Salmon Kings’ Season Is On The Line

By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2009

VICTORIA, British Columbia – If Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre had a video scoreboard, it would show that staple John Belushi clip from Animal House that is always played at arenas and ball parks when the home team is in a hole: “Was it over when the Germans [sic] bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! And it ain’t over now. Who’s with me? Let’s go!”

It’s pretty much down to that for the Victoria Salmon Kings: Rally monkeys, rally marmots, rally towels — whatever desperation cliché mojo is needed when you are behind 3-0 in a best-of-seven series.

That’s where the Salmon Kings find themselves heading into tonight’s Game 4 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre of the ECHL West Division final against the top-seed and seemingly invincible Alaska Aces.

No team in the 21-year history of the Kelly Cup playoffs has rebounded from a 0-3 deficit in a best-of-seven series. And even in all of North American major-league sport, only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1975 New York Islanders and 2004 Boston Red Sox have done it.

“We had a big talk before skating today,” said Victoria forward Shaun Landolt yesterday, after what could be the team’s final practice session of 2008-09.

“We’re not just going to give it to them and we’re going to be aggressive and flying out there. A lot of the bounces have not gone our way in this series. We won four games in a row during the regular season and don’t see why we can’t do it again.”

When the history of Victoria’s time in the Kelly Cup playoffs is written, two collapses will stand out as glaring. Both came in second-round third games. The favoured Salmon Kings were psychologically destroyed after blowing a 5-1 lead last year against the Utah Grizzlies at the E Center in Salt Lake City. Falling behind 2-1 in that second-round series as a result, the Salmon Kings were never the same after that and never seriously in the series again as Utah won out in five.

Will Wednesday night’s soul-sapping Game 3 meltdown at the Memorial Centre — Victoria led 2-0 in the third period before five unanswered goals gave the Aces a stunning 5-2 victory — leave the Canucks’ ECHL farm team similarly devastated?

“It was a heartbreaker and so now we’re down 3-0 . . . but we have to keep up the mindset that we can do this,” said Dylan Yeo of Victoria, ECHL defenceman of the year.

“Winning is all about confidence and right now we may be low in that, but all it will take is one win to regain that confidence and we’ll be back on track.”

The Aces, on the verge of reaching the National Conference final for the fourth time in five years, are understandably wary of Salmon battling upstream.

“They are up against it and we know they will be coming out blazing and trying to stay alive. We have to match that intensity,” said Alaska’s standout forward Colin Hemingway, who has five goals and 16 points in eight playoff games.

The Aces, farm team of the St. Louis Blues, have young prospects. But it’s at the deep end of the veteran pool where the Aces are most formidable. Hemingway won an RBC Cup Canadian junior A title with the Surrey Eagles in the 1998 tournament held at Nanaimo and went to two NCAA Frozen Fours with the University of New Hampshire. Aces forwards Scott Burt and Lance Galbraith have two Kelly Cup rings each from their years with the Idaho Steelheads.