By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2009
VICTORIA, British Columbia – Patrick Coulombe reached to the top of his stall in the Victoria Salmon Kings’ dressing room yesterday and gingerly pulled out his name plate. With his three-year Vancouver Canucks contract now expired and his time in their farm system at an end, the blue-liner realizes this chapter in his career has closed.
Locker cleanout day is a melancholy ritual in hockey that comes too early for most players each spring.
There were the usual range of emotions as the Salmon Kings, eliminated 4-1 over the weekend by the Alaska Aces in the second round of the ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs, conducted their exit interviews with coaches and said their goodbyes to teammates they have played and lived beside and traveled with for the last nine months.
“You realize this is the last time you will see a bunch of these guys and that’s tough because for nine months we are like brothers,” said Salmon Kings captain Wes Goldie.
Who knows what tomorrow holds? The various team logos on the battered duffle bags littering the dressing room floor — Rochester Americans, Chicago Wolves, Kelowna Rockets, St. John Sea Dogs — told of a collective vagabond existence from junior to the pros.
“From the [Victoria] Salsa and [Moose Jaw] Warriors in junior to places such as Phoenix [ECHL RoadRunners] in the pros, this is the 12th time I’ve had to do this and it’s never been with the Cup in the room,” sighed forward Sean O’Connor, the 2000 third-round Florida Panthers draft pick, who is exploring playing in Germany next season.
When pressed to grade the season, Salmon Kings GM and head coach Mark Morrison gave it a ‘B.’
“Unless this day happens in June, today is always a sad day,” he noted.
As for next season, the Salmon Kings can’t control who the Canucks or Manitoba Moose of the AHL send down, but they can control who they sign on their own to fill out the roster.
“We will look a little different next season — you’ll see some of these guys in the AHL — but our core group is a mature group that I would like to see back,” said Morrison.
“Getting ready for next season begins right now.”
Here is what some of the Salmon Kings players had to say before departing for hometowns across Canada:
Gary Gladue: “There’s plenty of hockey left in our core group, beginning next season,” said the former Prince George Cougars junior. “I would like to come back here. The coaches are great. We did some positive things and had a pretty good season.”
COULOMBE: “My contract is done with the Canucks but I want to keep playing pro as long as I can and my agent will look at the options in the AHL or Europe,” said the slick-skating and likable blue-liner, who played with Sidney Crosby on the 2005 Memorial Cup-finalist Rimouski Oceanic. “I enjoyed my three years in Victoria.”
Darryl Lloyd: “It would be nice to come back, but you never know,” said the pinball forward and former Windsor Spitfires junior, one of the most popular players in Salmon Kings franchise history. “I’ll be an over-ager next season [ECHL teams are allowed only four veterans on the roster]. So instead of trying to make a team of 20, suddenly you’re trying to make a team of four. I’ll see what opportunities are out there but I’d love to come back.”
Tim Wedderburn: “I’m looking at Europe but if that falls through, Victoria would definitely be my destination in the ECHL,” said the veteran defenceman.
Olivier Filion: “There’s a good chance I’ll be back here next season,” said the veteran forward.
Dylan Yeo: “There are a lot of defencemen in this [Canucks] system, but my agent handles all that stuff,” said the ECHL blue-liner of the year, who almost certainly will be in the AHL next season. “I enjoyed my first two years as a pro in Victoria and learned a lot under this coaching staff.”
Adam Taylor: “We had a good team that fell just a little short, but I’m looking at going back to play overseas next season,” said the Courtenay native and former Kootenay Ice junior.
GOLDIE: “It was a roller-coaster season,” said the captain and 48-goal scorer, who plans on returning. “Some guys will now move up to the AHL and others will explore options overseas but we hope to keep our core guys together.”