When the Western Hockey League returned to Victoria last season, it was thought the Vancouver Giants would be the Royals’ most natural rivals. But with the Giants in a down phase, it’s the Kamloops Blazers who seem to have taken on that mantle.
It was clear during the Royals’ physical 6-4 victory Tuesday night over the Blazers that these clubs have more than a passing animosity. It is said you never really develop a rivalry in the WHL until you’ve met a team in the playoffs, which the Royals did last season in losing four straight to the favoured Blazers in the first round.
Last night’s affair had a playoff-like feeling to it before 4,373 fans at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. Victoria won for only the third time in 17 meetings against the Blazers over two seasons, including playoffs.
“We want to show them what we’ve got,” said Victoria forward Steven Hodges, the Florida Panthers draft pick, who scored twice to pace the victory.
The Royals gave as good as they took yesterday.
“Hockey is not an easy sport. It is not a nice sport. You’ve got to push back,” said Hodges.
“We [Royals-Blazers] see each other a lot this year and we’ve got each other’s numbers.”
The Blazers dropped to 29-13-4, while Victoria moved to 22-17-3.
The teams meet again tonight on Blanshard.
It’s getting awfully lonely up front for the Royals as five injured forwards — Tim Traber, Ben Walker, Mitch Deacon, Logan Nelson and Luke Harrison — were scratches last night.
It didn’t help Victoria’s cause that 20-year-old forward Jamie Crooks, the team’s second-leading scorer, may have been the latest causality as he was shaken up in the second period by a hit to the head and didn’t return.
“It’s adversity but that’s the way it goes,” said Hodges. “It’s an opportunity for the younger guys.”
Like 16-year-old Jack Walker, who scored the winning goal.
“It was a big character win tonight with so many guys out of the line-up,” Walker said.
Trailing 3-1 after two periods, Victoria forward Austin Carroll deflected a Joe Hicketts point shot on the power play to make it 3−2 early in the third. Royals leading-scorer Alex Gogolev split the Blazers defence to tie it with a brilliant power play goal at 9:21. Kamloop’s forward Tim Bozon’s 27th of the season at 13:04 of the third period was followed by another Victoria power-play strike, this one a point-shot howitzer from Brett Cote to tie it 4-4. The game winner at 15:30 came from the American rookie Walker.
Hodges settled matters at 16:48, with his second of the night, as the Victoria power play, stagnant of late, reawakened to go 4-7.
Kamloops forward Matt Needham opened scoring at 1:58 of the second period. The goal was made possible by the work of Cole Ully, ranked the 97th North American skater for the 2013 NHL draft. The second assist went to defenceman Sam Grist of North Saanich.
One of the best Royals goals of the season was scored by Hodges at 15:40 of the second to tie it 1-1. But Ully responded with a power-play goal at 18:33 and Colin Smith scored his 28th of the season at 19:05 of the second to put Kamloops ahead 3-1 before Victoria began its comeback.
ICE CHIPS: Forward Trent Lofthouse of the Royals was ranked165th and teammate blueliner Keegan Kanzig 194th among North American skaters as Central Scouting’s mid-season rankings were released Tuesday . . . The Royals called up affiliated forwards Michael Bell and Regan Nagy.
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