As was the theme throughout their second round series, the Victoria Royals had no answer to the Portland Winterhawks in the Rose City. Portland went 2-for-6 on the powerplay in the fifth game of their Western Conference semifinal series and wound up with a 5-1 victory to clinch the series 4-1, outscoring the Royals by a 19-6 count on home ice.
Bigger than the game, which was no longer in doubt about midway through the third period, was a series of fights between the teams' skilled players that caused the game to run long into the night. Right at the end of the second period, as shown in the video above, Portland defenceman Derrick Pouliot clocked Victoria defenceman Joe Hicketts with a vicious right-handed haymaker that felled the draft-eligible prospect.
Later, after taking a hard crosscheck into the boards from Brandon Magee, Winnipeg Jets prospect and Winterhawks' leading scorer Nic Petan found enough energy in him to drop the mitts with Ryan Gagnon.
Referees Jeff Ingram and Derek Zalaski had their work cut out for them, doling out 151 minutes in penalties between the two teams in all, and it could have been more had Royals coach Dave Lowry not pleaded with his bench to cut out the rough stuff as the seconds on the clock ticked down.
The fights at the end of the second were scary to watch on TV. Pouliot and Hicketts aren't two players who drop the gloves that often and have reputations to maintain as silky-smooth skaters and generally more offensive than physical. Pouliot was drafted by the Penguins 8th overall in 2012 and Hicketts is draft-eligible this year (and was curiously left off the NHL's Central Scouting final rankings despite scoring 24 points in 36 games this season).
The fight turned when Steven Hodges came out of nowhere to punch Pouliot in the back of the head, and Pouliot took it out on Hicketts by knocking the 17-year-old out with his next punch. Hicketts had to be helped up and didn't return to the game, effectively ending his season.
Had the Royals come back and forced a Game 6, you may have heard speculation in regards to hockey's dreaded "C-word", but Hicketts seemed to be in good shape after the game. You can draw your own conclusions as to what kind of injury the defenceman sustained thanks to that punch from Pouliot:
Had a good chat with Royals' D Joe Hicketts after the game, he felt fine, jaw is a little sore, but overall ok.
— Andy Neal (@AndyNeal_Vic) April 11, 2014
Pouliot, Hodges and Hicketts were all ejected for their roles in the brawl, although you have to think Hicketts might not have returned anyway. It's a good thing the officials were able to catch that cheap shot from Hodges and we may have to wait on supplemental discipline carrying over to next season, should Hodges stick around as an overage player in September.
Petan, meanwhile, is no stranger to rough stuff in this series. Though he had a single minor penalty in Portland's first round series against Vancouver, he'd already been dinged for 15 minutes worth of penalties in the first four games against Victoria, covering all the bases being called for slashing, boarding, embellishment, fighting and high-sticking. While Magee got a (deserved) match penalty for the crosscheck to the back of Petan's head, Petan picked up a minor for retaliating via the ever-popular instigator rule:
Petan also appeared to take a heavy shot from Gagnon at the end of the fight (and around the 1:17 mark, Patrick Polivka attempts to incite Portland's Brendan Burke into a goaltender tussle) and was also slow to get up. Coach Mike Johnston confirmed that Petan's injuries are to the head:
Mike Johnston said Petan told him his leg was fine. Concern might be head-related and might take a few days to know Johnston said. — Paul Danzer (@360Danzer) April 11, 2014
Sounds like concern for Nic Petan is for his head, not his leg, according to Mike Johnston: — Scott Sepich (@SSepich) April 11, 2014
Petan was coherent and talking with Johnston and teammates in the locker room — Scott Sepich (@SSepich) April 11, 2014
That would be a massive blow to the Winterhawks, of course, but you'd have to hope they don't rush Petan back too quickly. The Winterhawks, like many hockey teams, walked a thin line a couple of years ago when Ty Rattie played with what was deemed to be a "neck injury" after Rattie was hit in similar fashion by Kamloops' J.C. Lipon. Both Eastern Conference series are at 3-1 after Thursday's contests, so the worry might be that Petan won't have enough time to heal prior to the start of the Western Conference Final.
The good news was that after the Petan fight, Lowry settled his bench down and the final few minutes ticked away without incident, though there were some bodies absent for a noticeably shorter handshake line than usual.