The Kelowna Rockets got consecutive home win No. 15 last Wednesday at Prospera Place against the Victoria Royals.
In a scheduling quirk, Victoria is hoping not to become a repeat victim tonight in consecutive home victory No. 16 for Kelowna (29-10-2).
While the Rockets’ recent burst into the elite ranks for 2012-13 has become the talk of the Western Hockey League, the Royals’ more modest achievements have gone mostly unnoticed off the Island.
Victoria (20-15-3) is 3-1-1 since the Christmas break, despite a battered corps of forwards that has been hobbled in several ways with Luke Harrison and Buffalo Sabres-prospect Logan Nelson out long-term, Ben Walker day-to-day after a frightening incident last week in Kelowna and leading-scorer Alex Gogolev only recently back over the weekend from injury.
Veteran forwards such as Brandon Magee, Jamie Crooks and Florida Panthers-prospect Steven Hodges have filled the breach admirably, as have a cadre of Royals second-tier forwards such as Tim Traber and Taylor Crunk.
“We’ve had to pull a lot more weight because of all the injuries but feel we’ve handled the situation seamlessly,” said Magee.
“We’re a team that is always working hard, regardless.”
Magee has delivered in being announced Tuesday as the Royals player of the month for December for his two goals and nine points in eight games. He follows up 20-year-old forwards Crooks, who was player of the month forNovember and Gogolev for October.
“[Head coach Dave Lowry] relies on the older guys quite a bit,” noted Magee.
Tonight’s game represents a challenge after Kelowna’s 4-2 win over Victoria last Wednesday. The Rockets are racing breathlessly toward the team record 18 straight home wins from 2002-03 and are 6-0 overall in their last six games and 12-1 in their last 13.
“We know how well they play in their building and [we] need to be disciplined and not give them easy opportunities,” said bench boss Lowry.
“We played well here last week other than [special teams].”
Magee also hit on the same themes.
“If we stay disciplined, the outcome will be different this time,” said the speedy dynamo and Edmonton native.
“Last time here [in Kelowna], our power play was not clicking well but that will eventually come. With Nelly [Nelson] out, we lose a dynamic piece of our power play. So others guys have to fill that void.”
That’s something the Royals forwards have been doing fairly well through this injury spell in other aspects of the game.
“We expect that from our top guys [like Magee, Crooks, Hodges] while other forwards like Crunk and Traber have also stepped up, as has a player like Jack Walker [who has been moved up to forward from defence],” said Lowry.
“At some point, we will get everybody back and healthy. And decisions will need to be made, and players need to now be [stating their cases for ice time later].”
The Royals will also have 16-year-old defencemen Joe Hicketts and Ryan Gagnon back in the lineup. The pair missed the last five games while representing Team Pacific at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Quebec.
The Royals road trip continues across the line Friday in Everett and Saturday in Seattle.
The Silvertips won’t have Mark Ferner behind the bench when the Royals come calling Friday. The Everett head coach was fired Tuesday after going 38-64-12 in one-and-a-half WHL seasons. Ferner was hired in June of 2011 but was unable to replicate his success from the B.C. Hockey League, where he compiled a 165-51-24 record in leading the Vernon Vipers to three league titles and two Royal Bank Cup Canadian Junior A championships in 2009 and 2010, the former at Bear Mountain Arena.
Silvertips GM and former BCHL Victoria Salsa (now Grizzlies) coach and GM Garry Davidson will take over as interim head coach.
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