Spotlight on the crease as Victoria Royals battle Kamloops Blazers

There is little doubt the fortunes of both the Victoria Royals and Kamloops Blazers rest on their respective 20-year-old veteran goaltenders.

But Griffen Outhouse of the Royals and Lantzville-product Dylan Ferguson of the Blazers, the latter under NHL contract to the Las Vegas Golden Knights, both missed weekend action with injuries listed as day-to-day.

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That set up a classic Broadway-type storyline where the young understudies stepped into the leading roles. Colorado-native Brock Gould, who turns 17 next week, backstopped the Royals to a 5-1 victory and 5-3 loss in a split in Prince George against the Cougars, and sports a 3.88 goals-against average and .827 save percentage in five games played.

Sixteen-year-old Dylan Garand, meanwhile, is from Victoria and gives the Blazers two goaltenders from the Island. Garand got the starts and went 2-0 in Kamloops’ 6-3 home victory Saturday over the Seattle Thunderbirds and 3-2 overtime win against the Saskatoon Blades on Friday and has a 2.46 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in nine appearances. The Islander was also a standout for Canada Red last month at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge in St. John’s to further cement his claim to being the heir-apparent Blazers goaltender when Ferguson graduates from junior hockey after this season.

The Royals (13-10) and Blazers (11-11-2) meet tonight at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops with the crease story the most intriguing plot line. While Ferguson’s status is not known, Outhouse has met his Victoria teammates in the Interior and is match fit and available for tonight.

“It will be a game-time decision,” said Royals head coach Dan Price.

“We want to make sure of Griffen’s preparation and timing.”

Price will do that during today’s morning skate.

Outhouse has been a workhorse in the crease during his Victoria career and it’s hard to imagine him not being ready to play if healthy. The native of Likely, B.C., has a 2.52 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 18 games.

Ferguson sports a 3.32 goals-against average and .904 save percentage in 18 games for Kamloops.

Regardless if it’s Ferguson or Garand the Royals face tonight, their strategy in dealing with the Kamloops’ crease remains the same.

“We have to take away [the Kamloops goalie’s] sightlines and make sure we get second chances,” said Price.

Overall, the Royals were wildly uneven in how they began the two games in Prince George, jumping out to a 4-0 first-period lead in the victory and falling behind 3-0 in the first period and 4-0 early in the second in the loss.

“We didn’t come out as aggressive as we should have in the second game,” said Price.

“We played better in the second half of that game.”

But the outcome was basically determined by then.

“There are no moral victories. That’s a timeless lesson for players to learn,” said Price.

The Royals conclude their road trip Friday in Kelowna against the Rockets and Saturday at the Langley Events Centre against the B.C. Division-leading Vancouver Giants.

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