VICTORIA, B.C. – The stars were out in Victoria on Friday night, and not just in the sky.
The Victoria Royals’ top guns provided the offense as the Western Hockey League’s regular-season champions disposed of the Spokane Chiefs 5-3 in Game 1 of their best-of-7 opening-round playoff series.
Tyler Soy, fresh off being named the WHL’s player of the week last week, scored two goals and Royals captain Joe Hicketts, the recently named Western Conference nominee for the WHL’s top defenseman award, scored once and added two assists as the Royals skated to victory in front of 6,211 fans at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
“Without a question, their top players were really impactful in the game, more so than our top guys, and credit to them because I thought it was a pretty even game up until our power plays late in the second when we didn’t do anything,” Chiefs head coach Don Nachbaur said after watching his team go 1 for 4 with the man advantage.
The Chiefs’ power play had a chance to swing the momentum in the second period when Royals defenseman Ryan Gagnon was given a 5-minute major and game misconduct for charging after he drove his shoulder into the head of Chiefs forward Ethan McIndoe. Just a minute later, the Chiefs were awarded a two-man advantage, but Spokane still couldn’t put the tying goal past Royals netminder Coleman Vollrath and the Chiefs went to the intermission trailing 2-1.
“Their penalty killers outcompeted our power-play guys, and even though we got that one (power play) early in the third, we squandered a great opportunity and never recovered,” Nachbaur said.
It was Hudson Elynuik’s goal 18 seconds into the third, on the tail end of the 5-minute power play, that drew the Chiefs even, but 5 minutes later Logan Fisher tipped in a Hicketts point shot to give the Royals the lead for good.
“They capitalized on their opportunities and their top players were a little better than ours and we’ll have to rectify that,” said Chiefs captain Jason Fram, who had his parents and friends in the stands after they made the trip from his hometown of South Delta, B.C.
“But this was a close game, so it’s nice to know we are right there if we can eliminate some of those mistakes,” added Fram, who had one assist in the game.
The Royals got a power-play goal midway through the third when Dante Hannoun buried one past Chiefs goaltender Lasse Petersen, who got the start in place of injured No. 1 Tyson Verheist. Soy added an empty-netter with 2:30 to play and Hayden Ostir closed out the scoring for the Chiefs with 53 seconds to play. Keanu Yamamoto had the Chiefs’ other goal.
The Royals, who outshot the Chiefs 31-27, came into the game having collected 27 of a possible 28 points in their last 14 games. But the league winners didn’t expect to roll over the Chiefs.
“They played hard and heavy and that’s what we expected,” Royals head coach Dave Lowry said.
Game 2 is tonight in Victoria before the teams move to the Arena for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday.