The rigours of the road may be starting to wear on the Victoria Royals.
The Royals were defeated 3-1 by the Calgary Hitmen on the 10th day of a six-game Western Hockey League road trip in which they are, all things considered, a credible 2-2-1 to date.
“We looked like a tired team tonight,” said Royals head coach Dave Lowry.
But he refused to make excuses: “It shouldn’t have been one of those games. We had no emotion.”
That despite the game was played before a prodigious — for junior hockey — turnout of 11,362 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
It doesn’t get any easier as the swing concludes today at Rexall Place against the defending league champion and Eastern Conference-leading Edmonton Oil Kings
On Saturday, the Hitmen (38-17-4) flashed the form that has carried them to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Edmonton.
The Royals started rookie goaltender and Calgary-native Coleman Vollrath, who made 22 saves. Royals prospect Michael Herringer of Comox was called up to back up Vollrath.
Royals regular starting goalie Patrik Polivka tweaked something in his lower body in the shootout of Friday’s 2-1 loss in Red Deer and he was not dressed Saturday as a precaution.
Polivka will be a game-time decision today in Edmonton, Lowry said.
Hitmen captain Cody Sylvester, with his 32nd goal of the season at 14:59 of the first period on the power play, got Calgary rolling Saturday. Brady Brassart made it 2-0 for the hosts at 10:24 of the second period.
Sylvester, on another power-play goal, made it 3-0 on an assist from former Royals forward Zane Jones at 9:59 of the third period. Victoria forward Steven Hodges, 2012 third-round NHL draft pick of the Florida Panthers, ended Chris Driedger’s shutout bid at 17:25 of the third on a power play. Driedger finished with 31 saves.
Victoria’s league top-five power play was held mostly in check at 1-8.
The race for fourth-through-sixth seedings in the Western Conference remained snug, with not a lot of room between the Royals (32-21-5), Spokane Chiefs and Tri City Americans.
With Tri City’s 6-0 victory over Spokane on Saturday, the Americans moved into a fifth-place tie with the Royals, one point behind fourth-place Spokane. The Chiefs, however, have played one more game than Victoria and Tri City.
With fourth place comes home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The fifth-place finisher will at least avoid the Big Three of the Western Conference — CHL nationally top-10-ranked Portland, Kelowna, or Kamloops. The sixth-place team has a date with one of those heavyweights, likely Kamloops.
The Royals return to Blanshard Street Friday night against Kelowna.
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