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Lowly Blazers blunt Victoria Royals' momentum

The Kamloops Blazers tripped up Victoria with a 3-1 WHL victory.
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It’s been that sort of Western Hockey League season for the Victoria Royals. A little of this, a little of that, with a splash of the other.

The Royals followed up two gutty 3-2 wins over the Kelowna Rockets on Friday and Saturday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre with a 3-1 loss to the Western Conference second-to-last-place Blazers before a Family Day crowd of 5,022 fans on Monday afternoon in Kamloops.

Victoria opened scoring at the Sandman Centre at 8:31 of the first period on a power-play goal by Tyson Laventure, among the trio of Royals players along with Dawson Pasternak and Ben Riche who have made impacts after being acquired in trades this season.

But that’s as good as it got for the visitors. Kai Matthews tied it for Kamloops at 14:35 before a goal by Matteo Koci on a two-man Blazers power-play proved the winning goal at 7:35 of the second period. Converting that two-man advantage was the pivotal moment of the game for Kamloops.

Matthews, a shrewd mid-season add from the Drumheller Dragons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, added the insurance goal at 12:20 of the third period to complete his three-point day.

Fatigue could have been an issue with Victoria travelling to the Interior for a matinee start in its third game in four days with an injury-plagued line-up. The Royals dressed one player less than allowable but there was still enough energy to unload 34 shots on veteran Kamloops goaltender Dylan Ernst, who was a well-deserved third-star of the game. Braden Holt, making his third consecutive start in goal for Victoria, made 22 saves.

Royals head coach and 21-season NHL veteran James Patrick is not one for excuses and was having none of the talk of tiredness: “Fatigue had no impact at all in the game.”

The Royals were unable to convert their chances, especially by scoring only once on five-power play opportunities.

“We out-chanced them but we gave them good rush chances we didn’t need to. That gave them [Blazers] some life,” said Patrick.

“We had a lot of chances but just didn’t get the second and third opportunities.”

The Blazers (18-31-5) are in rebuild phase after hosting the Memorial Cup Canadian Hockey League championship tournament last year. They have come to life of late with two consecutive wins and are 7-3 in their past 10 games to climb to within eight points of a playoff position in the Western Conference.

The Royals (27-22-8) are fourth in the conference, 17 points clear of a playoff position with 11 games remaining, and looking on the verge of a first post-season appearance in four years.

Three Western Conference teams have clinched post-season berths and the Royals will play one of them, the Portland Winterhawks (37-14-3), in telling harbingers Friday and Saturday at the Memorial Centre.

The Royals have no chance of catching the big three of the Winterhawks, Everett Silvertips or Prince George Cougars atop the conference. The goal now is to hang onto fourth place and assure first place for the first round of the playoffs. Victoria is two points ahead of fifth-place Wenatchee but with the Wild holding three games in hand, and five points ahead of sixth-place Vancouver with the Giants having two games in hand.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com