© Copyright – 2017 – Victoria Sports News
It was a day of firsts at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre Sunday afternoon as the Kamloops Blazers visited the Victoria Royals for the second time in less than 24 hours.
Although Kamloops proved to be a tough competitor, Victoria won by the score of 6-3.
The Royals took the game on the strength of an outstanding performance by Dante Hannoun who racked up a hat-trick and added an assist for a four-point night and first star honours.
“He had a great game. He decided, as one of the leaders on the team, to do his best to help his team win and he played an outstanding game,” said Coach Dan Price.
Just 20 hours earlier, the teams started what would be an exciting and nail-biting game that ended with the Royals barely avoiding overtime with the game-winner coming at 19:19 of the third. The goal was scored from the hands of the red-hot Ryan Peckford, who notch his fifth of the season. His parents who flew in from Stony Plain, AB, were on hand to watch their son’s performance.
Sunday, Eric Florchuck opened the scoring at 2:01 of the first. He broke in from the left side and cut to the front of the net backhanding the shot past goaltender Max Palago. The goal was assisted by defenceman Jeremy Masella for his first point of the season.
Ondrej Vala tied the game on the powerplay at 8:01 with Brodi Stuart assisting. It was Vala’s first goal of the season. He skated in from the right side and let rip a bullet of a wrist shot that went over the right shoulder of McNabb.
It was McNabb’s first WHL game. “I was a bit nervous at the start, but the guys helped me settle in,” said McNabb. “[Griffen] Outhouse was great too. Anytime I let a puck in, the guys got one back and Griffen would give words of encouragement.”
The second period was a tight-checking affair with little action until the mid-way point, where 17-year-old Saskatoon native Matthew Smith scored his first goal of his Western Hockey League career. In just his second game at 8:34, he put the Royals up 2-1. Smith took a one-time slap shot off of a rebound from a Jared Legien wrist shot. Hannoun earned the second assist and quickly scooped the puck up as a souvenir for the rookie.
Asked to describe scoring his first WHL goal Smith said, “I just went in with Legien and when he shot the puck it deflected to me and I just slapped it as hard as I could at the net and it went in.”
At 13:48 Brodi Stuart was screening McNabb and happened to be in the right place at the right time to redirect another blistering wrist shot from Vala to tie the score 2-2. It was another powerplay marker.
Hannoun scored his fourth of the season 18 seconds later from Ralph Jarratt and Jared Freadrich. On the very next shift – all 160 pounds of him – Hannoun skated from one end of the ice to the other and flattened a Blazers player who appeared to outweigh him by 40 pounds. He then followed that play with a short-handed break-a-way but was denied by the trapper.
The Royals wasted no time starting the third period with Spencer Gerth getting his first of the season and first as a Royal at 12 seconds. Driving to the net, he received a pass from Yan Khomenko and shot the puck past a sprawling Palago. Kaid Oliver earned the second assist.
At 8:41 Garrett Pilon scored his third from Quinn Benjafield and Devan Harrison to get within one.
Hannoun then took the team on his shoulders and scored back-to-back goals connecting for his second and third of the game at 12:50 and 15:12 respectively. His second goal was assisted by Legien and Ryan Peckford to put the home squad up 5-3. The hat-trick goal was assisted by Peckford and Matthew Phillips. The 3,447 fans gave Hannoun a big ovation when he was announced as the first star.
The 17-year old Palago is a Kamloops native, while McNabb, also 17, is from Davidson, Saskatchewan. He spent the 2016-2017 season with the Regina Pat Canadians in the SMAAAL . In 1356 minutes played (24 starts) he had a stingy 1.64 goals against average. Asked about the difference between midget hockey and major-junior he said, “Everything, they are faster, stronger and smarter, you have to be on your game the whole time.”
The Royals outshot the Blazers 30-26, going ¼ on the powerplay, while the Blazers went 2/3 with the man advantage. The Blazers are now 0-5 on the season, while the Royals are 4-0, although the play was not indicative of two teams going two very different directions.
The Royals hit the road for a pair Oct 4 and 6 to face the Kelowna Rockets and the Kamloops Blazers before returning home for a pair against the Tri-City Americans on the 10th and 11th.