Matthew Phillips scoring – Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

© Copyright – 2016 – Victoria Sports News

“He’s the best goalie in the league….”

Kelowna Rockets’ goaltender Michael Herringer is standing on his head. If the Rockets win the second round of the 2016 Western Hockey League playoffs against the Victoria Royals, it will be mostly due to the outstanding goaltending of 20 year-old Michael Herringer.

In pivotal game 5 of the best-of-seven series at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, 7,006 Royals fans paid witness to a goaltender who is single-handedly stealing the series. Tonight the Royals lost by a score of 4-1.

“I don’t think the score is indicative of how we played. We are not executing on our chances. In the first period we outshot them 10-2. I like the way we played tonight,” Said Coach Dave Lowry.

“Right now he is the best goalie in the league,” Said Royals’ Captain Joe Hicketts.

Hicketts, who has done so much for the Royals during the 2015-2016 regular season including leading the team down the stretch drive to one of the best streaks in major junior hockey, where the Royals were virtually unbeatable over the final 30 games, appears to be adjusting to the speed of the game.  After missing much of the first round and the first two games of the second round due to injury, his timing seems off.

“I wasn’t where I needed to be for game three, was better in game four and I felt great tonight,” Said Hicketts.

The game-winning goal was scored by Tyson Baillie at 9:33 of the third period. While bearing down on Hicketts in the Royals’ zone, Baillie poked the puck away from Hicketts – the last man back. Baillie buried the game winner on an unassisted breakaway. It was a play that Hicketts has executed hundreds of times without failure; often dishing the puck like a quarterback to a winger or a teammate cutting across the blue line. Not today.

“I have to own that one. That was my fault,” Said a sombre Hicketts.

Michael Herringer in goal – Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

Jack Walker hit the crossbar on a breakaway during the second period, which was followed by Dillon Dube of the Rockets hitting the post at the other end, after Victoria came out with a lacklustre effort in the second, getting only two shots during the first six minutes.

“After that great first period, we got only two shots in the first several minutes. But we came on during the second half of the period,” Said Hicketts.

The Royals outplayed the Rockets for the second game in a row. Games 4 and 5 were the Royals’ games for the taking, but special teams play are a key factor. Is the power play drying up or is the goaltender stonewalling the Royals?

The Royals went 0/5 while the Rockets were 1/3 tonight. Thursday evening the Royals were 0/5, while the Rockets went 2/5. The game before that Victoria was 0/3, while the Rockets went 1/3; it was a one-goal game – three consecutive doughnuts on the power play, three consecutive losses. The last time the Royals beat the Rockets, during game 2 of the series, the Royals went 2/3, while the Rockets went ¼. Game 1, both teams were 0/4. Each of the first four games was won by one goal.

The Royals need to find a way to beat Herringer by Sunday at 5:00 PM. Tonight the zone play was very much in the Royals’ favour. They spent much of the night hemming the Rockets in their own end.

Asked what the difference is between now and the regular season, when the Royals seemed to score at will on the power play, Lowry said, “We are just not executing. We are getting the chances; we are just not putting them away.”

Herringer is stoning the Royals.

Rookie sensation Matthew Phillips scored the lone goal for the Royals tonight, at the tail end of a dominating shift for the diminutive forward.

The Royals outshot the Rockets 29-25.

The next game is Sunday in Kelowna at 5:00 PM. It’s a must win game. Should there be a game 7, it will take place in Victoria on Tuesday at 7:05 PM.

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