There was fightin’, cheerin’ and plenty of hittin’ as the sold out crowd at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre energized the Victoria Royals, helping the team to its first win, 5-3 over the Vancouver Giants Saturday night.
Assistant captain Kevin Sundher led his team as the game’s second star. Sundher was key on the powerplay with two assists, while also killing penalties and scoring an empty-netter with 14 seconds left in the game.
Saturday was the second game of a home-and-home series to start the season. The Giants won 5-1 in Vancouver on Friday.
“I couldn’t wait to have these first two games out of the way,” coach and general manager Marc Habscheid said.
“I’d take a split from this situation any day.”
Despite staking themselves a 4-1 lead early in the second, the Royals snuck out the win on the shoulders of goalie Keith Hamilton, the game’s No. 1 star.
Hamilton stopped 48 of 51 shots while the Royals’ managed just 24.
“It was a battle, the guys blocked a lot in front of me,” Hamilton said. “With the crowd so (loud), there was no holding back.”
Royals’ forward Jamie Crooks scored the first goal WHL regular season goal in Victoria since 1994. Crooks’ even strength shot three minutes and nine seconds into the game was a wrister off of the rush. The puck clung to the netting under the crossbar as if posing for posterity.
Robin Soudek and Brandon Magee each banged in a powerplay goal from close to the net. Soudek scored in the first period and Magee in the second. Soudek’s assist on Magee’s goal gave the Czech Republic import a Gordie Howe hat trick, having nearly KO’d Cain Franson in a first period scrap.
Summer recruit Logan Nelson scored the game’s prettiest goal, two minutes into the second period, when he circled the Giants’ net at even strength and found the corner past netminder Brendan Jensen.
Giants’ coach Don Hay replaced Jensen with Jackson Whistle following the Magee goal, four minutes into the second frame.
“Once we took that 4-1 lead the ice seemed to tip in (the Giants’) favour,” Habscheid said.
“There were too many Giants’ chances in the second period.”
All in all it wasn’t a pretty win but the Giants were happy to take it.
Habscheid was flattered to see the team welcomed to Victoria by such an enthusiastic sellout crowd.
“The plays, the hits, the altercations, the fans were into it (all).”
By the third period emotions began draining from the Royals’ bench and the Giants clawed back to 4-3 with goals from Nathan Burns and Dalton Henry. But the Royals killed a late penalty by Zane Jones leading to Sundher’s insurance goal.
Next up for the Royals is a pair of road games against Victoria’s former franchise, the Prince George Cougars on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.
The Cougars are led by Brett Connolly, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s sixth overall NHL Draft pick in 2010. Connolly is currently with the NHL club for training camp.
The next home games for the Royals are Oct. 6 and 7 versus the Medicine Hat Tigers, 7:05 p.m. The Tigers’ boast WHL star and highly-touted Anaheim Ducks draft pick Emerson Etem.