The Spokane Chiefs’ winning goal Saturday night at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre pretty much encapsulated the Victoria Royals’ nine-game (0-7-2) Western Hockey League losing skid.
Chief forward Blake Gal’s high shot bounced straight off the end glass, then off Victoria goaltender Patrik Polivka’s back and into the net at 5:09 of the second period to stand as the game winner in Spokane’s 3-2 victory before 5,213 disbelieving fans.
“I’ve never had that happen to me. Not even in practice — never,” said Polivka.
In the post-game media interview, the North American term “snake-bitten” was explained to the Czech-import Polivka. He nodded knowingly.
The result leaves sixth-place Victoria nine points behind fifth-place Tri City and 10 behind fourth-place Spokane, virtually assuring the Royals a first-round playoff match-up in the Western Conference against the third seed — which will likely be the Kamloops Blazers, but also with a potential outside shot of it being the Kelowna Rockets. Both the Blazers and Rockets are nationally ranked in the CHL top-10.
“We have to stay focused and keep working,” said Polivka, who turned in a solid game with 26 saves.
The first star, however, was the Spokane goaltender Eric Williams with 37 saves.
“We did some good things,” said Royals head coach Dave Lowry.
“We have to continue to keep working.”
And also hope, with five forwards missing, that the injury bug relents.
“We have two [healthy] natural centres . . . that puts us in some tough spots,” said Lowry.
He may also have lost blueliner Tyler Stahl after the Royals captain failed to return following a hit in the first period.
Alessio Bertaggia’s 22nd goal opened scoring for Spokane on the power play at 10:11 of the first period. Jack Walker, with assists from fellow Minnesotans Logan Nelson and brother Ben Walker, levelled for Victoria at 17:52.
Undrafted 19-year-old Todd Fiddler’s 41st goal of the season, a laser wrist-shot into the top corner from the right faceoff circle, restored Spokane’s advantage at 2-1 before Gal’s unlikely double bank shot made it 3-1.
Ben Walker’s power-play goal, another all-Minnesota production with assists from Nelson and brother Jack Walker, at 11:40 of the second period brought Victoria to 3-2, but the Royals got no closer.
“We [all-Minnesota line] worked well together,” said Ben Walker.
“[But] it’s rough when that [a winning goal like Gal’s] happens. I felt like we played a good game. It’s the little things that are costing us.
“We’ve got to put a simple game together and get back to basics.”
Now down to eight games remaining in the regular season, the Royals are at Kamloops on Tuesday and Kelowna on Wednesday before returning to Blanshard to face the Vancouver Giants on Friday.
ICE CHIPS: Chiefs forward Liam Stewart’s dad, soccer-loving rocker Rod Stewart, was the opening act at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in 2005.
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