It’s never too late in the season to put together an effort like the Victoria Salmon Kings did in Friday’s 6-2 win over the Alaska Aces.
The win, which coincided with Pink in the Rink night for breast cancer awareness, had the Kings playing as a defensively sound, systems-oriented hockey club – something that’s been inconsistent at best this year.
In all, the Kings beat the Aces in two of three games during last week’s series. Victoria opened the series with a 6-3 win on Wednesday before losing 3-1 Saturday night.
But it was Pink in the Rink night that had the dressing room buzzing with renewed vigour. It was also a special night for the Tim Kraus, Rick Cleaver and Ryan MacMurchy line.
Tim Kraus potted a hat trick to pace the Kings while MacMurchy tied a Salmon Kings’ record with five assists.
“We’ve really cleaned up our systems,” MacMurchy said.
Getting (Kiel) McLeod and (Derek) Couture back in the lineup is part of it, he added.
“They know how to play at the next level and it gets other guys playing that way.”
Two of the significant changes in the Salmon Kings’ game plan were highly visible on Friday, not just because of the salmon pink jerseys: better defensive responsibility and an offensive forecheck that clicked (granted Kraus popped two of his goals on the rush).
“Whoever is the last man into the zone has to stay high,” coach and general manager Mark Morrison said. “The high guy, whoever it is, he has to stay high.”
In MacMurchy’s words, the Kings gave up 10- to 20- odd man rushes through the first 40 games, a death warrant at any level of hockey.
What the players and coach didn’t talk about after Friday’s game was just how effective the Kings’ forecheck was.
At times, the Aces had nowhere to go. On several instances a second man-in on the forecheck was able to secure the puck, nullifying the Aces’ breakout while creating a scoring chance.
“Everyone knows we have the skill,” MacMurchy said. “We feel we’ve been greatly underachieving this year.”
Veterans on demand
With nearly everyone back off the injured reserve, Morrison has something he hasn’t had for a while: options.
“Lots of bodies means guys are competing for spots,” Morrison said.
Five of the Salmon Kings are considered veterans by the ECHL’s standards, meaning they’ve played 260 regular season games in pro hockey and are more than 24 years old: Adam Taylor, Derick Martin, Derek Couture, Kiel McLeod and Pete Vandermeer.
Only four veterans can dress per game, however. At the same time, the veterans are battling the regular roster for spots.
Vandermeer missed the Alaska series on the three-day injury reserve list, while Taylor was a healthy scratch on Friday.