Idaho Knows It’s Now Or Never

By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2009

VICTORIA, British Columbia – With Tim Wedderburn having gone to two Calder Cup finals in the American Hockey League, and Darrell Hay wearing two ECHL Kelly Cup championship rings, the Victoria Salmon Kings defenceman and Idaho Steelheads forward are an oasis of level-headed calm.

Both have been through almost all possible playoff permutations during their careers. And both say you don’t exactly have to be an expert to realize a 2-1 series is a lot different than one at 3-0. One of those scenarios will be in effect following Wednesday’s Game 3 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre of the first-round, best-of-seven series, led 2-0 by the West Division third-seed Salmon Kings over the favoured second-seed Steelheads.

“It’s easy math. Not many teams in history, in any league in any sport, have come back from being behind 3-0 in a series,” said Hay, whose father Don Hay coaches the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. “It’s an old cliché, but we have to take this one period at a time.”

With their season potentially hanging in the balance tonight, the Steelheads have no option but to let it all hang out. They concluded yesterday’s intense practice at Pearkes Arena with a brutal hitting drill in the corner. You know it’s playoff time.

“Victoria out-competed us in our own rink,” said Hay, of the first two games of the series. “And when you compete like Victoria did, you get chances. We need to compete more. We got caught looking at the regular-season series [6-1 in Idaho’s favour over Victoria]. There can be no excuses.”

Keeping up their level of intensity and grittiness from Boise is key for the Salmon Kings. Passivity cannot be an option for the club in the middle portion of this 2-3-2 format.

Wedderburn said his club can’t sit back and hope to simply absorb the expected Idaho pressure.

“We have to keep attacking them, like we did in Idaho,” said the former Prince George Cougars junior. “We know they are going to be fired up and they are going to be coming hard. We have to beat them to the punch and attack them first and keep attacking them harder.”

The senior and younger Hay have been keeping in touch through their respective playoffs by text messaging.

“Dad told me to take care of what we have to do because we can’t worry about what Victoria is going to do,” said Darrell Hay.

This has been rugged, old-school playoff hockey. Idaho has scored only once so far in the series on Victoria goalie Todd Ford, despite lacing him with 51 shots in a Game 2 shutout. The Salmon Kings have touched Matt Climie, who ended the regular season with the parent Dallas Stars, three times. The two other Victoria goals in the series were scored into empty nets in 3-1 and 2-0 victories in Boise.

“We’ve got to score on Ford early, then we feel it will start rolling for us,” said Hay, a native of Kamloops and a 1999 Canucks draft pick.“We got it done in their building before [taking three of four games against Victoria in the regular season at the Memorial Centre] and we’ve just got to get it done again. As soon as you accept losing, you had better move on.”

Hay said he is looking forward to the next two, and for his side, hopefully three games in Victoria. The B.C. product expects more than 12 family members to be in attendance. Throw in Idaho forward and three-time NCAA Frozen Four player Brent Shepheard of Shawnigan Lake, along with fast-paced Cowichan Valley Capitals junior grads Bryan McGregor and Ben Nelson, and the Steelheads will find themselves with no shortage of supporters in the Victoria stands. Game 4 is in Victoria Friday and Game 5, if needed, on Saturday.

“Anchorage and Victoria are my favourite places to play on the road because the fans are so knowledgeable and into it,” said Hay. “When I hear O Canada sung again in Victoria, and the fans start yelling stuff before the end of the song, I get chills up the back of my neck.”

It truly felt like hockey playoff time yesterday afternoon as the Steelheads practiced on one sheet of ice at Pearkes Arena and the Victoria Grizzlies, preparing to host the RBC Cup national Junior ‘A’ tournament, on the other sheet as the springtime sun shone outside. The Salmon Kings were at the rink practising earlier in the day.

After their session, the Salmon Kings talked about not handing Idaho a lifeline. The difference between 2-1 and 3-0 is all the difference in the world in playoff hockey.

“We know they are going to come at us hard,” said Victoria goalie Ford. “We can’t sit back and wait for them. We have to keep taking it to them.”