Now is the time in a hockey season when you keep one eye on the ice and the other on the out-of-town scoreboard. Both went well for the Victoria Royals on Friday as they suddenly find themselves in fourth place in the Western Hockey League’s Western Conference.
Victoria’s power play went four-for-six to defeat the Tri City Americans 5-3 before 4,711 fans at the Toyota Center in Kennewick, Wash.
“Our power play was very simple but effective,” said Victoria head coach Dave Lowry.
“Guys went to the net to create traffic and we shot the puck.”
The Royals moved to 31-19-4 with their fourth consecutive victory to vault one point ahead of the Americans into fourth place. The Spokane Chiefs, 4-1 losers to Kootenay on Friday, fell to sixth place at two points behind Victoria and one in arrears of Tri City.
The Royals are in Spokane on Sunday in another pivotal match-up in eastern Washington. This race is hardly an academic exercise for three middle-of-the-pack clubs. At stake is home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs for the fourth-place team. The fifth-place club will at least avoid CHL major-junior No. 1-ranked Portland, No. 4 Kelowna and No. 10 Kamloops. The sixth-place team will have to play one of those Big Three of the WHL Western Conference in the opening round.
“The players are all fully aware of where we are [in the tables] and what’s at stake,” said Lowry.
Brandon Magee with two goals and Ben Walker with a goal and two assists paced Victoria on Friday. Other goals came from Florida Panthers draft-pick Steven Hodges and defenceman Jordan Fransoo. The Americans got two goals from captain Justin Feser.
Victoria goaltender Patrik Polivka was again a factor in victory with the Czech import making 32 saves. Luke Lee-Knight made 21 saves for Tri City.
“We were absolutely on our heels in the first period [when Victoria was outshot 10-3] and dodged a bullet. Patrik [Polivka] kept us in it,” said Lowry.
The Royals were missing leading-scorer Alex Gogolev, who received stitches after being cut in the leg in a home game earlier this week against Seattle, and other injured forwards Trent Lofthouse, Logan Nelson and Luke Harrison.
Blueliner and team captain Tyler Stahl sat out the eighth and final game of his suspension for hitting to the head and is eligible to return Sunday in Spokane.
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