It’s back to Blanshard for the decider
The Victoria Royals forced a Game 7, to be played Tuesday night at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, in their WHL Western Conference semifinal series by edging the Kelowna Rockets 3-2 on Sunday evening at Prospera Place in the Okanagan.
“It was a great team effort,” said Royals head coach Dave Lowry, of the win-or-be-eliminated scenario his club faced in Game 6.
“We had to play our best game and we did.”
Going the limit adds to what has already been a compelling series plotline as the surprisingly ascendant Royals are the 2015-16 WHL regular-season champions and the Rockets the defending WHL playoff champions.
The mind games have already started for Game 7.
“There’s no pressure on us,” said Lowry.
“We weren’t even in the conversation to be here at this time of year,” he said, referring to Victoria’s also-ran status in most pre-season prognostications.
“Kelowna is the defending league champion and only lost the Memorial Cup [national] championship game last year in overtime. The pressure is all on them.”
It must be noted, however, the Rockets lost several key players to graduation from last year’s team although they do return 14 players who have been through the crucible of last year’s lengthy playoff run.
Everything that went wrong for Victoria in Friday night’s 4-1 home loss went right on Sunday. The Royals applied intense pressure early in both games. All they had to show for it Friday was a 10-2 shots advantage but a scoreless opening period and a sense of opportunities missed. The first-period push on Sunday — Victoria held a 16-9 shots advantage — paid off with Royals goals by Jack Walker with his eighth of the playoffs at 9:03 and Tyler Soy with his sixth at 17:08.
“We skate,” said Lowry, of his team’s up-tempo game.
“That’s what we needed to do.”
Regan Nagy pushed it to a 3-0 advantage at 15:40 of the second period before defenceman Cal Foote finally got Kelowna on the board at 19:43. Justin Kirkland’s sixth goal of the post-season pulled the Rockets to within one at 3:12 of the third period but they would get no closer.
The largely unsung, but swift and opportunistic Walker, had a two-point night. So did Victoria captain Joe Hicketts with two assists. Hicketts, in part, redeemed a glaring turnover in Game 5 on Friday that led to Kelowna’s winning goal in the third period with the score tied 1-1.
Veteran Coleman Vollrath took the win in goal for Victoria with 25 saves. Michael Herringer, from the Comox Valley, made 33 saves in goal for Kelowna and continued to be a series talking point. Herringer was named second star of the game Sunday after first-star Walker and ahead of third-star Hicketts.
Victoria’s power play, 0-10 in the previous two games, was still problematic at 1-7 Sunday. But the importance of that power-play goal by Soy, which made it 2-0 on assists from Walker and Hicketts, can’t be underestimated coming when it did to help stamp Victoria’s imprint on the game.
Sunday followed a trend with five of the six games in the series decided by one goal.
The winner of Tuesday night’s Game 7 will advance to play the Seattle Thunderbirds in the best-of-seven WHL Western Conference final.
The Royals are looking for their first conference final appearance in the 10 seasons of Victoria Royals-Chilliwack Bruins franchise history.
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