Maybe the most telling statistic of Wednesday night’s Western Hockey League game was that 4,780 fans turned out on a weekday at Prospera Place in Kelowna, defying notions that sports fans are afraid to congregate in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
The throng saw an intriguing game as the visiting Victoria Royal edged the Rockets 3-2 to move into sole possession of second place in the B.C. Division, two points ahead of the Vancouver Giants.
Victoria (32-24-8) is down to its last four games of the 2019-20 regular season while Vancouver (32-24-6) has six games remaining. At stake is home-ice advantage in a potential Royals-Giants first-round playoff series.
The fourth-place Rockets (29-28-6) trail Victoria by eight points and Vancouver by six points with five games remaining and appear to be running out of time and games to catch either, although Kelowna still has two games remaining against the Giants.
Victoria forward Gary Haden opened scoring with his 25th goal of the season on a bank shot at 4:46 of the second period. The Rockets went ahead through Ethan Ernst and Matthew Wedman heading into the second break. Victoria struck while the ice was still slick in the third period with Tarun Fizer’s 19th goal at 22 seconds. Victoria’s winning goal came from Brayden Tracey at 11:22, on another bank shot, as the Anaheim Ducks’ first-round draft pick extended his points streak to four games with three goals and two assists in that span. Victoria centre Kaid Oliver was dominant in the face-off circle, going 15-for-20, and adding two assists on the night.
The game ended on a hairy, one minute and 28 seconds, six-on-three Kelowna advantage with the Rockets goalie pulled and two Royals in the penalty box.
Adam Evanoff made 22 saves in goal for Victoria and Roman Basran a solid 30 for Kelowna.
The Royals return home to play the Prince George Cougars — hanging onto a slender thread seven points adrift of the final wild card playoff berth with only six games remaining — Friday and Saturday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.