© Copyright – 2016 – Victoria Sports News
The Victoria Royals defeated the Calgary Hitmen 4-1 tonight at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in a spirited and physical affair against a much larger team.
The Royals returned after a single-game road trip that took them to Kelowna where they defeated the second place Rockets 4-1, just one night after taking down the first place Lethbridge Hurricanes 3-1 at home. The Hitmen are not far behind sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 30-18-1-1 for 62 points while the Royals entered the game in second place in the west with a record of 31-15-2-3.
The red-hot Royals won their sixth game in a row and have earned a point in nine straight games.
The Royals started the game on the offensive, hitting hard and often, even though they were greatly outsized by the Hitmen. The Hitmen have only a single player in their roster that stands under six feet, Taylor Sanheim at 5’11” and 191 pounds, while 10 of the Royals players are under 6′ with Dante Hannoun at just 5’5” is the smallest in the WHL. It was a case of David versus Goliath.
It didn’t take long for the Royals to get on the board with the game’s first goal coming at the 1:29 mark of the first with a quick-release wrister from Jack Walker, going top-right corner on a goal that was set-up by Tyler Soy and Joe Hicketts.
The Hitmen returned the favour five minutes later, just as their power-play had ended, where Bobylev had gone off for tripping. Bobylev had not made it back into the play by the time the goal was scored, so essentially, the Royals were still short-handed, but the goal was recorded as an even-strength tally. The goal was scored by Jackson Houck with his 15th of the season from Jakob Stukel and Taylor Sanheim, but that is all Calgary could muster against the superior speed and finesse of the Royals offense.
Seventeen seconds later, Dante Hannoun, playing in his 100th WHL game scored the winner when he slid the puck past the Hitmen goaltender Nik Amundrud to take the momentum away from the Hitmen. Alex Forsberg and Matthew Phillips assisted on the goal.
Both teams played a physical brand of hockey during the second period. The difference was in the Royals power-play, where they made the Hitmen pay twice in the period. The Hitmen were 0/4 on the man advantage going into the third.
During the second period rookie sensation Matthew Phillips scored a pair of power-play goals, back-to-back, 56 seconds apart, to put the Royals ahead 4-1 and put the pressure squarely on the Hitmen’s shoulders.
The third period was no less physical with both teams throwing hits throughout. Calgary got themselves into penalty trouble, with the larger team’s players trying to keep up with the speed and skill of the Royals forwards; frustration was setting in.
To put an exclamation point on the game, Walker made an outstanding short-handed defensive play by knocking an aerial pass out of the air to thwart a 3-1 goal-scoring opportunity, with just five minutes remaining in the game.
Phillips earned first star honours for his three-point night including his 29th and 30th goals of the season. It was the second consecutive game where he scored twice.
The Royals are on a roll as of late with an 8-3-1-1 record during the past 13 games, entering tonight’s contest against Calgary. In that time they have been one of the stingiest teams on defense, while outscoring the competition 51-29.
Coleman Vollrath got the start after appearing to relinquish the starting duties to rookie Griffen Outhouse in January. “He is playing real well and it doesn’t hurt that he is being pushed too,” said Coach Dave Lowry, commenting on having two of the better goaltenders in the WHL.
The teams went 0/6 and 2/8, respectively on the power play, while Amundrud faced 26 shots and Vollrath stopped 28 of 29.