He’s only five-foot-six and all of 137 pounds, but Matthew Phillips must have looked the size of a jumbo jet to the Kelowna Rockets on Tuesday.
The dynamic dynamo recorded two power-play goals and two assists on a four-point night as the Victoria Royals defeated the Rockets 6-2 before an announced crowd of 3,452 fans at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
The Royals (14-9-2) concluded their franchise-record eight-game Western Hockey League homestand 6-2. The Rockets, who have knocked Victoria out of the playoffs in the second round the past two years, fell to 13-11.
“You could give these teams one day’s notice in the middle of June and they would be ready to play each other,” said Phillips.
“We were emotionally invested.”
Royals head coach Dave Lowry concurred: “These [Victoria-Kelowna] games are hard-fought with a lot of stuff going on in the trenches, but there is respect between both teams.”
Victoria’s special teams were the key Tuesday with the Royals power play going 4-7 while the Royals penalty kill held the Rockets’ power play to 0-7.
Lowry rued several of the “unnecessary” penalties his team took but complimented his team’s penalty kill and resilience: “We did a lot of good things tonight and executed with urgency and desperation. That’s the way we expect to play.”
The game ended with a goal by Royals rookie defenceman Mitchell Prowse, his first in the WHL, with .05 seconds remaining in the game. It brought back eerie echoes of Kelowna’s now-famous goal with .02 seconds remaining last season in Game 7 of the playoffs. Except, of course, that Victoria's came in garbage time in November in the regular season.
But it still emphatically capped a big night for the Royals.
“We did not want a repeat of Sunday [Kelowna’s 5-1 win at the Memorial Centre]. We were prepared to play right from the start tonight,” said Phillips, an NHL draft pick of his hometown Calgary Flames.
Victoria’s Regan Nagy opened scoring at 9:20 of the first period. But that was answered less than a minute later by Kelowna’s 2017 second/third round NHL draft-projected Kole Lind. A well-placed shot by Jack Walker on the power play, for his 13th goal of the season, restored Victoria’s lead at 4:43 of the second period. But the Rockets again pulled level at 8:27 through defenceman Devonte Stephens.
Victoria’s power play struck again for the 3-2 lead through Phillips at 16:37 of the second period. An opportunistic backhand by Ryan Peckford made it 4-2 at 7:09 of the third period.
Griffen Outhouse had a fine night in goal for Victoria with 35 saves, with a couple that could legitimately be labeled flashy, if not downright spectacular. Rockets veteran Michael Herringer, from the Comox Valley, made 27 saves.
With Victoria forwards Tyler Soy and Blake Bargar each listed as out between two-to-three weeks with upper-body injuries, the Royals traded a conditional 2018 seventh round bantam draft pick to the Everett Silvertips for 18-year-old Spencer Gerth. The six-foot-three, 200-pound winger from Langley has two goals in 14 games this season and had an assist and 40 penalty minutes in 52 games last season.
The Royals dip beneath the border for games Friday in Portland against the Winterhawks and Saturday in Kent, Washington, against the Seattle Thunderbirds.
ICE CHIPS: Ted Brennan from the Junior B Saanich Braves, a third-round bantam draft pick of the Rockets, was called up by Kelowna and recorded his first WHL point with an assist.