WHL Playoffs: (2) Kamloops Blazers vs. (7) Victoria Royals
The Victoria Royals made their playoffs in the first season in the WHL, but they may experience a rude welcoming at the hands of the powerhouse Kamloops Blazers.
The second seed in the Western Conference is actually a third seed, finishing behind both Portland and Tri-City in points. But, no worries, because the Blazers have had a strong year and are built for a WHL Championship.
Brendan Ranford and Colin Smith lead the way up front, while Tim Bozon's 36 goals and 71 points netted him the WHL's Western Conference rookie of the year. Forwards Brandon Herrod, JC Lipon, Dylan Willick, and Chase Schaber give Kamloops extraordinary depth.
Goaltender Cole Cheveldave is never an easy beat, and the Blazers get plenty of contribution from defencemen Austin Madaisky and Bronson Maschmeyer.
So, yes, the Blazers are built to win, and it's highly possible. Grabbing second seed was also a huge boost for them, because the Royals finished way back of sixth place Kelowna in the Western Conference standings.
If Kamloops plays their game and thwarts off the Royals' "nothing to lose" attack, they'll be moving onto Round 2.
One year in, and the Royals are already a playoff team.
This is one of the WHL's better stories this season, and Victoria couldn't have finished the regular season any better, beating a powerhouse Portland Winterhawks squad in two consecutive games to clinch seventh place. This team loves playing the spoiler role, evidenced by head coach Marc Habscheid's comments to the Victoria News on Wednesday.
“(Kamloops) had a good regular season, they’ve built for this season and they expect to move on from the first round this year," he said. "The pressure’s on them.”
If the Royals can score enough to keep Kamloops worried, and if they can get under their skin with their typical physical play, this will be a fun series to watch. The Royals are one of the more exiting teams in the WHL, especially at home.
Unfortunately, the glass slipper doesn't always fit. In eight head-to-head games this year, Kamlooops won seven.
Players To Watch:
Brendan Ranford (Kamloops)
While Lipon and Bozon had more points in the Blazers' games against the Rockets this year, Ranford is the team's most dynamic player. His speed and his nose for the net may be the kryptonite that Victoria can't solve.
Keith Hamilton (Victoria)
The Royals' starting goaltender has shown he is capable of making some big saves, but his overall numbers of 4.10 goals against and a .880 save percentage are troubling. In a series where the Royals will be outshout and under pressure, Hamilton's ability to channel his inner Jim Craig will be vital.
It's easy to over think this one, especially with how the Victoria Royals finished the regular season. The building will be rocking when the series shifts to the Save-On Foods Memorial, but it may be too late by then. Hey, we'll give them one. Why not?
Kamloops in five.
Game 1: Victoria at Kamloops, Friday, March 23 (7 p.m. PST)
Game 2: Victoria at Kamloops, Saturday, March 24 (7 p.m. PST)
Game 3: Kamloops at Victoria, Tuesday, March 27 (7:05 p.m. PST)
Game 4: Kamloops at Victoria, Wednesday, March 28 (7:05 p.m. PST)
*Game 5: Victoria at Kamloops, Friday, March 30 (7 p.m. PST)
*Game 6: Kamloops at Victoria, Monday, April 2 (7:05 p.m. PST)
*Game 7: Victoria at Kamloops, Wednesday, April 4 (7 p.m. PST)
More Western Conference predictions...