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Thunderbirds ride power play to WHL victory over Victoria Royals

Thunderbirds blank Royals 3-0

The Victoria Royals were thrown to the wolves — well, at least the ʼHawks and ʼBirds — this weekend with back-to-back road games against the Canadian Hockey League No. 3-ranked Seattle Thunderbirds and CHL No. 5 Portland Winterhawks.

The Royals, 3-1 losers in Portland on Friday, followed up with a 3-0 loss to the Thunderbirds on Saturday night before 5,054 fans at Accesso ShoWare Center in Kent, Washington.

They were respectable showings against the powerhouses but this is a results-based business and moral victories are not reflected in the WHL standings. The Royals need real wins, not moral ones as the free-falling Victoria club went to 3-20-3 with only one point to show in its last 11 games.

“Both were winnable games and that shows progress and improvement,” said Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.

Special teams were critical as the Thunderbirds got power-play goals in each period from Jared Davidson, Gracyn Sawchyn and Jordan Gustafson as Seattle went 3-6 on the odd-man advantage. Victoria went 0-4.

“That was the storyline. They converted their chances and that was the difference,” said Price.

“Killing penalties gassed us out in back-to-backs on the road.”

With goaltender Tyler Palmer away without explanation amid speculation he has asked for a trade — the Royals have listed it vaguely as a “personal leave” — the team traded for goalie Nicholas Cristiano from the Kelowna Rockets in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2023 WHL prospects draft. The six-foot-one Cristiano, 18, was given his third consecutive start and was solid in a 39-save performance. He began the season on loan with the West Kelowna Warriors of the B.C. Hockey League.

“[Cristiano] was outstanding. He gave us a chance,” said Price.

Milic Thomas needed to make only 17 saves for the Seattle shutout.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Royals when they return to Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on Tuesday and Wednesday to play the B.C. Division-leading Kamloops Blazers, who will host the Memorial Cup in the spring.

ICE CHIPS: The Royals were missing import forward Marcus Almquist to representing Denmark in the IIHF world Div. 1 junior championship Dec. 11-17 in Asker, Norway.

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