Rejuvenated Rockets send Victoria Royals reeling to sixth consecutive loss

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the WHL made it official Monday that there will be no playoffs following the 24-game regular season. Which is a good thing for the Victoria Royals, because they were not going to get there, regardless.

The Royals fell to a league-worst 1-9-1 Monday night following the 7-2 loss to the Rockets in Kelowna. The Royals were actually the home team for the contest in the B.C. Division hub, being played in Kelowna and Kamloops. Not that it helped as the Royals spiraled to their sixth consecutive loss.

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Kelowna (3-1) returned to play Saturday night in a 7-5 victory over the Prince George Cougars in the Rockets’ first game in 19 days after a COVID-19 outbreak sidelined the club for nearly three weeks. They are undefeated since their return, showing little if any signs of rustiness in dispatching the Royals and Cougars.

Another way to look at it is that the Rockets are three points ahead of Victoria despite playing seven less games.

“It’s puck hunger around the net,” said Victoria GM and head coach Dan Price.

“Kelowna was hungry for pucks around our net and got to them before us. And they were boxing us out in front of their net.”

The Royals are in rebuilding mode with 12 rookies. But that storyline is wearing thin because Kelowna is also in rebuild mode with 12 rookies after going all in all-in by dealing for several WHL veterans at the trade deadline to host the 2020 Memorial Cup national championship tournament, which was eventually cancelled due to the subsequent pandemic. The Cougars (4-5-2) have 10 rookies. The only real veteran-laden B.C. Division teams are the leading Vancouver Giants (8-3) and Kamloops Blazers (7-2).

“A lot of the teams in our division are young. All 20 players dressed have the responsibility to execute the fundamentals. I, as the coach, have the responsibility to make sure that happens,” said Price.

“It’s not big, sweeping changes [needed]. It’s the little things. It’s consistency.”

Mark Liwiski and Dyland Wightman scored twice each for the Rockets. Anaheim Ducks NHL first-round draft pick Brayden Tracey scored his seventh goal of the season for Victoria while 20-year-old over-ager Brandon Cutler added his fourth.

Specialty teams continued to bedevil Victoria as the Rockets went 2-2 on the power play and the Royals 1-7.

“That was a huge difference,” said Price.

Meanwhile, WHL commissioner Ron Robison addressed the truncated and playoff-less 2021 season.

“When we returned to play in February, we set out with the intention of completing a 24-game regular season schedule, knowing adjustments would be needed along the way,” said Robison, in a statement.

“We remained hopeful that public health conditions would improve, but unfortunately that is not the reality we see in front of us today. The ongoing challenges with non-essential interprovincial and international cross-border travel leave us no alternative but to cancel the 2021 WHL playoffs.

Robison said the regular season, conducted under trying circumstances, has been “unprecedented” and a success. He added the individual award winners and the four WHL division champions will be recognized in suitable fashion at the end of the season.

It keeps intact, if by default, the Royals record of being one of only three WHL teams not to miss the playoffs since the franchise came to the Island in 2011-12. The others are the Everett Silvertips and Portland Winterhawks.

The Royals return to action Wednesday in Kelowna against the Giants.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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