Victoria-Kelowna is a potential first-round playoff match-up in the WHL Western Conference.
But it’s one the Royals want to avoid, because it would mean the Victoria club finished sixth and not its stated goal of fourth, or even fifth as a consolation.
The Royals and Kelowna Rockets gave 5,517 fans at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre a dress-rehearsal of what a series between these clubs might play out like.
It could be a good one, but the two teams’ wide divergence in seeding would appear to be self-evident.
At least it was Friday night as Kelowna defeated the Royals 8-3 on a four-point night by Myles Bell.
“We didn’t execute our game plan well enough,” said 21-year-old Victoria forward Jamie Crooks, who scored his 30th goal of the season.
Royals forward Ben Walker, who had a goal and an assist, echoed those sentiments.
“It was not our best effort,” said the native of Minnesota.
“They are a good and a very deep team and we can’t give them an inch,” Walker said.
“We’ve got to get pucks deep and tighten up in the neutral zone. We have to play more in their end.”
It was Victoria’s third loss in a row as the Royals (32-23-5) are now winless in their last five at 0-4-1.
The Rockets (43-15-4), also looking to right a recent slide, won for only the third time in eight games as they look to hang on to second place in the Western Conference ahead of the Kamloops Blazers, the latter another potential first-round playoff opponent for Victoria.
Beyond Bell’s outburst, 13 other Kelowna players had at least a point on the night.
“They have four lines that all contribute to scoring,” said Crooks.
“That’s the strength of their team.”
Tyson Baillie opened scoring for Kelowna at 12:20 of the first period. However, it took Victoria just 11 seconds to level 1-1 through Walker’s 17th goal of the season.
But that’s as good as it got for the hosts.
Kelowna’s depth and balance started coming to the fore in the second period as the Rockets moved into a 6-1 lead on goals by defenceman Madison Bowey, winger Dylen McKinlay, power-play counters by JT Barnett and Bell and a Victoria own-goal by Joe Hicketts awarded to Ryan Olsen.
After giving up six goals on 23 shots, Victoria starting goaltender Patrik Polivka was replaced by Coleman Vollrath at the start of the third period.
Crooks and Austin Carroll, the latter on the power play, brought the Royals to within three in the third period.
But a rocket point shot by the Rocket Bell, his second power-play goal of the night, put to rest any thoughts of a Victoria comeback bid.
Cody Fowlie added yet another power-play goal as Kelowna went 4-8.
Victoria won something in the testy affair when Tim Traber scored a decisive victory over Kelowna’s Colton Heffley in a third-period punch-fest between heavyweights.
The teams meet again tonight on Blanshard in Canadian Forces Appreciation Night, with the Canadian Tri-Force logo replacing the Royals’ regular logo for the occasion.
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