Road Success A Must For Salmon Kings

By Sharie Epp
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah – The Victoria Salmon Kings and Utah Grizzlies each took a turn at highs and lows in Victoria, now they get to start over in Utah. After lopsided splits of the first two games, the teams continue their best-of-seven ECHL National Conference semifinal series Thursday at the E-Center. (PDT).

Considering the scores from Games 1 and 2 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre — Utah won 6-0, then the Salmon Kings responded 6-1 — all bets are off on who’s going to have the upper hand in this one.

“To me it hasn’t been a 6-1 game or a 6-0 game,” Victoria coach Mark Morrison said, before the Salmon Kings flew out to Utah on Tuesday. “The shots were pretty even on both sides, and yet the games came out with a five or six goal differential. I don’t think that’s been the case at all on how the games have been played.”

In the opener, the Salmon Kings might have still been floating high, after their come-from-behind overtime conquest of the Bakersfield Condors that clinched Victoria’s first-ever playoff series victory. If that was the situation, Utah’s hot rookie goalie, Nathan Lawson, brought them down in a hurry. Shots were 31-31, but Victoria couldn’t crack either Lawson or the stifling Grizzlies defence, once they got up a head of steam.

Morrison didn’t blame the loss on goaltender Billy Thompson, but decided to start Julien Ellis in the net for Game 2.

“Billy was ridden pretty hard through nine straight games,” Morrison said, referring to the first round of playoffs, as well as the final series of the regular season against Alaska, when the Salmon Kings wrapped up their first division title. “I felt, after the loss, it was a good time to get Julien in, whether Billy was a little bit tired or not.

“[Ellis] stood up, so now we’ll probably ride him for awhile.”

Ellis made some game savers, and held the Grizzlies to one goal, while his team tried to solve Lawson. The Grizzlies had come out using more forechecking than the first game, and the change-up took the Salmon Kings by surprise. Morrison countered with a switch of his own, moving rookie Jacob

Dietrich up from being a 10th forward to playing on a line with Ash Goldie and Milan Gajic, and the plan came together.

“The more ice time [Dietrich] got, he kept on improving, so I needed to find a place for him,” Morrison said. “He fell into that centre ice slot between Ash and Gajic, and that really worked well for us.”

Dietrich scored his first of two goals on the power play early in the third period, and everything changed. Once the Grizzlies had to move up to a more offensive style, the Salmon Kings got past them with five more goals, including another three by the Ash, Gajic, Dietrich line.

“[The Grizzlies] are a hard-working team that’s tough to get offensive chances on,” said Wes Goldie, who scored twice in Game 2, and leads the team with four goals and eight assists in eight playoff games. “We’ve just got to keep getting pucks to the net, and we’ve got to bring a work ethic. If we match their work ethic, we’ll be fine.”

The Salmon Kings left Tuesday so they could have an extra day to practice and get acclimatized on the E-Center ice. The Grizzlies returned home Monday, knowing it was their turn to regroup and bounce back.

“In the third period, that’s when you’ve got to make sure you’re strong on the walls,” Utah coach Jason Christie said about the loss. “They wound up the pace, and we got in penalty trouble. It’s the playoffs. You can’t be doing that.

“We’ve just got to make sure we’re ready to go [tonight]. It takes four games, and now it’s zero-zero.”

Game 4 is on Saturday at 6 p.m., and Game 5 goes Sunday at 3 p.m. If the series goes to seven games, the teams return to Victoria next Tuesday and Wednesday.