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Thunderbirds edge Royals in shootout

Seattle Thunderbirds beat the Victoria Royals 3-2 in a shootout on the Pink in the Rink Night.
Victoria Royals’ Tanner Scott, centre, tips the puck past Seattle Thunderbirds goaltender Scott Ratzlaff and Jordan Gustafson, left, at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on Friday. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

It is tempting to dredge up Molly Ringwald, John Hughes and the Brat Pack, if not Springsteen and Pink Cadillac, each year in reference to the Victoria Royals’ annual night to raise funds for breast cancer research. There were 4,147 fans, and yes many of them pretty in pink, on Friday night.

They witnessed the Seattle Thunderbirds beating the Victoria Royals 3-2 in a shootout on the Pink in the Rink Night game. Tanner Scott’s 18th goal of the season gave the Royals the lead at 5:33 of the first period before Jordan Gustafson levelled for Seattle at 14:03. The second period was scoreless.

Royals goaltender Braden Holt was solid in a 37-save performance and was the only reason the Royals were even in the game at junctures. Yet he would no doubt like to have back Seattle’s 2-1 goal on the power play at 1:02 of the third period on a stoppable shot by Jeremy Hanzel, the Colorado Avalanche draft pick, and one of the few veteran holdovers on the Thunderbirds’ roster. Tyson Laventure’s 22nd goal of the season, on a two-man Victoria advantage with a Seattle penalty and Holt pulled, tied it with 44 seconds remaining in regulation time.

Overtime was scoreless with Jordan Gustafson of Seattle settling it in the shootout.

The defending Western Hockey League champion and 2023 Memorial Cup-finalist Thunderbirds, hit hard this season by graduation and look-to-the-future trades, face a rebuild with a turnover of 15 players from last year’s squad that lost to the Quebec Remparts in the Memorial Cup championship game. The Thunderbirds have played in four of the last six WHL finals.

That’s one way to break through in a ruggedly tough sporting market that includes the Seahawks, Mariners, Kraken and University of Washington Huskies. It’s been a great run but the Thunderbirds have fallen to 17-25-2 and currently sit outside the playoff picture in the Western Conference, even with Friday’s result.

The Royals are on beam for their first playoff appearance since 2019, with the two WHL non-playoff pandemic seasons followed by two just plain bad seasons, and went to 25-16-8. The season series between the Royals and Thunderbirds is 2-1-1 from the Victoria perspective after Seattle went 4-0 last season against Victoria and outscored the Royals 26-1. This campaign’s series between the clubs concludes Sunday at the Accesso ShoWare Center in Kent, Washington.

The Royals were missing five regulars. The 2024 NHL-draft ranked defencemen Nate Misskey is out month-to-month, fellow-blueliners Hudson Bjornson week-to-week and Austin Zemlak day-to-day. Czech forward and two-time world junior championships medallist Robin Sapousek is out month-to-month and the length of forward Ben Riche’s injury is still being determined. Victoria was forced to call up 16-year-old affiliate-player Caleb Matthews of Calgary, a forward selected by the Royals in the fifth round of the 2022 WHL prospects draft.

Victoria head coach James Patrick has described his club at the moment as “a bit of a hurting team” and “real fragile.”

The Royals and Thunderbirds have met four times this season, all in one-goal games, heading into Sunday’s season-series conclusion.

ICE CHIPS: Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette knows the Memorial Centre from not only behind the bench but also from on it when he played for the Fresno Falcons and Stockton Thunder against the Victoria Salmon Kings in the pro ECHL.