Division champs: Kings get off the Island

Consider, if you will, just what you’d need to make your escape off an island.

Now consider what the Powell River Kings have needed to get out of the Island Division. After four straight years where they were beaten in the second round – the Island finals – they have finally made it past a surge of pounding surf and out into the expanse that is the BCHL semifinals.

Perhaps making it a bit sweeter is the fact Powell River was able to dispatch Victoria after the Grizzlies upended them last year in a Game 7 overtime win.

“I don’t think it’s just getting past Victoria, I think it’s just getting over that hurdle,” said Kings head coach Brock Sawyer. “We’ve been in that Island final I think the past three or four years and have come up short.

“I would say it’s the first step in this journey we set out to accomplish.”

If Sawyer and the player are downplaying the importance of getting by the No. 1-seed Grizzlies and scratching the itch from a year ago, the Powell River fans seem to be finding it extremely satisfying. The series-clinching win last Friday, on an overtime goal by Ben Berard, was played in Victoria and when the Kings bus got back home Saturday morning, the faithful were out in droves to show their appreciation.

“When we got off the ferry on Saturday morning we had people lined up at the ferry, welcoming the bus home,” said Sawyer. “When we came in to the rink, there were a bunch of people here congratulating the guys as we came in.”

Kings supporters have observed some tumult this year with streaky play and a coaching change in late January that saw Kent Lewis, a veritable institution in Powell River the last 15 years, relieved of his duties and Sawyer taking the reins.

Powell River lost five straight at the end of January and start of February, then won six in a row before concluding the regular season with three losses in a row to drop to No. 3 in the Island.

Carter Turnbull, the Kings’ top goalscorer in the regular season, leads the team with 6-9-15 in 11 playoff games and acknowledges the highs and lows of this past season but is optimistic about where his team is headed right now.

“We had our ups and downs this year; we went through some hot times and some cold times but we chose a good time to come together and start playing our way and it’s really showed the last two rounds,” said the Nanaimo product. “I just hope we can do the exact same thing in the third round; we’re playing great right now.”

It’s a good feeling to have as the league semifinals loom. With the Prince George Spruce Kings providing the opposition after a seven-game series against Surrey, travel will be a consideration as the two clubs are almost as geographically distant as you can possibly be in the BCHL. The higher-seeded Spruce Kings opted for a 2-2-1-1-1 format to the series.

“It’s an opportunity for one of us to go to the league final,” said Sawyer. “When you get down to the final four teams in your league, you know you’re going to have to travel. For us, I think our mindset is we’ll go anywhere as long as we’re still playing.”

Turnbull may have a bit of a book on at least two of PG’s top players because he captained the Canada West side to a gold medal in December at the World Junior A Challenge (WJAC) in Truro, N.S. with Spruce Kings forwards Kyle Johnson and Ethan de Jong as teammates.

Johnson, speaking to the BCHL earlier this week, called Turnbull ‘a fiery competitor’. Turnbull returns the respect.

“He’s definitely also a competitor. I had him on my team for two years at that tournament (WJAC), and Ethan de Jong too was there this. Those two guys will definitely be hard to contain. I look forward to the competition.”

Turnbull knows the Kings fans do as well.

“It’s so cool. Powell River is a little town so when our bus got off the ferry there from Victoria there was a bunch of people to greet us and they got their cowbells out. It was really cool to see. Wherever you go in town, everyone knows. It’s everywhere. Anyone you talk to is like good luck, good job on the last series. It’s really cool here.”

Games 1 and 2 are Friday and Saturday (March 30 and 31) in Prince George. The series comes to Powell River for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Tuesday (April 2 and 3).