The Victoria Royals salvaged a 5-1 victory Sunday over the Rockets in Kelowna to conclude a 1-2-1 Western Hockey League road swing that will be haunted by thoughts of what could have been and the points squandered and left on the table.
The trip began with two collapses. The Royals were leading 6-4 with three minutes and 10 seconds remaining in regulation time in Portland only to lose 7-6 to the Winterhawks in overtime. That followed the trip opener when Victoria blew a 4-0 first-period lead in a 5-4 loss to the Tri-City Americans in Kennewick, Washington. But perhaps the biggest blow was the 6-3 loss Saturday night to the lowly Western Conference 10th and last-place Chiefs (9-30-3) in Spokane in what had to have been targeted going in as a winnable game.
“I was unhappy, and the players were too, about the Saturday night game in which we were flat,” said Victoria GM and head coach Dan Price.
“We couldn’t find that extra gear and that was disappointing in such an important game.”
Sunday’s win in the Okanagan made up for it in some measure in what was a key four-point game. The result moved the Royals, 13-27-5 with 23 games remaining, into a tie for the eighth and final playoff position in the Western Conference with Kelowna but the Rockets (14-25-3) have three games in hand. The game was about as close to a must-win as you can get in January.
“That was a very important response by us,” said Price.
Especially since the Royals did not arrive into Kelowna until 6 a.m. Sunday morning following the overnight bus ride across the border from Spokane. It didn’t help the fatigue factor that the game start was late afternoon.
“There was a sense of calmness beforehand and the guys knew they had to empty the tank and they went out and did that. That shows you the power of the mind,” said Price.
The Royals built a 5-0 lead but this time did not fold as in Kennewick and Portland. Reggie Newman had a goal and assist against Kelowna and two-way defenceman Kalem Parker, ranked No. 113 among North American skaters for the 2023 NHL draft, two assists. Teydon Trembecky, Danish junior national team player Marcus Almquist, Czech world junior championship silver-medallist Robin Sapousek and Jake Poole scored the other goals for Victoria.
Poole extended his points streak to seven games with four goals, 10 assists and 14 points in that span, and doing that in Kelowna was especially sweet for the former Rockets player, who was acquired from Kelowna in September to become the Royals leading scorer with 24 goals and 49 points.
This was the last meeting between the clubs as Victoria won the season series against Kelowna 6-1-1, which is a big factor in the Royals staying in the playoff hunt.
“This is an intense rivalry and it was an important game to many of our guys because it was the last of the season against Kelowna,” said Price.
For 20-year-old graduating forward Poole, it was the final career game against his former club.
The Royals return to Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre to play the B.C. Division-leading Kamloops Blazers (26-9-6) on Friday and Saturday.
ICE CHIPS: Former Royals players Scott Walford and Jared Dmytriw won the gold medal Sunday with Canada at the 2023 World University Games by defeating the U.S. 7-2 in the final at 1980 Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, New York. The four-season Royals blue-liner Walford, a 2017 NHL third-round draft selection of the Montreal Canadiens, plays for McGill in U Sports and three-season Royals forward Dmytriw for the University Saskatchewan Huskies.