The hope is that this Victoria Royals core will soon be a contender to win the B.C. division. Despite the recent five-game winning streak the team is not there quite yet.
And the Royals aren’t rushing things, so grab a cool drink and enjoy the finer points of the Western Hockey League.
Forward Austin Carroll was one of the most dangerous Royals (9-7-0-1) during the team’s 2-1 shootout loss against the Kelowna Rockets on Saturday and showed disappointment, but not panic, after the game. It was the second of two losses in two nights to the Rockets (9-2-0-2), which won 4-1 on Friday, and seem destined to runaway with the B.C. division in 2013-14. At least right now.
“(Friday) we didn’t play so well, (Saturday) we took them to a shootout so that just shows we can contend with the top teams,” Carroll said. “We just wish we could have put one or two more in the net.”
Losing in the shootout is a funny thing. Logan Nelson was robbed on his otherwise successful, and flashy, Mason Raymond-type move (Nelson stopped suddenly but shot moving puck, a grey area often exploited by former Vancouver Canucks forward Raymond). Unfortunately Rockets’ goalie Jordan Cooke brought a magnetic glove to Victoria and waved it around all weekend. Wherever he put it is where the Royals’ shot. Jack Walker then paid homage to Peter Forsberg, nearly pulling off the famous “stamp” goal that Forsberg used to win the 1994 Olympics for Sweden. Walker beat Cooke but the puck slid along the wrong side of the post.
Had either scored the Royals’ would have taken it as a win and a split series. On the other hand, if not for Coleman Vollrath’s performance making 29 saves he Rockets would have swept the two-game series in regulation. The positive is that the Royals had plenty of chances on Saturday, which turned out to be a big night for Cooke, whose 33 saves earned him the game’s first star.
“The biggest story for us is that we were emotionally we were invested, did a lot of really good things tonight,” said Royals coach Dave Lowry. “We didn’t like our performance (on Friday) and we knew we’d have to be a better team to have a chance to win. usually we do a good job of getting it back the next day (after a loss). We had chances to put the game away and (Cooke) was good. He’s been a good goalie in this league. It’s a huge point against a very good team.”
Vollrath nearly notched his second win in a row and now has two wins, one loss and one shootout loss in four starts.
The Rockets are first in the B.C. division and second in the Western conference with 20 points in just 13 games played, while the Royals drop to seventh in the West with 17 games played. There are 72 games in the season, so plenty of time for the Royals’ to develop around its youthful core.
The current top-five teams in the Western conference, the Portland Winterhawks, Rockets, Everett Silvertips, Spokane Chiefs and Seattle Thunderbirds, respectively, are all carrying a winning percentage above .700. Judging by the fact only three teams in the entire WHL finished above .700 last year, it’s likely at least two of those teams will cool, and soon.
But it’s easier said than done that the Royals’ can hang on to sixth as they’ve been unable to handle two struggling clubs in particular, the Tri-City Americans and Kamloops Blazers, both below the Royals in the standings.
Next up for the Royals is a two-game series against the visiting Red Deer Rebels (6-8-0-0) on Friday (Nov. 1) and Saturday, with 7 p.m. starts. The Edmonton Oil Kings visit on Wednesday, Nov. 6, with Victoria defenceman Dysin Mayo.
Bantam draft, schmantam draft
One of the most dangerous Rockets on Saturday was the goal scorer, 16-year-old Nick Merkley. Drafted ninth overall in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, the rookie has six goals and nine assists for 15 points in 13 games. Hate to point it out, but the Royals picked one spot ahead of Kelowna in 2012, and took Tyler Soy. No biggie, as Soy is destined to be a sniper in this league. But from the starting gates it’s all Merkley, as Soy has two goals and two assists in 16 games.