The acronyms changed from IIHF to WHL as Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre reverted back to club from country on Wednesday night after hosting the 2019 world junior hockey championship.
It was a return to Blanshard for the Victoria Royals, but a debut in Victoria colours for forward Kody McDonald before 3,197 fans. And what a personal home curtain-raiser it was as the six-foot-one McDonald scored twice to lead the Royals to a 5-3 victory over the Kamloops Blazers (15-20-3).
McDonald and fellow-forward Carson Miller were acquired from the Prince Albert Raiders last week in a trade for Royals top-five franchise career points leader Dante Hannoun.
McDonald and Miller are 3-0 with the Royals as Victoria (21-15-1), which had to clear out of the Memorial Centre to make room for the world juniors, moved to 8-3 in its last 11 games.
It didn’t take long for McDonald to make a home impact, displaying a thrashing, bruising style with some top-end finish. The 20-year-old, who has more than 500 career WHL penalty minutes, but who also scored 34 goals last season, showed a deft touch in scoring in the first period and on the power play in the second period for his seventh and eighth goals of the season. They were his first two in the regular run of play for Victoria, although McDonald also notched the shootout winner over the weekend in Red Deer against the Rebels.
Also scoring for Victoria were Brandon Cutler with his 10th goal of the season, Phillip Schultz, back from representing Denmark at the world juniors, and defenceman Jameson Murray on a two-point night.
Royals sophomore forward Tarun Fizer, who continues to evolve and come into his own, and Igor Martynov, who represented Belarus at the recent IIHF Tier 1 world junior championship tournament, added two assists each.
Veteran Royals goaltender Griffen Outhouse, who must sweat out today’s 2 p.m. PT WHL trade deadline, was his usual steady self with 26 saves, several of them at key junctures to deny Kamloops entry back into the game. Included in that total was a stop on a penalty shot taken in the first period by Kamloops forward Jeff Faith.
Outhouse, who allowed only one of the Kamloops’ goals, was denied the shutout by Martin Lang at 12:05 of the third period. Outhouse’s next shutout will be his franchise career record 11th. That is barring a spectacular last-day trade deadline move by the Royals. Outhouse currently shares the franchise record of 10 career shutouts with Lucas Gore, who played for the team when it was located in Chilliwack and known as the Bruins.
Rookie Victoria goaltender Brock Gould gave Outhouse a breather in garbage time Wednesday and was scored on by twice by Kyrell Sopotyk and Zane Franklin for Kamloops goals to close out the game. Gould made only one save on three shots.
It was not a great Island homecoming result for Kamloops Blazers players Sean Strange, a blueliner out of Saanich, and goaltenders Dylan Ferguson from Lantzville and Dylan Garand of Victoria.
Ferguson, the 20-year-old Las Vegas Golden Knights prospect, got the start and made 27 saves. Fellow-Islander Garand, who starred with Canada Red last month at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge in St. John’s, N.L., is only 16 and considered the heir apparent to the veteran Ferguson in the Blazers crease. Yet another Island player, veteran Blazers defenceman Nolan Kneen of Duncan, was traded from to Saskatoon in November.
The Royals and Blazers, the latter with their rolling Island roadshow, meet again Friday night on Blanshard.