Spending time in the Calgary Flames training camp appears to have lifted Matthew Phillips’s game, to the extent that was possible.
Last year’s top scorer for the Victoria Royals (50 goals, 90 points) returned from the NHL camp in peak condition and responded by scoring three times and setting up another goal in Friday’s home and Western Hockey League season opener, a 7-1 win over the Vancouver Giants.
— Victoria News (@VictoriaNews) September 23, 2017
The third-year forward said it was important for the veteran players to set a good example for the rookies.
“There was a lot of nerves,” he said of the younger players. “In my first home opener I was pretty nervous. I think it’s pretty exciting for the first few shifts, but after that you kind of settle in. I think all the older guys did a pretty good job of kind of leading and dictating the pace, so it was a fun night.”
The Royals held period leads of 2-0 and 4-1, but were outshot 36-28 by a determined, yet unlucky Giants squad.
While he was happy to see his star player enjoy a fast start to the season, Victoria head coach Dan Price spread the kudos around.
“Matthew, as we know, competes so hard, he’s a great teammate and works so hard every day, so that was great to see him rewarded, but there was a lot of great efforts around him,” he said. Price pointed to the work of rookie wingers Tarun Fizer and Dino Kambeitz and defenceman Jeremy Mosello, all playing their first WHL games.
Price also noted that it didn’t feel like a 7-1 game. Were it not for the stellar goaltending early on of Griffen Outhouse, the coach said, it might have been a very different game.
“Vancouver competed hard, they had a lot of chances both ways … Griff made some huge saves for us early to keep us in, and fortunately that gave us a chance for our power play to eventually convert, but I didn’t think the score was indicative.”
Phillips, who notched one goal each on the power play, shorthanded and even strength, agreed that Outhouse was a difference maker.
“Griffen played an extremely good game; he made a lot of saves that he had no business making,” Phillips said.
Ryan Peckford was named second star of the game behind Phillips, after scoring twice and assisting on Phillips’ early third period power play marker that made it 5-1.
Igor Martynov tallied Victoria’s first goal of the season just 3:12 into the game, feathering a between the legs shot past Giants’ starting goalie Todd Scott. Kambeitz jammed the puck home to round out the scoring 6:29 into the final frame, after which Scott was pulled in place of David Tendeck.
Ty Ronning scored the lone Vancouver goal with eight seconds left in the second period.
Special teams made a big difference in the game, as the Royals went 3-for-8 on the power play compared to 0-for-6 for the Giants.
The teams are back at it again tomorrow night (Sept. 23) in Langley, and despite the lopsided score tonight, Phillips indicated it won’t be an easy game Saturday.
“I think we definitely have some stuff to clean up for tomorrow, but there’s always some positives as well,” he said.