The Victoria Royals ran out of tomorrows on a spring Monday evening in Colwood.
The Kamloops Blazers proved too deep and experienced for a young, injury-addled Victoria team in a 6-2 victory before a standing-room-only crowd of 2,541 at Bear Mountain Arena that clinched the best-of-seven opening-round Western Hockey League playoff series 4-2.
The 43-18 Kamloops shots advantage pretty much said it all. Yet, in a nice touch, the crowd gave the Royals a rousing standing ovation at the final buzzer.
“It shows our level of support. We have great fans and this is a great city to play in and we don’t take it for granted,” said Royals head coach Dave Lowry.
In another touching gesture, graduating 20-year-old forward Jamie Crooks, the all-time leading playoff goal and points scorer in Chilliwack Bruins/Victoria Royals franchise history, was named game’s first star.
“We battled hard . . . a few bounces here and there and it could have been a different series,” said Crooks.
“But I couldn’t have asked for a better city in which to play my final two years of junior [after the franchise moved across the strait from Chilliwack].”
The series went to form as the favoured Blazers, ranked third in the WHL’s Western Conference and the eighth-ranked major-junior team in the Canadian Hockey League, got past the conference sixth-seed Royals and into the second round but not without a struggle in the first five games.
“There is a lot of character in our room and a lot of skill. We are looking forward to the next round,” said Kamloops forward Kale Kessy, who scored three goals Monday to push his series total to seven.
“We played a good team [Royals] that was well-coached. They definitely never quit,” added the Edmonton Oilers-prospect, a 20-year-old mid-season acquisition from the Vancouver Giants.
In its seven seasons of existence, the Chilliwack Bruins/Victoria Royals franchise has never made it past the first round of the playoffs. The Royals, however, improved by two games over last year’s 4-0 opening-round sweep at the hands of the Blazers and by 11 victories in the regular season to notch a franchise-record 35 wins.
Victoria’s horrendous season-long injury situation may have finally become too much of a handicap to overcome. The Royals were without two of their three allowed 20-year-olds with team MVP and leading scorer Alex Gogolev and captain Tyler Stahl missing for the entirety of the Kamloops series. Compounding that distress was having regular forwards Brandon Magee and Austin Carroll hurt and unavailable for the last three and two games, respectively.
Kamloops’ offensive prowess — which went 50 per cent on the power play Monday at 3-6 — was simply too much for Victoria’s patchwork group to handle.
Ben Walker and defenceman Keegan Kanzig scored on the power play for Victoria, but the fans felt the night slipping away early as the Blazers took a 5-2 lead into the second break.
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