The Victoria Royals, and sniper Matthew Phillips, were at their opportunistic best Friday night in handing new bench boss Dan Price his first career win as a Western Hockey League head coach.
The Royals rode their special teams with three power-play goals and a short-handed counter, with a hat-trick from Phillips, to a 7-1 victory over the Vancouver Giants to open the 2017-18 regular season before 6,549 fans at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
“It was a fun night and everybody contributed,” said Phillips, who scored 50 goals last season for Victoria.
Phillips did the hockey equivalent of hitting for the cycle Friday with with goals on the power play, shorthanded and five-on-five.
Two of the assists for Phillips came from Eric Florchuk, who appears to be entering a promising sophomore season.
“[Florchuk] has made great strides from last season,” said Phillips.
Price downplayed his first career WHL victory.
“It feels great but it was not to do with me. It was a team win and everybody contributed,” said Price, who replaced Dave Lowry, who became assistant coach of the Los Angeles Kings in the NHL.
This was actually Price’s fourth game as Royals head coach. He was 0-2-1 last season when Lowry was quarantined with the mumps.
Ryan Peckford scored twice for Victoria with Belarusian import Igor Martynov opening scoring on the season with his career first WHL goal just 3:12 into the game on the power play.
“[Martynov] plays the Royals brand of hockey with speed, pace and execution,” said Price.
Also scoring his first career WHL goal was Victoria rookie Dino Kambeitz from Parker, Colorado.
Fans were again left wondering how Victoria goaltender Griffen Outhouse was overlooked in the 2017 NHL draft and then for even a free-agent invite to an NHL training camp this month. Outhouse was outstanding in making 31 saves before being spelled by rookie Dean McNabb with seven minutes remaining and the game out of reach. The Giants outshot the Royals 36-28 despite Victoria’s eight power plays.
“Vancouver competed hard and Griff made some huge saves early to keep us in the game,” said Price.
“The score was not indicative of the play and we had some puck luck.”
But good teams make their own luck. Not only did Victoria hold the Giants to 0-6 on the Vancouver power play, but the Royals displayed what they do best early in the second period, when Florchuk went in deep on the forecheck to win the puck behind the Giants net and fed Phillips for a short-handed goal at 12 seconds.
Ty Ronning, dangerous all night, connected for Vancouver on a two-on-one break with Brad Morrison with just seven seconds remaining in the second period. Both Ronning and Morrison returned from NHL camps.
The Royals were missing two of their three allowable 20-year-olds. Forward Tyler Soy (Anaheim Ducks) and defenceman Chaz Reddekopp (L.A. Kings) are still in NHL training camps. The third allotted over-ager, the less-heralded Regan Nagy, was aggressive and pressured the Giants all night.
The Royals and Giants cross the strait to meet again tonight, in the Langley Events Centre, in the second of their 10 meetings on the season.