If 11 days and six games on the road weren’t enough, the Victoria Royals spent overnight Sunday rolling through the dark from Edmonton to Tsawwassen to catch the 9 a.m. ferry back home Monday morning.
The Western Hockey League club arrives back on the Island having gone 2-3-1 on an expansive road swing that took it through eastern Washington state, the Kootenays and Alberta.
The journey concluded Sunday with a 5-2 loss against the defending WHL champion Edmonton Oil Kings, who pushed their Eastern Conference-leading record to 42-12-5 before 8,910 satisfied customers at Rexall Place.
“They [Oil Kings] showed why they are one of the top teams in the league,” said Royals head coach Dave Lowry.
Victoria led 2-0 after the first period on breakaway goals by Jamie Crooks, from nearby Vermilion, Alta., with his 29th of the season, and Florida Panthers-prospect Steven Hodges, with his 25th.
But it was all Edmonton all the time after that in a game in which the hosts easily outshot the visitors 38-19.
“We had a solid first period, playing the way we wanted to play. But then [Edmonton] took over,” said Lowry, of the battle of provincial capitals.
Leading the Oil Kings’ five unanswered-goals onslaught was Michael St. Croix with two goals.
Hodges, with a goal and an assist, and Edmonton-native Brandon Magee, with two assists, led Victoria with two points each.
“They [Oil Kings] are older and more skilled,” noted Lowry.
“And they have made a few deals this season [like acquiring defenceman and 2011 NHL second-round Edmonton Oilers draft-pick David Musil from the Vancouver Giants]. They are gunning for it all this year. They are a very good team that is deep, well balanced and with good goaltending.”
Royals regular starting goaltender Patrik Polivka, who tweaked something in his lower body in the shootout of Friday’s 2-1 losing decision in Red Deer, was not dressed Sunday for the second straight game following up from his sideline seat in Saturday night’s 3-1 Royals loss in Calgary.
The Royals started rookie goaltender and Calgary-native Coleman Vollrath for the second consecutive game. He was harried in making 32 saves and allowing five goals in Edmonton.
Royals goaltending prospect Michael Herringer from the Comox Valley was called-up from the Victoria Cougars Junior B team to back-up Vollrath. Herringer mopped up Sunday, making his WHL debut by playing the final 13:22 of the third period, making one save and allowing no goals.
Lowry said Polivka’s injury is day-to-day.
It’s a good thing then for the Royals that they get a bit of a respite before playing the Kelowna Rockets on Friday night at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre to open a five-game home stand.
The Royals (32-22-5) remained in a fifth-place tie with the Tri City Americans in the Western Conference tables, although the Americans hold a game in hand. The Royals and Americans are one point behind the fourth-place Spokane Chiefs.
The race between this trio of mid-pack teams is not merely academic. With fourth place comes home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The fifth-place finisher will at least get the perk of avoiding the Big Three of the Western Conference — the CHL nationally top-10-ranked Portland Winter Hawks, Kelowna Rockets or Kamloops Blazers in the post-season first round. The sixth-place team has a first-round playoff date with one of those heavyweights, likely Kamloops or Kelowna.
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