Victoria Royals head coach and GM Dan Price summed it up: “That was a long time in coming — nearly 13 months.”
The Royals recorded their first Western Hockey League victory since March 11, 2020, when Brayden Tracey scored the winner in a 3-2 victory over Kelowna. Tracey did the same on Tuesday night with the overtime winner in a 3-2 win over the Prince George Cougars in Kamloops.
Tracey made a point. In fact he made three of them with two goals and an assist. The 2019 NHL first-round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks applied the dagger with a wraparound shot at 4:36 of extra time.
The result moved Victoria to 1-3-1 and left the Spokane Chiefs as the lone winless team in the WHL. The Cougars fell to 1-2-2 as they lost in overtime for the second consecutive game.
The Royals led in the third period for the third consecutive game but this time they did not squander the advantage.
“I’m happy for the guys. After having put ourselves in position the last three games, this was well deserved,” said Price.
The Royals did not have a power play in their previous game, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Kamloops Blazers. That’s only the second time that has happened since the franchise moved to the Island in 2011-12. Price did not blame the referees, however, saying his players didn’t do enough to draw penalties
“We have to keep our feet moving more to create those situations in which penalties are called against the other team,” he said.
The Royals took that admonishment to heart, finally getting a power play in the second period Tuesday, and Tracey made it count as the Royals went 1-2 on the odd-man.
Special teams have been a crucial element, and not a good one, going the other way too for Victoria with the Royals coming into the game with the worst penalty-kill unit in the WHL. That improved markedly, also, as the Royals held the Cougars to 0-3 on the power play.
Rookie defenceman Gannon Laroque scored his first career WHL goal to put Victoria ahead 2-0 at 13:44 of the second period before Jonny Hooker pulled Prince George level with his first two goals of the season, the first in the second period and the second at 1:14 of the third period.
Prince George features Taylor Gauthier, one of three goaltenders with silver-medallist Canada in the 2021 world junior championship. The Cougars are already grooming Gauthier’s successor. Tyler Brennan, who will represent Canada in the 2021 world U-18 championship in Texas, got the start and made 27 saves. The Royals also went with their understudy to AHL-signed Adam Evanoff, with rookie Connor Martin making 43 saves in a sterling outing.
“Connor Martin’s preparation is excellent,” said Price. “He is in a constant state of readiness.”
The Royals meet the Vancouver Giants (4-1) tonight in Kelowna in the abbreviated 24-game WHL B.C. Division season.