Victoria Royals forward Tanner Kaspick (16) looks for a teammate to pass to as Kelowna defender Libor Zabransky during third-period Western Hockey League action at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre. Kaspick scored twice, including the winner in overtime, as the Royals won 4-3. Victoria beat the Rockets 6-1 here the night before and the teams meet again in Kelowna on Monday. Don Descoteau/Victoria News

Royals making noise as WHL heads toward home stretch

Victoria scores two home wins over front-running Rockets, teams meet in Kelowna Monday

Two hard-fought weekend home wins against arch-rival Kelowna vaulted the Victoria one point ahead of the Rockets for top spot in the Western Hockey League’s B.C. Division.

Tanner Kaspick, who bagged the winner in overtime Saturday on a four-on-three power play to give his team a 4-3 victory, said the intensity of the games will no doubt help the Royals as they head toward the playoffs.

“Experience is something that never hurts come playoff time,” said the 20-year-old centre, who experienced plenty of big post-season games in his time with the Brandon Wheat Kings, who won the WHL title in 2016.

“Often in playoffs you see games like that with high emotion, lots of penalties and lots of momentum shifts in the game, so any time we can get experience in a game like that will provide us value down the road for sure.”

The Royals (34-19-3-1) and Rockets (33-17-4-1) meet again Monday in Kelowna to wind up a rare three-games-in-four nights regular season mini-series.

The Royals, coming off a convincing 6-1 win on Friday night at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, trailed 2-1 after one period last night. After Noah Gregor set up Kaspick for his 19th goal of the season to tie the score late in the second, the Rockets took the lead 8:22 into the third when Connor Bruggen-Cate one-timed a shot from the deep slot to make it 3-2.

RELATED: Royals face critical weekend ahead with three WHL games against Kelowna

On a power play less than two minutes later, however, Gregor took a nifty backhand pass from Matthew Phillips behind the Kelowna net and beat goalie James Porter high to the glove side for his second goal of the game to tie it up again.

Both goalies made clutch saves in the remainder of regulation, but the Royals made Kelowna pay for a tripping penalty 1:29 into overtime to Kyle Topping. Kaspick scored his 20th goal with a one-timed slapshot, finishing off a slick passing play between Dante Hannoun and Tyler Soy, who was celebrating his 21st birthday.

With three games in four nights against the Rockets, who have spent the past six weeks on the Canadian Hockey League’s national top 10 list, it’s a chance for the Royals to show what they can do when faced with a huge challenge, said Victoria head coach Dan Price.

“To play in that real competitive cauldron where it’s fast, and physical and so close and every play matters, it’s great for every player involved in that game,” he said.

He pointed to the work ethic and preparation of all of his players as paying off against Kelowna, noting that the fourth line of Dino Kambeitz, Kade Oliver and Tarun Fizer was arguably the Royals’ best in the third period Saturday.

Kaspick agreed.

“It’s definitely huge for guys like that to step up and to give us the kind of confidence that we can compete with anyone in this league and that we’re a team to look out for,” he said.

Soy led the Royals with a goal and three assists in Friday’s game, while Phillips scored twice and Hannoun had a goal and two helpers. Griffen Outhouse stopped 37 of 38 shots in the Victoria net.

The Royals power play was particularly effective in the two games, scoring five times in 14 opportunities, while Kelowna went one for five.

editor@vicnews.com

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