Several familiar refrains, none of them good, played out for the Victoria Royals in their 4-3 Western Hockey League loss to the Kamloops Blazers on Sunday in Kelowna.
For the fifth time in their eight games, the Royals (1-6-1) were unable to hold the lead. For the third time, that lead was in the third period. For the second time over the weekend, the shots imbalance was glaring. Kamloops (6-1) outshot Victoria by an eye-popping 60-19 margin. That followed the Blazers outshooting the Royals 53-18 in Friday’s 6-3 Kamloops victory.
“Adam [Evanoff] is such a competitor,” said Royals head coach Dan Price of his goaltender following Sunday’s game.
(Rookie Connor Martin faced the barrage in Friday’s game).
The Royals have the youngest team in the WHL. That was further exacerbated by having four veterans out of the line-up. Victoria captain Tarun Fizer, import and Swiss junior national team forward Keanu Derungs, forward Riley Gannon and defenceman Noah Lamb were missing. Fizer, Derungs and Lamb are day-to-day. The Royals revealed Sunday that Gannon is out for the season after an injury in Friday’s game.
The Royals could muster only 10 forwards to dress on Sunday, which was the team’s fourth game in six days.
It didn’t help to be facing a potent Kamloops squad that features Calgary Flames first-round NHL draft pick Connor Zary and New York Rangers-goaltending prospect Dylan Garand of Langford, projected 2021 second- or third-round NHL draft pick Logan Stankoven and dangerous 20-year-old Orrin Centazzo.
Zary had four assists and Centazzo two assists Sunday with the Blazers goals coming from Stankoven, Josh Pillar, Inaki Baragano and Caedan Bankier. Garand was hardly stressed in registering the win in the crease.
Alex Bolshakov led Victoria with two goals with Graeme Bryks adding two assists. Ty Yoder scored to give the Royals a 3-2 lead at 9:16 of the third period before Pillar tied it for Kamloops and blueliner Baragano won it with a laser to the top corner.
Victoria forward Brayden Tracey, an NHL first-round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks, drew an assist and has recorded at least one point in his last seven games. Tracey has five goals and six assists for 11 points in that stretch.
“It was an unbelievable effort, considering the fatigue,” said Price.
“It might be strange to say in a loss, but I thought it was our best game of the season.”
Now well into the pandemic-abbreviated 24-game season, the Royals are falling precariously out of touch with the leading group in the B.C. Division. Victoria is on three points, which is nine points in arrears of the leading Blazers and seven points behind the second-place Vancouver Giants. The Royals have played one more game than both the Blazers and Giants. There are no playoffs. The regular-season champion will win the division title in this unusual season.
“I don’t feel we are out of it,” said Price.
“There are a lot of games left. We’re still trying to track down Kamloops. Every game is a four-point game so there can be dramatic swings.”
Victoria will meet the Giants on Thursday in Kamloops and the Prince George Cougars on Friday in Kelowna, the two hub communities that are hosting the WHL B.C. Division season.