Strapping Kamloops defenceman Ryan Rehill, an NHL draft pick of the New Jersey Devils, scored in overtime Friday night to give the Kamloops Blazers a dramatic 4-3 Western Hockey League victory at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
Victoria (25-19-4) saw its five-game victory streak turn into a six-game unbeaten run, while Kamloops (18-24-6) ran its winning streak to four games.
Matthew Phillips, a 16-year-old call-up from midget hockey in Calgary, scored to put the Royals ahead 3-2 at 13:55 of the third period before a sellout crowd of 7,006. It was the first WHL game and first WHL goal for Phillips, who was selected by the Royals in the second round of the 2013 bantam draft.
Kamloops’ Quinn Benjafield, on a Victoria turnover, tied it 3-3 at 15:21 with his second goal of the night.
That ruined what would have been a dream-like storyline for the Royals.
“It felt exciting to score my first goal but it would have been better with the win,” said Phillips, about what looked for a while to be a story-book winning goal.
“I was disappointed to be sent back to midget [after training camp] but it allowed me to get lots of ice time and to develop.”
And it looks like the kid is coming along just fine.
“[Phillips] was out there in overtime, wasn’t he?” responded Royals head coach Dave Lowry, when asked what he thought of his young call-up’s performance.
The Royals came out tentative and were outshot 18-10 in the first period and 33-19 after two. Maybe it was a case of nerves caused by the presence of the national television cameras of the Sportsnet-broadcast game, but the Victoria skaters needed goaltender Coleman Vollrath to bail them out a few times.
Kamloops’ persistence paid off when a strange deflection by league top-five point-getter Cole Ully slid slowly into the net at 16:13 for his 22nd goal of the season.
Kamloops’ game plan was a classic Don Hay hockey, as the veteran junior hockey mentor had his team playing the way he wants.
“They [Blazers] are hard on the puck and don’t give you any lanes back [down the ice],” noted Victoria GM Cam Hope.
The Royals were looking for their skill players to find ways to get around the Blazers. Two of those top-end shooters — Edmonton Oilers-signed Greg Chase and Alex Forsberg on the power play — came through in the second period. Their goals, sandwiched between Benjafield’s rebound goal for Kamloops, had the score knotted 2-2.
Vollrath had 44 saves after regulation time and Connor Ingram 31 for Kamloops.