Curling tournament forces change of venue to WHL playoff series

The Soo Curling Club team of Brad Jacobs, Ryan Fry, E.J. Harden and Ryan Harnden won a Tim Horton's Brier title thanks to mastery of the "hit" game, but their latest "take out" is against a Western Hockey League opponent in British Columbia's capital.

The schedule for the first round series between the Kamloops Blazers and Victoria Royals—a repeat of last year's first-round series that the Blazers swept in four games—was released today, with games getting underway Friday March 22nd. The series shifts to Victoria for Games 3, 4 and 6, if necessary, on March 26, 28 and April 1. However those games are not at the modern Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre at the heart of downtown Victoria.

With the Ford World Curling Championships occupying the space, the WHL playoffs will move from Victoria to the suburb Colwood and the home of the BCHL's Grizzlies:

The Royals will vacate their home arena following their final regular-season game on Friday to make room for the Ford World men's curling championship. That event runs from March 30 through April 7, but the curlers are to begin setting up on Sunday.

As a result, the Royals have moved their first-round home playoff games to 2,300-seat Bear Mountain Arena, a facility that opened in February 2004. Bear Mountain also is home to the BCHL's Victoria Grizzlies, who also are preparing for playoffs.

"Everything is set and (we are) ready to work around each other's games," Royals general manager Cam Hope wrote in an email yesterday. "Should be a great atmosphere in such a tight venue." [Kamloops Daily News]

Bear Mountain Arena is a small facility for WHL standards. While some OHL or QMJHL teams frequently draw less than 3,000 fans, the standard in the WHL for attendance is a little higher since games aren't televised and there's perhaps less media attention. Even in Victoria, which isn't a traditional WHL market, they averaged over 5000 fans.

Of course, moving to accommodate other events isn't exactly new on the WHL's West Coast. The Portland Winterhawks split games between the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the Rose Garden Arena, although those facilities are on the same street. Colwood is a 12 km drive from downtown Victoria (or as they call it in the OHL, "a long road trip").

Still, it's mostly the size of the arena, given the success of the Royals at the gate this year, that worries me. Generally a packed house can mean louder fans, and while the Royals have taken three of seven from Kamloops this season, their last matchup dictates the next will mean more than just hockey.

In the teams' last game, on March 5, Tim Traber of the Royals choked out Kamloops' Kale Kessy with Kessy's own jersey. Traber got six games suspension for the incident, and coach Dave Lowry earned one game. Traber will be eligible to return for the Royals last regular season game, so he will be back for the playoffs, just in time for things to not fly off the handle.

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