6,406 Watch Salmon Kings
Christen New Home With 5-2 Win

By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2005

VICTORIA, British Columbia – Somewhere, Lester Patrick is smiling.

The Victoria Salmon Kings played their first ever game at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre wearing special jerseys patterned after the ones worn by Patrick’s 1925 Stanley Cup champion Victoria Cougars and also raised the old Cup banner to the rafters of SOFMC.

Could there have been any other outcome on this night? Unthinkable. A Stockton Thunder victory would have been like wearing your grandma’s wedding dress and spilling syrup and Jell-O on it.

On a night of nice touches, the finest belonged on the scoreboard as the Salmon Kings (3-6) skated to a 5-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes’ farm team before a crowd of 6,406 in the new 7,400-seat facility. The old Memorial Arena held 5,200, making Thursday’s crowd the largest ever for a hockey game in Victoria. The fans cheered, chanted “Go Kings Go,” did the wave and had a good ol’ time in the return of Hockey Night on Blanshard.

The Salmon Kings received a piercing and rousing standing ovation as the clock clicked down to end the game. Ol’ Lester wasn’t turning in his Royal Oak grave on this night as a new generation of Victoria hockey did him proud.

Forceful Salmon Kings newcomer Jade Galbraith, claimed off waivers before the game from the San Diego Gulls, made an immediate impact with two goals and looks to be a keeper. The Salmon Kings can’t believe he fell into their laps.

“Jade was a vital part of our Kelly Cup championship season [2003] at Atlantic City,” said Dan Belisle, the Salmon Kings’ vice-president of hockey operations. “He’s skilled, has good hands and bit of a mean streak. I don’t understand how he cleared waivers.

“Maybe some of the teams were scared of him. But I know him. He needs a good, strong coach and Bryan Maxwell is that. I think he looked at our organization and liked the fit.”The S-Kings received another stellar performance from goaltender Rob Muntain, as the Thunder matched the winning S-Kings with 33 shots on goal.

Mike Wirll, Ryan Wade and Mike Henderson scored the other Victoria goals. Joel Irwin of Kamloops, an NCAA product out of Ferris State, and Mike Lalonde of Chetwynd, a Michigan State Spartans grad, were the only Thunder players to solve Muntain.

“It seems I played in every one of the rinks the [nomadic junior] Victoria Salsa called home all over town here, so it’s fun to come in here on an occasion like this,” said Stockton forward and former Chilliwack Chiefs junior Nathan Martz, before the game.

Martz, a New York Rangers draft pick out of the University of New Hampshire, said his fan base at the three games in a row in Victoria this weekend will “number in the double digits.” He typifies the suffocating style of play the Thunder utilizes and said he hopes to “open some eyes” as he looks to move up to the AHL.

“We work really hard and play the body,” he said. “We have some skill guys but it’s defence first with us.”

But they didn’t have enough of it Thursday as Victoria applied enough sustained pressure to crack the Thunder’s protective shield.

The Thunder, on a 15-game road trip to start the season as they await completion of the their 10,000-seat rink, fell to 1-2-2. Stockton and Victoria meet again tonight and Saturday at 7 p.m.

“I feel like the Victoria Salmon Kings,” quipped Stockton coach Chris Cichocki, referring to last season’s 14-game opening road swing for the same arena reasons.But on this night, the torch was finally passed from the Patrick Arena in Oak Bay and back to the site of the old Memorial Arena. It arrived with flames jumping high at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2005