It’s not curling and the ice isn’t pebbled, but bring out the brooms anyway.
The Victoria Royals swept the four-game Western Hockey League season series against the Seattle Thunderbirds with Wednesday night’s 4-1 victory before 4,509 fans at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
“The power-play was key for us and gave us the opportunity to play with the lead,” said Royals head coach Dave Lowry.
Two power-play goals paced the Royals to a 3-0 first-period lead with Austin Carroll connecting at 2:23 and Jamie Crooks at 19:11. Ben Walker sandwiched in a goal at 11:01.
The Thunderbirds’ workhorse starting goaltender, Brandon Glover, made his 47th appearance of the season, but was pulled at the beginning of the second period in favour of sub Danny Mumaugh. It must have been an acutely disappointing turn of events for Glover, the 20-year-old Victoria native who came out of the Peninsula Minor Hockey Association.
Connor Sanvido brought Seattle to within two at 3:40 of the second period. Then Crooks, on a pure goal-scorer’s move, took a Walker pass and kicked the puck up between his skates at the Seattle blue-line and swept in with a deft touch to restore Victoria’s three-goal advantage at 17:03 of the second with his 26th of the season.
“Jamie’s ability to get the puck in the net is unbelievable,” said Walker.
Lowry wasn’t disagreeing.
“You’re not going to teach that,” said the Royals bench boss.
“That was a goal our team needed.”
Crooks is a crafty but undrafted 20-year-old who will be looking to play in the CIS or minor pros next season.
“It was a good effort,” he said, of the Royals’ victory.
Goaltender Patrik Polivka was again fine for Victoria in making 31 saves. Glover and Mumaugh combined to make 26 saves for Seattle.
The Royals moved to 30-19-4 with their third consecutive victory and kept pace in a fifth-place tie with the Spokane Chiefs, 5-0 victors Wednesday over Kelowna, in the Western Conference standings.
The Royals and Chiefs are each one-point behind the idle fourth-place Tri City Americans.
All three teams have played 53 games and have 19 remaining.
The Royal begin a pivotal six-game road trip Friday in Tri City and Sunday in Spokane.
“This is a very important trip,” said Crooks.
“Hopefully, we build momentum.”
Every Royal knows this this weekend looms large.
“Those are big games and would be huge points to pick up against those two teams,” said Walker.
Among the Royals scratches last night was leading-scorer Alex Gogolev, who received several stitches after being cut in the leg in Tuesday night’s 4-1 victory over the T-Birds and as the Royals injury woes up front appear to be remounting. Also scratched Wednesday were forwards Trent Lofthouse and longer-term injured Logan Nelson and Luke Harrison.
Forward depth could be an issue for the Royals on the road trip, which encompasses six games over 11 days.
“Alex will be reevaluated in a few days,” said Lowry.
“It would be nice to have him back by the end of the road trip. But we’ve had a lot big pieces missing this season for extended periods and other guys have stepped up.”
After the games Friday in Tri City and Sunday in Spokane, the sojourn continues through Cranbrook for a game against the Kootenay Ice on Wednesday before concluding in Alberta against the Red Deer Rebels, Calgary Hitmen and Edmonton Oil Kings.
The next Royals home date isn’t until Feb. 22 against the Kelowna Rockets.
Seattle fell to 19-31-5.
The Victoria-Seattle hockey rivalry dates back to the 1950s and 1960s when minor-pro legend Guyle Fielder and the Seattle Bombers-Americans-Totems used to take on the Victoria Cougars and Maple Leafs of the defunct professional WHL at the old Memorial Arena. It continued through the current major-junior WHL with the Seattle Breakers-Thunderbirds against the Victoria Cougars from the 1970s through mid-1990s and now against the Royals.
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