Royals sweep Hitmen; captain finds success against hometown team

It’s not been a main storyline to Matthew Phillips’ notable tenure with the Victoria Royals. But certainly one of the sweetest sidebars.

The Victoria captain is undefeated at 6-0 in his three-season Royals career against his hometown Calgary Hitmen. The latest triumph was Sunday in a 7-3 Victoria win over the Hitmen before 5,785 fans at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

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“It’s cool because I grew up watching the Hitmen play, and it’s the reason I wanted to play in the Western Hockey League. So maybe I get a little extra boost when we play them,” said Phillips.

You could say that.

Phillips, who scored twice in Victoria’s 4-1 victory Saturday night over the Hitmen, added an assist Sunday, and has 12 points all-time against Calgary on eight goals and four assists.

Adding a compelling element to the hometown angle is that Phillips is signed to an NHL entry-level contract by the Calgary Flames and he gets plenty of media coverage in southern Alberta whenever the Royals play the Hitmen.

Those fans of the Flames must like what they see in the undersized, but zip-quick, five-foot-six homeboy. Phillips extended his points streak to 11 games with seven goals and 14 assists for 21 points in that run. He is a potent cog in a Royals offence that has scored four or more goals in 10 consecutive games. Victoria is 25-2-1 this season when it has scored four or more goals in a game.

“We have been looking and playing well,” said Phillips, as the Royals moved to 30-17-4 overall.

“The newcomers have come in and helped a lot,” he said, referring to recent trade acquisitions such as forwards Noah Gregor, Lane Zablocki and St. Louis Blues-signed Tanner Kaspick.

Gregor and Zablocki each had a goal and assist Sunday and Kaspick two goals on Saturday.

“We have a strong top-six in forwards . . . actually a strong top-12,” said Zablocki, named first star of the game Sunday, after Kaspick was first star on Saturday.

“We’ve got guys who can put the puck in the net.”

Zablocki’s goal was his first in seven games with the Royals. But there’s more to his game than accounting for points. Zablocki has brought an element of grit and toughness that had previously been lacking on the Royals roster.

“I bring a physical edge to my game and am always getting under the opposition players’ skins,” said the third-round 2017 NHL draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings.

Zablocki, among eight players Royals GM Cam Hope has added through trades for the stretch run to the playoffs, said the assimilation process has been rapid and successful: “It all starts in the room. There are no groups on this team. Everyone has become close and everyone is jelling. That shows on the ice.”

Veterans Tyler Soy and Dante Hannoun each had a power-play goal, and each added an assist, for Victoria on Sunday. Braydon Buziak, Andrei Grishakov and defenceman Kade Jensen scored the other Royals goals.

“We’ve got so many players who can make plays, and everyone is chipping in, and we’re getting contributions from a lot of different guys,” said Soy, of the Royals balance and depth on offence.

Luke Coleman led struggling Calgary (15-28-6) with a goal and assist. The best of the Hitmen was 2016 Vancouver Canucks draft-pick Jakob Stukel, who also scored.

Victoria workhorse starter Griffen Outhouse got a rest day as rookie Dean McNabb made 28 saves in goal for Victoria. The Hitmen starter Nick Schneider was chased from the nets after the fourth Victoria goal at 6:14 of the second period. Schneider and Matthew Armitage combined to make 33 saves for Calgary.

The Royals are in Tri City, Washington, on Wednesday, to meet the Americans.

ICE CHIPS: Sunday’s game was Royals equipment-manager Matt Auerbach’s 900th in the WHL . . . Auerbach is the only person who has been with the franchise since it began in 2006-07 as the Chilliwack Bruins. “Matt is the only original left and we dedicated this game to him,” said Royals head coach Dan Price.

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