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Royals sweep Rockets as Patrick era off to strong start

Victoria hosts Lethbridge on Friday night
Royals forward Robin Sapousek looks to pass while under pressure from Rockets forward Kayden Longley during WHL action at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on Tuesday night. JAY WALLACE, VICTORIA ROYALS

The breaking-in process has gone as well as can be expected as James Patrick moved to 3-1 as new head coach of the Victoria Royals following a four-games-in-five-days whirlwind that concluded Tuesday night with a 5-3 WHL victory over the Kelowna Rockets.

“They [players] have handled it outstandingly. It’s not easy. It’s an emotional week,” said Patrick, who took over from the fired Dan Price eight days ago.

“Some of the kids have been with the same coach [Price] for four years and they developed a real close relationship and close bond. Almost like a father-son relationship,” added Patrick, in a media scrum during the two-game sweep of the Rockets at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

“And now to have someone new come in … it’s not always easy with a different voice. Every coach has little ­different things they look for and ask for from their team,” said the ­1,200-plus career-games NHLer, who last season guided the ­Winnipeg Ice to the regular-season WHL championship and the league playoff final.

“They have heard from me on certain areas I want them to change their game at bit. All while you’re doing it on the fly without much practice time. They welcomed me and opened up their minds to some of the things I’m saying and have gone out and played hard.”

Victoria’s two import ­forwards scored Tuesday as Czech world junior championship silver-medallist Robin Sapousek recorded his team-leading 10th goal of the season and Norwegian Casper Evensen Haugen his fourth. The ­Royals (12-8-1) continued getting production from the blue line as Arizona Coyotes draft-pick Justin Kipkie followed up his natural hat-trick from Monday’s 3-2 overtime victory over the Rockets with two assists Tuesday while fellow defenceman Nate Misskey added two assists. Deegan Kinniburgh, on a two-point night, Matthew Hodson and Dawson Pasternak scored the other Victoria goals before 2,484 fans. Prize rookie Cole Reschny, who returned Monday from the World U-17 tournament, extended his WHL points streak to 11 games with an assist.

“The last few games we’ve been turning it up. We’ve got to keep the forecheck going,” said Kinniburgh, in addressing the crowd following Tuesday night’s game.

The Rockets (7-11-2) were compromised Tuesday by the absence of injured Washington Capitals second-round draft pick Andrew Cristall but they still came at the Royals with third-round Seattle Kraken draft pick Caden Price and projected second-to-third-round 2024 NHL draft pick Tij Iginla, son of former Calgary Flames great Jarome Iginla, who scored in both games Monday and Tuesday to move to 15 goals on the season. Marek Rocak and Ethan Neutens also scored for a Rockets team that features Victoria-product Ethan Mittelsteadt on defence.

Rookie Royals goaltender Jayden Kraus was there when needed in a 28-save performance. Jari Kykkanen and Jake Pilon combined to make 26 saves for Kelowna.

The Royals meet the ­Lethbridge Hurricanes (10-8-2) on Friday night at the Memorial Centre.

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