The Kelowna Rockets couldn’t put their best Foote forward Friday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. But their other feet were good enough to carry them in a 3-2 WHL victory over the Victoria Royals.
The Rockets were missing captain Nolan Foote, the world junior gold medallist who is in New Jersey for a physical after his NHL rights were traded this week by Tampa Bay to the Devils.
That is not to mention dad Adam Foote, the two-time Stanley Cup-champion and Olympic gold medallist as a player, who was fired Wednesday as head coach of the underachieving Rockets.
Kris Mallette’s debut as interim head coach was successful, a small mercy in an otherwise tumultuous season for the Rockets (25-26-4), who are trying to regroup ahead of hosting the Memorial Cup in May.
Forget Kelowna’s woes, the Royals (29-21-7) are now winless in their last five games at 0-3-2.
Royals head coach Dan Price showed great faith in 17-year-old affiliated call-up goaltender Connor Martin, who again got the call, after making his WHL debut with a fine 39-save performance in Wednesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Calgary Hitmen.
Martin made 25 saves and could have been faulted only for Kelowna’s second goal by Jake Lee at 17:22 of the second period, after Dillon Hamaliuk had opened scoring three minutes earlier. Pavel Novak, left alone, scored the winner.
January WHL goaltender of the month Shane Farkas was among five injured Royals missing Friday. Adam Evanoff, who had carried the crease load in Farkas’ absence with 11 consecutive starts, was given a rest for the second consecutive game in favour of Martin.
Anaheim Ducks first-round draft pick Brayden Tracey and fellow-forward Tarun Fizer were back in the Royals lineup. But instead of getting a major lift with the return of two of their top-three forward, the Victoria offence was good in spurts only.
But veteran Kelowna goaltender and first-star Roman Basran, who finished with 34 stops, pulled off some key saves that could have turned the tide for Victoria when the game was scoreless.
Brandon Cutler scored for Victoria on a two-point night.
A large contingent from the Danish Club of Victoria was on hand to cheer on Royals captain Phillip Schultz. The three-time Danish international at the world junior championships rewarded their presence by scoring to extend his points streak to four games with five goals and two assists in that span.
Victoria leads the nine-game season series between the B.C. Division rivals 4-3.
The Royals and Rockets meet again tonight at the Memorial Centre in Pink in the Rink Night.