The Victoria Royals knew this would be no holiday by the lake in the Okanagan.
And it wasn’t.
The Kelowna Rockets won their 15th consecutive Western Hockey League game at home — three away from the team record — in downing the Royals 4-2 on Wednesday night before 5,340 fans at Prospera Place.
“We’re no different than any of the other teams that have come in here recently and faced great difficulty,” said Victoria head coach Dave Lowry.
Not only were the Royals without their top-two point scorers Alex Gogolev and Logan Nelson, both out with injuries, but the Rockets have won 15 of their last 17 games overall to gate-crash the BMO Mastercard national major-junior top-10 rankings for the first time this season at No. 8.
The game result was put into perspective by a scary-looking injury to Victoria forward Ben Walker. Just moments after Walker made it 4-2 at 5:29 of the third period, the Minnesota native became collateral damage in a massive hit by Royals captain Tyler Stahl on Kelowna centre Tyrell Goulbourne. The check inadvertently also took out Walker, who was carried off the ice in a stretcher and taken to hospital as a precaution. His condition was not known by press time but reports indicated he was responding to the doctors.
“You obviously never like to see anything like that,” said Lowry.
“A lot of it is precautionary. There are protocols in place and they were used tonight [in stabilizing Walker before carrying him out].”
It didn’t take long for Zach Franko to get Kelowna on the board by connecting on the power play 2:18 into the game after the usually temperately-mannered and offensive-minded Victoria forward Steven Hodges racked up a five-minute fighting major, two-minute instigator minor and 10-minute misconduct at 2:05.
Jamie Crooks, with his 18th goal of the season, pulled Victoria (19-15-2) level at 12:22 of the first period. But penalties came back to hurt the visitors with Myles Bell recording his 24th goal for Kelowna with Jesse Zgraggen of Victoria in the box.
The Royals had their odd-man chances, too, in the opening period but went zero-for-four en route to a zero-for-nine night. Kelowna was two-for-two on the power play in the first period and a handily efficient three-for-six overall.
“Five-on-five it was a pretty good game that was physical and with a lot of emotion. But Kelowna’s power play and penalty kill were better than ours tonight,” said Lowry.
“That’s it in a nutshell.”
Kelowna’s odd man was again in evidence to start the second period as Tyson Baillie made it 3-1 at 4:54. Rockets captain Colton Sissons, only recently returned from an injury that kept him out from Nov. 30 to after the Christmas break, put the home side ahead by three goals at 12:15. The 2012 second-round NHL draft pick of Nashville finished with two points on the night.
Coleman Vollrath drew the start in net for Victoria, finishing with 21 saves. Jordon Cooke made 30 saves for Kelowna (27-10-1-1).
The Royals host the Tri-City Americans on Friday and Saturday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre and return to play in Kelowna next Wednesday.
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