Victoria Royals backup goaltender Coleman Vollrath drew a rare starting assignment on Saturday night, entrusted with slowing down the Western Hockey League’s hottest team.
Vollrath stood up to the challenge, stopping 41 of 42 shots as the Royals handed the Spokane Chiefs their first home loss of the season.
“I was definitely excited going into this game, going up against Spokane, the third-ranked team in the (Canadian Hockey League) right now, and I was hoping to play spoiler tonight,” Vollrath said after a 4-1 decision that snapped Spokane’s four-game winning streak and dropped the Chiefs to 10-3-0-0.
“(Vollrath) was good,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “We hit him with a lot of pucks. He really controlled his rebounds away from the net and he deserves full marks.”
The lone mark against Vollrath came with 4 minutes and 32 seconds left in the second period. Mike Aviani took a pass from WHL scoring leader Mitch Holmberg and beat Vollrath to tie the game at 1 and give the Arena crowd of 8,055 a lift.
Holmberg recorded his 32nd point, including at least one in every Chiefs game, and is tied for first in the WHL with 16 assists. Aviani’s goal, also assisted by Keanu Yamamoto, was his 12th and placed him third in the league in that category.
The tie stood up for a little more than 4 minutes, when Ben Walker scored on a power play. The Royals added goals late in the third period on a breakaway by Brandon Fushimi and an empty-netter by Logan Fisher.
“There were a couple of good goal-scoring chances (for Spokane), but I have to give credit to my teammates tonight,” Vollrath said. “They kept a lot of pucks outside.”
The Royals (9-6-0-0, 18 points) have won eight of 11 games since back-to-back losses to the Chiefs in British Columbia in September. Victoria leads the B.C. Division by two points over Kelowna, which has played five fewer games.
Spokane (20 points) saw its lead in the U.S. Division cut to a single point when Seattle (9-3-0-1) defeated Swift Current 6-3.
Vollrath, a second-year player in the league, made his third start of the season and improved to 2-1. He made 15 starts last season and finished 4-12-0-2.
“Every chance I get in the net for my team, I definitely have to make the most of it to earn more ice time,” Vollrath said.
The Chiefs went with backup goalie Garret Hughson, who stopped 24 of 27 shots and fell to 2-2.
“It’s unfortunate we didn’t give him a couple of goals,” Nachbaur said. “It’s tough to win with one goal.”
The Chiefs were whistled for seven infractions, Victoria three. The Royals finished 1 for 6 on power plays while Spokane was 0 for 2. Until Walker’s goal, Spokane had stopped 15 consecutive power-play chances.
“It was one-sided and it’s tough to win like that,” Nachbaur said of the penalties. “It got our guys frustrated. It took us off our game at times. The biggest thing is it took our best guys out of the play because they had to kill too many penalties.”
Normally division championships are celebrated with champagne showers in the locker room. The Spokane Indians settled for cheering and high fives on a crowded bus.
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