Salmon Kings Close,
But Not Close Enough

By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2009

VICTORIA, British Columbia – An ashen-faced Dave Dakers didn’t look like a man who seemed happy to have just saved about $25,000 on travel, accommodation and expenses to Anchorage.

The Victoria Salmon Kings’ president dejectedly made his way to the home team dressing room for the last time in the 2008-09 ECHL season late Saturday night after the Vancouver Canucks farm club had just been eliminated 4-1 by the arch-rival Alaska Aces in the best-of-seven Kelly Cup West Division final.

The Salmon Kings organization would have happily assumed travel expenses of many times the cost, if that’s what it meant getting back to Anchorage for Games 6 and 7 in the 2-3-2 format.

Instead, it’s Salmon Kings’ locker clearout day Sunday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre and exit interviews with coaches. The club made the second round of the Kelly Cup playoffs for the second consecutive season before bowing out. The team seems to have plateaued as a top-eight club unable to break through to the National Conference final.

It was small consolation that the Salmon Kings were on the loaded side of the draw in the West Division and lost to the probable 2009 Kelly Cup champions. The Aces, farm team of the St. Louis Blues, are that good.

“If we had gotten past Alaska, we’re probably going to the Kelly Cup final,” said Salmon Kings GM and head coach Mark Morrison.

But nobody is likely getting past Alaska. Evidence the winning goal Saturday, which Anchorage Daily News beat writer Doyle Woody rightfully described as “jaw dropping.” Veteran Aces defenceman Matt Shasby told the Daily News it was one of the best goals he has seen in his pro career.

Josh Soares’ wickedly soaring backhander over Julien Ellis’s shoulder into the top corner will likely remain one of the top-10 goals scored in the Memorial Centre when the history of the building is finally written. It came with 2:45 remaining in regulation time and the score tied 4-4. Game, set, match, season.

Just moments earlier, the Salmon Kings had a two-on-one that could have won the game. Dan Gendur had pinching defenceman Dylan Yeo ready for the pass on the open far side. Gendur stickhandled in too far but got off a rocket to the top corner that Aces goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux somehow got his glove to. In the ensuing scramble for the puck, Yeo was called for a penalty which led to Soares’ winning goal on the power play.

The players involved in that swing moment is what the ECHL is all about.

Gendur is a rookie pro under NHL contract to the Canucks. Fellow WHL-grad Yeo is a sophomore pro under AHL contract to the Manitoba Moose. Soares is a promising young pro who spent part of the season in the AHL. Lamoureux, who backstopped the North Dakota Fighting Sioux to the NCAA Frozen Four last year, is an undrafted rookie pro who is going places after turning heads by being named ECHL first-team all-star goaltender.

Accumulating these types of players in the ECHL is a combination of what the parent NHL and AHL clubs send you, in Victoria’s case the Canucks and Moose, and what you sign on your own. It’s with the latter that the biggest off-season question marks remain for Victoria. Is this current group good enough to break through past the second round?

“We definitely needed more depth,” said Morrison, who has two years remaining on his contract. “We lost [injured blue-line standout] Matt Kelly and couldn’t replace him. Alaska lost players and plugged in guys who were just as good as the guys they lost.”