The value of 20-year-old over-agers in major-junior — each WHL team is allowed three — can’t be over-estimated.
Victoria Royals over-age goaltender Griffen Outhouse made 32 stops, including a game-saver on a clear Kamloops break with 15 seconds remaining, as the Royals defeated the Blazers 3-2 Tuesday night before 4,854 fans in the Sandman Centre to take a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven opening-round playoff series.
Over-age Victoria forward Kody McDonald scored the winner at 8:08 of the third period with his third goal of the series.
That came after Outhouse earned an assist on the 2-2 tying goal by Brandon Cutler at 4:48 of the third.
The final period began in disastrous fashion for Victoria when Connor Zary scored short-handed on the Royals’ troubled power play — the second worst in the league — to give Kamloops the 2-1 lead at 2:15.
“The coaches had a meeting with the 20-year-olds before the game and we went over what we’re all playing for,” said Royals head coach Dan Price.
“Each player is playing for the 20-year-olds and each player is playing for each other.”
The game featured brutal hitting at times.
“It was a physical, chippy game and we responded well to the physicality,” said Price.
“And we withstood the [Kamloops] storm at the end.”
Carson Miller’s third goal of the playoffs gave Victoria the lead before Blazers captain and Dallas Stars draft-pick Jermaine Loewen — who is a load at six-foot-four and 230 pounds — tied it 1-1 in the last minute of the opening period.
The game’s first star was Victoria defenceman Scott Walford, a third-round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens.
He was a force on the back end in recording an assist on a plus-three night.
The formerly decimated Victoria blueline regained Jameson Murray, Matthew Smith and Jake Kustra. Only Mitchell Prowse remained out.
Veteran 20-year-old Las Vegas Golden Knights-prospect Dylan Ferguson from Lantzville was fine in making 31 saves in goal for the B.C. Division third-seed Blazers.
The division second-seed Royals remained without team leading-scorer Kaid Oliver, who is likely out for the series.
The fourth game will be at Sandman Centre in Kamloops, while Game 5 will be Saturday at Victoria's Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.