By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007
Accueillir a la capitale de Colombie Britannique, les garcons.
As Victoria Salmon Kings fans are discovering, the Vancouver Canucks scouting department has a thing for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Rookie defenceman Patrick Coulombe, who has played seven games with the Canucks this season, has become the fourth contracted Vancouver prospect from the QMJHL to be assigned to the ECHL affiliate Salmon Kings and joins goaltender Julien Ellis and forwards Marc-Andre Bernier and F.P. Guenette.
“He’s just the type of offensive defenceman we’ve needed to quarterback our power play,” said Salmon Kings head coach Mark Morrison, who welcomed Coulombe to his first Salmon Kings practice Tuesday in Stockton, Calif.
“Not long ago, Patrick was playing on the Canucks power play. That tells you something. He should dominate at our level. He’s a great skater. He’s what we’ve been looking for.”
Undersized at five-foot-nine and 163 pounds, the 21-year-old Coulombe has three goals and nine points in 41 games with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL with 16 penalty minutes. He had an assist and four penalty minutes in his seven games with the Canucks.
Unlike Ellis, Bernier and Guenette, Coulombe wasn’t drafted by the Canucks. He was invited to Vancouver’s rookie camp last fall as a free agent and made an immediate impact.
In five seasons in the QMJHL, mostly with the Rimouski Oceanic, Coulombe quarterbacked a Rimouski power play that included superstar Sidney Crosby. In his two best seasons at Rimouski, Coulombe had 46 and 48 points. He finished his junior career with 39 points in 38 playoff games, so appears to be at his offensive best when it matters the most. He was on a tear this time last year after being traded to the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, accumulating 18 goals and 49 points in his final 33 games of junior in Chicoutimi.
“The Moose have a number of bodies, and the Canucks want Patrick to keep playing and developing with minutes in Victoria rather than sitting on the bench in Manitoba,” said Morrison.
With a three-day break between games on the road in California, the Salmon Kings were given the day off Monday to do the San Francisco tourist thing complete with tour of Alcatraz. But the rare in-season respite ended Tuesday in Stockton, about an hour and a half east of the Golden Gate Bridge, with a spirited practice in preparation for Wednesday’s game against the Thunder in which Coulombe will make his S-King debut.
The Salmon Kings have been road warriors, winning seven of their last nine away games, but face one of the more intimidating environments in the ECHL in the three-game set Wednesday, Friday and Saturday in Stockton, where the Edmonton Oilers’ farm team is averaging 6,865 fans per game.
“It’s like Bakersfield, where we know we have to come out hard in the first 10 minutes to take the 7th Man out of the game early,” said Morrison.
“We’ve played enough of the teams who get strong crowd support to know what to do and to do it early. We’ve done well on the road recently because we’ve come out flying in the first game of a series to catch the opponent off-guard. And that has a tendency to carry through to the other games of the series.”
The Salmon Kings are 12-5 in their last 17 games and appear to be rounding into form at just the right moment, with the addition of Coulombe giving them added depth where they need it the most on the blueline.
“We’re a good hockey team right now with no real question marks,” said Morrison.
“I’m not predicting a sweep in Stockton [after sweeping both games of double set last weekend in Fresno against the Falcons]. You’re going to lose sometimes. But if we lose, I know we will just get back on the horse and keep going. We now have consistency and have slowly dragged Stockton and Phoenix into the [National Conference] playoff race [with Victoria, Utah and Long Beach].”
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007