SPOKANE 5 - VICTORIA 4
With all the blueliners returning from last season, defence was thought to be a Victoria Royals strong point, but the squad allowed 12 goals in losing 5-4 Saturday evening and 7-5 Friday against the Spokane Chiefs at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre to begin the Western Hockey League season.
“That’s far too many goals against in two games,” said GM and head coach Dan Price.
“We have to look at the odd-man rushes we allowed.”
Victoria goalkeeper Tyler Palmer spent most the weekend holding up his arms in exasperation, which is what goaltenders do when shots go in on screens.
“We have to do a better job of boxing out and clearing out the front of the net,” said Price.
The Royals offence, not thought to be a team strength, has however accounted for nine goals in two outings.
“The offence is attacking but we need to simplify more,” said Price.
“We are over-passing and trying to be too cute. Spokane was shooting. Simplicity creates offence in this league.”
The Saturday game, before 2,239 fans, featured career-first WHL goals by emerging 17-year-old Royals defencemen Justin Kipkie and Nate Misskey.
“The goal was awesome for me, and it was nice to get it in front of the home crowd, but it was tough not to win,” said Misskey.
“It’s a rough start. We have to tighten up. Our goaltenders need to see the puck.”
Kipkie echoed those thoughts: “It was exciting to get my first goal but too bad it came in a loss. We’ve got to box out. That’s really hurting us.”
Fellow-blueliner Luke Shipley scored the Royals’ fourth power-play goal in two games and Riley Gannon had the other Victoria goal. Mac Gross, with his third goal in two nights, and the touted-teen Berkly Catton, the first overall pick in the 2021 WHL prospects draft and projected for the first round of the 2024 NHL draft, scored for Spokane as did Jake Gudelj, Raegan Wiles and Saige Weinstein.
Palmer made 26 saves in goal for Victoria and Cooper Michaluk 21 for Spokane.
The score was 2-2 after the first period in which the Royals outshot Spokane 14-7.
Palmer’s goaltending heroics kept the hosts in the game in a scoreless second period in which Victoria was outshot 13-3. An eventful third period produced five goals. The hosts, however, only got two of them and that wasn’t enough.
Chiefs started the fall just where they left off last spring with victory on Blanshard Street. The Chiefs, as Royals fans don’t need to be reminded, denied Victoria a playoff berth in the final game of last season. Fate brought Spokane back to Memorial Centre to open the 2022-23 campaign. Royals fans will be happy to see the back of the Chiefs bus heading to the ferry.
There was a lot of institutional memory on both sides with Victoria returning 20 players and Spokane 17.
The Royals were missing their two best players. Forward Brayden Schuurman was hurt last week in the NHL rookie camp of the Boston Bruins and Victoria captain Gannon Laroque, signed to an NHL entry-level contract by the San Jose Sharks, is also out with injury. Spokane was without defenceman Graham Sward and goaltender Mason Beaupit, in the respective NHL training camps of the Nashville Predators and Sharks.
The Royals play their first away game of the season, opening a five-game road trip, on Friday night at the Langley Events Centre against the Vancouver Giants.