By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008
VICTORIA, British Columbia – Defenceman Dylan Yeo reached above his cubicle in the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre home team dressing room and slid out his Salmon Kings nameplate. He forlornly tossed it into an old Calgary Hitmen duffle bag — another keepsake from his hockey odyssey.
The 2007-08 chapters of their respective hockey journeys have ended for 23 players as the Salmon Kings quietly cleaned out their lockers yesterday at the Memorial Centre following the 4-1 loss to the Utah Grizzlies in the best-of-seven ECHL National Conference semifinals.
The battered old duffle bags brought out from closets and littering the floor of the dressing room sported logos from various scattered pro and junior teams — Portland Winter Hawks, Providence Bruins, Manitoba Moose, Lowell Lock Monsters, Swift Current Broncos, Albany River Rats — and said it all about the nomadic lives these players lead.
Packing day eventually always arrives in this business but you could sense this one hurt a little more than others. Instead of clearing out, the Salmon Kings thought they would be preparing for Game 6 last night with the city and the Memorial Centre abuzz. But instead of a thunderous playoff crowd on hand, the Memorial Centre was dark after the players cleared their stuff out and moved on to the next chapter of their playing lives.
“We definitely would have liked to have been playing tonight in front of our big and loud crowd but instead we’re here packing up and going home,” said a rather rueful Ash Goldie, who with fellow S-Kings forward Kevin Estrada, will play in Europe next season.
Ryan Wade, who is contemplating retirement but not yet certain, sat staring at his packed bags.
“This is so disappointing because we had the city buzzing,” said the last remaining original Salmon King from four seasons ago.
“If we only could have returned this series back to Victoria in front of our tremendous fans, even down 3-2, we figured we had a pretty good chance of going to Vegas [National Conference final against the Wranglers]. When we led 5-1 in Game 3 at Salt Lake, I was thinking at least we’re going back to Victoria. But the Grizzlies kept coming and coming and coming. They were relentless in all three games down there. Something had clicked and you could see it in their eyes.”
The Salmon Kings could find no answer to that Grizzlies resolve.
“We had a great season and we had the team that could have gone further and we tried, but the Grizzlies were so consistent,” said Victoria defenceman Patrick Coulombe, who has one season remaining in his three-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks.
“This is such a great city with great fans and I will not forget my years here. I will go home to St. Fabian [Quebec] and spend time with my family and then start my summer training. Obviously, the goal is still the NHL and I would love to be in the AHL [with Manitoba] next season.”
Coulombe echoed the plans of almost every player — immediately it’s back to their hometowns and time with family before individual summer training regimens begin.
It’s home to Ontario for forward Darryl Lloyd and defenceman Matt Kelly — the towns of Pickering and Tottenham, respectively – and street biking, golf and cottage before individual summer workouts start.
“The [Grizzlies] got every break and bounce and we let Game 3 slip away,” said Kelly, whose two-season AHL contract with Manitoba came to an end with the 8-3 Game 5 loss Sunday in Salt Lake City.
“I’ll have to see about my contract options for next season but this has been a great city with tremendous fans.”
Salmon Kings coach Mark Morrison is already planning for next season, but not before one final glance over his shoulder at a highly successful season that still somehow finished with an air of incompleteness about it.
“We won a banner [West Division champions] but this [second-round playoff loss] put a little bit of a damper on the season,” said Morrison.
“You have to give credit to Utah. They are a very good playoff team with three workhorse lines that never stopped. We couldn’t match that. Now it’s going to be a busy off-season. Some of these guys are going on to Europe and the AHL next season and we have our work to do.”