Sitting atop the B.C. Division of the Western Hockey League is not a bad place to be, even just four games into the season.
The Victoria Royals reeled off a pair of wins at home against Kamloops last weekend to push their record to 4-0. The team’s 6-3 win over the Blazers on Sunday tied a Victoria record for the fastest start, but head coach Dan Price was already thinking about the Royals’ next game Wednesday night (Oct. 4) against the always-tough Kelowna Rockets.
“I’m very happy with the contribution from all of our players, not just the guys who typically play higher minutes, but some of the younger guys as well who made significant contributions both today and over the course of the weekend,” Price said.
He gave credit to unsung players like third-year WHL winger Spencer Gerth, whose first goal as a Royal proved the game winner; rookie defenceman Matthew Smith, who scored his first WHL goal; and rookie goalie Dean McNabb, who recorded his first win in the league.
But it was hard to ignore the contribution Sunday of fourth-year Royals centre Dante Hannoun, who scored three times and set up Smith’s second-period goal. The four points gave him 11 for the season, tied for tops in the league with Swift Current’s Tyler Steenbergen.
Hannoun also tallied a goal and a helper in Saturday’s thrilling 4-3 win. Linemate Ryan Peckford scored the winner in that one on the power play with 41 seconds to play.
The leadership of Hannoun was a key to Sunday’s win, Price said.
“One of the best parts … was he really decided that we as a team were going to try to take the game over and he was going to be a big part of that,” Price said of the 5-6, 160-pounder. “You could hear him on the bench, on the ice, [he was] extremely positive and supportive of his teammates. He just went out and said we were going to win tonight.”
Asked about leading the charge, Hannoun deflected the credit.
“Obviously my linemates and teammates are out there with me, they made some great plays there like Pecks on the last one right behind the net,” he said.
He also gave kudos to winger Jared Legien, who picked up three assists and now has nine points. “He’s a big part of our line, he works hard and he knows where to be when each of us have the puck. He’s doing well and I think we have great chemistry there,” Hannoun said.
Matching Saturday’s back and forth scoring pattern, the Royals and Blazers traded goals through the first two periods, with Victoria grabbing a 3-2 lead after 40 minutes.
The Blazers goals, from Ondrej Vala in the first and Brodi Stuart in the second, came on the power play, but the Royals replied quickly both times. Smith’s goal came just 33 seconds after Vala’s marker to make it 2-1, while Hannoun found the net for his first goal 18 seconds after Stuart made it 2-2.
After Gerth scored 20 seconds into the third to make it 4-2, Garret Pilon gave the Blazers a spark with a goal 8:41 in.
Then it was Hannoun’s turn to take the torch. Cruising through the slot he deflected a perfect pass from Legien past goalie Max Palaga at the 12:50 mark, then completed the hat trick on a similar play just over two minutes later.
Eric Florchuk bagged his first for Victoria to open the scoring. McNabb finished with 28 saves on 31 shots while Palaga stopped 26 Victoria shots.
The Royals are in Kamloops for an Oct. 6 game then return home to play Tri-Cities on Oct. 10.