Phillips’ hat trick not enough for Royals

Former Royals-signed forward Zach Russell scored the winner at 16:32 of the third period, on an unfortunate clearing attempt by Victoria defenceman Brayden Pachal that went awry bouncing off the Victoria net, and which hushed the 4,073 fans.

The fans had been in an uproar just moments before when Victoria rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the third period as the undersized but dynamic Victoria forward Matthew Phillips completed his natural hat-trick.

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“It was an unlucky bounce . . . it happens,” said Phillips, of Brandon’s against-the-flow winner.

“But when you are chasing a game like that [as the Royals were all night], one mistake can end up costing the game.”

Royals coach Dave Lowry concurred: “We played with a level of desperation in the third period. You can’t pin the loss on that one play. It was a bad break. [Pachal] makes that clearing play 99 times out of 100.”

Brandon and Victoria are the two end points of the WHL and the Wheat Kings’ bus rolled 22 hours from Manitoba to the Lower Mainland on Tuesday, before catching the ferry over to the Island. If the Wheaties had any issue with bus legs, it didn’t show.

The Royals, coming off 50 wins and the 2015-16 WHL regular-season championship, continue to have trouble finding traction at 14-12-2 and lost for the third consecutive game. Brandon, also inconsistent after winning the WHL playoff title last season, snapped a two-game losing skid and moved to 13-9-3.

Victoria is not a team known for its across-the-board finishing touch, Phillips excepted, and the Royals were left to rue missing several close calls, especially in the first period, when at least four good set up passes were botched.

“Chances are one thing. Bearing down is another,” said Lowry.

As often happens, it goes the other way and Brandon went ahead 2-0 late in the first period on Reid Duke’s 16th goal of the season, scored four-on-four, and a power-play goal by Tanner Kaspick.

Victoria finally connected on the power play in the first period with Phillips’ 17th goal of the season, from his usual office at the side of the net. Ty Lewis, however, made it 3-1 at 11:24 of the second period. Phillips, on a sly move from behind the net that was inspired in its ingenuity, brought Victoria to within one early in the third period. The five-foot-six Calgary Flames draft pick then tied it 3-3 on a pass from Dante Hannoun at 13:45.

Dylan Myskiw, who is from Manitoba, got the start in goal for Victoria. That pitted a 17-year-old rookie, who has yet to record his first win, against 20-year-old Jordan Papirny, who played in the Memorial Cup last season with the Wheat Kings. Both goalies made 29 saves.

The Royals now travel as far as you can and still be in the B.C. Division when they take on the division-leading Prince George Cougars on Friday and Saturday.

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