautionary reasons. The Blazers also scratched veteran defenceman Tyler Hansen on Saturday.
JUST NOTES: While the Blazers finished with the same record each of the last two seasons, they scored 29 fewer goals this time and cut their goals-against by 31. . . . F Colin Smith, who had one assist on Saturday, led the Blazers in goals (41) and points (106), while tying with Ranford for the lead in assists (65). . . . Smith is the first Kamloops skater with at least 100 points since F Erik Christensen won the WHL’s 2002-03 scoring title with 108 points. . . . Smith also was the only Kamloops player to get into all 72 regular-season games. . . . Blazers F Mitch Friesen earned his first WHL point, an assist, on Saturday. It came in his 45th game. . . . Blazers G Cole Cheveldave finished fifth in GAA (2.38) and 13th in save percentage (.908). He also won 36 games, and only Jordon Cooke of the Kelowna Rockets and Andrey Makarov of the Saskatoon Blades, with 37, won more. . . . Charron won his 144th game as the Blazers’ head coach on Saturday, tying him with Don Hay on the Blazers’ alltime list. Only Ken Hitchcock (291) has more. . . . Hay, now the head coach of the Vancouver Giants, was behind the bench for his 1,000th WHL regular-season game on Saturday, a 5-2 loss in Kelowna. Hay has 577 coaching victories in the WHL. However, his Giants went 21-49-2 and finished with the WHL’s poorest record this season. . . . When the Royals handed out their awards yesterday, D Joe Hicketts of Kamloops was named the top rookie and co-scholastic player of the year.
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