By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2009
VICTORIA, British Columbia – The reason the Victoria Salmon Kings swept the favoured Idaho Steelheads 4-0 in their ECHL West Division semifinal playoff series is because Victoria was too tough and Idaho too soft.
As a result, the third-seed Salmon Kings advance to play the top-seed Alaska Aces in the best-of-seven West Division final beginning Friday and Saturday in Anchorage. The third and fourth games are April 29 and May 1 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. The fifth game, if needed, is in Victoria May 2. The sixth and seventh games, if required, would be back in Anchorage.
The Aces did away with the fourth-seed Utah Grizzlies 5-2 on Saturday at the E-Center in West Valley City, Utah to win their West Division opening-round series 4-1.
Meanwhile, three of the four games in the Victoria sweep of Idaho could have gone the other way. But they didn’t. That’s because the Salmon Kings had more jam than second-seed Idaho when the games were on the line.
Every time Idaho forwards Bryan McGregor and Mark Bomersback turned around, there was somebody like Adam Taylor or Sean O’Connor in their face. Nobody cared that some are seeing an NHL future for McGregor or that Bomersback is the all-time leading scorer in Alberta Junior Hockey League history. Victoria pushed Idaho around with impunity. In the end, the Idaho snipers simply backed down.
Despite keeping it close, the Steelheads were a demoralized and defeated team heading into overtime of Game 4 on Friday night at Save-on-Memorial Centre. The Salmon Kings were outmuscled by the underdog Grizzlies in last year’s second-round playoff loss to Utah. Salmon Kings head coach and GM Mark Morrison absorbed that lesson and vowed it would not happen again.
“The playoffs are a mental and toughness thing, where you can’t get thrown off your game plan even if you are behind,” said Morrison.
“You have to keep doing the same thing you planned over and over, regardless of the situation within the game. The team that does, goes furthest. We weren’t thrown off by any situation in the four games. All the games were close except one, and that kept us real and battling.”
Victoria’s steeliness was evident in overtime of Game 4 during the nearly one-minute stretch in which Idaho held a two-man power-play advantage. Still, nobody expected a sweep.
“We planned on it going longer,” said Morrison.
“The Steelheads were always in it. Our goaltending was a huge thing with Todd Ford allowing only four goals in the four games. As offensively powered as Idaho was, we had guys hitting them and shutting them down. We never gave them an inch. Now it’s about doing the same to [Alaska snipers] Josh Soares, Colin Hemingway and Cam Keith. I give us a chance against any team in the league because of our work ethic.”