Sure, mission was accomplished by earning a playoff spot for the first time in four years, but can the Prince George Cougars win a series for the first time in eight years?

The Victoria Royals are definite favorites in the best of seven Western Conference quarter-final series that begins this weekend on the Island. The Royals had more wins (39-31), more points (82-67), more goals for (244-222), fewer goals against (219-295), a better power play (#6 at 22 % compared to #19 at 15.9 %), and a more efficient penalty kill (#11 at 80 % compared to #22 at 79.1 %).

In addition, Victoria took 311 less penalty minutes (999 compared to league high 1310).

The Royals have the vast majority of their players with WHL post-season experience, while the Cats have just five.

Did I mention that Coleman Vollrath of the Royals was a recent CHL Goaltender of the week for the week ending March 15 after posting a 3-0 record with a goals-against-average of 1.00 and a save percentage of .970? Vollrath was also 4-0 this season against P.G.

On paper, one could argue that this series is a mismatch, but I have yet to see any team awarded a victory based on stats. In fact, numbers can often be misleading.

The intangibles are on the Cougars side which can close the gap immensely.

Victoria has home ice advantage with the so-called better team which means the pressure is squarely on the Royals. The Royals have not played a “key” game all season. Victoria was locked into 2nd place in the B.C. division since well before Christmas with virtually no opportunity to move up or down in the standings. They never had to play any of their 72 games with “urgency”.

The Cougars, on the other hand, had little room for error after the awful 12 game slide in January. They played their best in the last quarter of the season to finish ahead of Tri-City, Kamloops and Vancouver. Yes, the Cats are battle tested and won their final two home games against Kamloops to be assured of a post-season berth.

If the Royals are really that much better than Prince George, then why did P.G. earn eight points in eight head to head games against Victoria?

The last two match-ups are fresh in our minds. March 6th, the Cats trailed the Royals 2-0 on home ice late in the second period, yet P.G. pulled out a 4-3 victory. The next night, March 7th, was one of the best games of the season at CN Centre. 5,404 fans watched the Cougars erase a 3-0 deficit before falling 4-3 after 11 rounds of the shootout. The atmosphere was electric with a team record 50-50 jackpot in excess of $67,000, half of which went to the Shelly Mrkonjic ALS fund.

It’s hard to gauge the mental effect those games will have on Victoria having blown substantial leads, but it should re-enforce to both sides no matter how much the Royals are ahead, no lead is safe.

Player for player Victoria seems stronger, particularly on the back end. The Cats don’t have a world junior gold medalist like Joe Hicketts (64 points in 62 games), a second team Western Conference all-star. Travis Brown (57 points) and Jack Walker (55 points) are other high end defencemen.

Up front, Brandon Magee has 44 points in 36 career games against the Cougars, including 10 this season. Austin Carroll notched a team high 77 points this season, 10 of them against Prince George. Ex-Cougar Alex Forsberg and former Hitmen sniper Greg Chase were acquired in trades to help load up the Victoria offense.

In the playoffs, individual performance is overshadowed by team play. The Cougars are 11-5-1-2 since February 1st while the Royals are 11-9 over that time period. In that same stretch, Ty Edmonds has a save percentage of .920 and Cats scoring leader Jansen Harkins along with Zach Pochiro and Chase Witala have formed one of the better lines in the league. Captain Sam Ruopp has anchored a gritty defence that rallied together.

As under-dogs, this is a role the Cougars can embrace. They can use as motivation the fact none of their players were selected as an awards finalist or were named to the league all-star teams. Each year the lure of the upset keeps fans engaged.

In the Western Conference, Kelowna seems a safe bet to beat Tri-City and Everett appears to have a decided advantage over Spokane. Portland has been the most dangerous team in 2015 and looks like a solid choice over Seattle. This leaves Victoria and Prince George. Are all series really going to go to the higher seed? If not, which team pulls off the big surprise? The answer is why we watch and listen for nearly the next two weeks.

From the Quote Rack:

Report–Tiger Woods is ’50-50′ for the Masters. Does that mean 50 on the first nine, followed by 50 on the back?

Robert Kraft says that there was no ‘smoking gun’ in Deflategate. How about an air gun?

Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California

The NFL has announced that they will lift the league TV blackout policy for one year on a trial basis. Bad news for fans in Oakland. They now have no excuse not to watch the Raiders.

On the first day of March Madness, Texas Southern, Stephen F. Austin, SMU, Texas and Baylor all lost. Last time the state of Texas had a day this bad, the Alamo was involved.

Contributor Janice Hough of Palo Alto, California

There was a report that Derek Jeter recently attended a Sumo event. And no, it wasn’t CC Sabathia’s first preseason start.

Comedy writer Marc Ragovin

LA Dodgers star pitcher Clayton Kershaw had a line drive nail him in the left jaw. He said the injury wasn’t serious and wanted to stay in the game saying if another comebacker occurred, he would have just turned the other cheek.

BC pet owners have equipped their dogs with unlicensed “service dog” capes and fraudulent ID in order to gain access to airplanes, restaurants etc. Service dog ID tags will be issued to weed out fakes. Fans of the Oilers and Leafs suggest the same could be done for their players.

Comedy writer TC Chong of Vancouver (

John Madden said Will Ferrell playing with professional ballplayers showed “a lack of respect.” Lucky for the Maple Leafs, Madden doesn’t follow hockey.

My wife had a nicked-up, miniature monkey wrench that I painted red, white and blue and put on a bracelet. It’s now a scar bangled spanner.

Comedy writer RJ Currie

And in case you missed it:

Trent Richardson, the underachieving running back, signed with the Oakland Raiders. Going at his standard 3.3 yards a clip, he’s projected to reach training camp sometime in November.

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times

Hartley Miller is the sports director and morning news anchor for 94.3 the Goat. His column appears Fridays on Send along a quote, note, or anecdote to
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