It was a sort of Silver Anniversary party ruined for the Kamloops Blazers. But the Victoria Royals were certainly in a celebratory mood. The Blazers were looking to go 25-0 in games against the Royals over parts of four seasons but were denied in a 5-2 Victoria win Wednesday night before an announced 1,941 fans at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
Heading into the WHL game, Kamloops was 3-0 against Victoria this season, 13-0 against the Royals last season, 6-0 in the 2020-21 bubble season and had won the last two games between the clubs in 2019-20. Victoria’s previous victory over the Blazers was Feb. 8, 2020, when the Royals completed a two-game sweep. Remember sweeps against the Blazers, or anybody else? You’d need a time machine if you’re a Royals follower.
Victoria (4-21-3) halted a 12-game winless streak and nine-game home winless streak. The Royals' last win on Blanshard Street was Oct. 18.
“It was a long time coming but it’s like pounding on a rock and eventually it will break for you,” said Victoria head coach and GM Dan Price.
“I’m proud of the team. We did the difficult things — blocking shots, pucks in, pucks out. We trusted each other.”
The Blazers, hosting the 2023 Memorial Cup in the spring, are 14-6-5 atop the B.C. Division.
There is no substitute for finishing, a skill that can’t be taught. The Royals found that out in the first period, dominating in chances and shots 12-6, only to have Caedan Bankier of Kamloops wire home the lone goal of the period on the power play. The Minnesota Wild NHL prospect again showed why he and teammate Logan Stankoven are among the 13 WHL players named for the Canadian selection camp beginning Friday in Moncton, N.B., for the 2023 world junior championship starting Boxing Day in Halifax, N.S. and Moncton.
The first period stretched the Royals’ scoreless streak to nine periods. The Royals were shutout 3-0 by Seattle and Kamloops in their previous two games. Their last goal was in the first period of a 3-1 loss Friday in Portland against the Winterhawks. The drought finally ended when Teague Patton scored at 1:50 of the second period Wednesday. Then it became a Victoria deluge before the middle period was five minutes old with Tanner Scott converting a two-on-one with Riley Gannon at 3:51 and Jake Poole scoring his 14th of the season at 4:13 to make it 3-1. That chased Michael Schnattinger from the Kamloops’ net in favour of regular starter Dylan Ernst. The Blazers’ second power-play goal, this one by Fraser Minten, brought the visitors to within one at 11:37.
Stankoven, who won gold with Canada in the 2022 world junior championship and is a lock for the 2023 world junior side, went in alone early in the third period but was denied by Victoria goaltender Nicholas Cristiano in a pivotal moment. A few plays later, a driving Poole lifted a backhander to the top of the net for his second goal of the night to make it 4-2 at 4:21. Matthew Hodson extended that lead at 7:33.
“It’s awesome. It’s been awhile,” said Poole, in addressing the crowd on the PA following the game.
“We’ve been playing well but the pucks were not going in. We played the whole 60 minutes. This is a stepping stone for us and we can build from this.”
Victoria netminder Cristiano was given his fifth consecutive start since being acquired in a trade with the Kelowna Rockets and faced 27 shots. The Royals rifled 39 at the Kamloops net.
Stankoven, a marvelously gifted player who can really wheel, was named WHL player of the week and has three goals and 11 points in his last five games and extended his points streak to 21 games with an assist Wednesday. The Dallas Stars-signed hometown Kamloops product is the defending WHL and CHL MVP.
The Royals are in Kelowna on Friday night to play the Rockets and in Kamloops on Saturday night to renew acquaintances with the Blazers, but with the bonus of Stankoven and Bankier at the other end of the country by then in Moncton, and out of the Kamloops lineup.