Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart and Erich Eichhorn (ISN)
March 22, 2014, Victoria, BC (ISN) – Well there is no doubt the WHL playoffs have begun. In a highly intense and entertaining affair Saturday evening, the Victoria Royals emerged with a 2-1 overtime victory over the Spokane Chiefs in Game 1 of their Western Conference playoff series at Save-on-Foods Memorial Arena in Victoria.
The playoff intensity was visible right from the start of this game, in fact even before that, as Royals’ centre Logan Fisher and the Chief’s Liam Stewart engaged in a brief shoving match at centre ice before the first puck had even dropped.
Spokane’s Matt Sozanski moves the puck out of his zone in first period action Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
From that point forward, the 6,615 in attendance were treated to an entertaining and evenly matched affair, full of hard checks, brilliant saves and a generous amount of (perceived) bad calls against the home team that had the fans booing the referees pretty much the entire second period. The wave even reared its ugly head at one point.
Victoria’s Axel Blomqvist (left) and Spokane’s Jeremy McIntosh are separated by linesman Justin Hull during a first period scrum Saturday(Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
The Royals took the play to the Chiefs for most of the first period, outshooting Spokane 14-8 and it was only due to some spectacular saves from the Chief’s Eric Williams that the Royals emerged with only a 1-0 lead after the first was over.
The Royals Ben Walker would find a way to get this puck past the two Spokane defenders as well as goaltender Eric Williams to give the Royals a 1-0 lead (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
That goal came courtesy of Ben Walker, who picked up a loose puck at the right side of the net and managed to rifle his shot through a maze of sticks with 4:34 remaining. Axel Blomqvist and Brandon Magee were credited with the assists.
Ben Walker celebrates his first period goal with teammate Axel Blomqvist (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
In the second period, it was the Chiefs turn to dominate and thanks primarily to three straight penalties to the Royals that had the fans directing their ire at referee Adam Byblow, kept the puck in the Royals end for large periods of time, outshooting the Royals 11-7 on the period.
Victoria goaltender Patrik Polivka will be dreaming about Spokanes Mike Aviani as it seemed the Chiefs forward spent most of the second period in tight, screening Polivka on the Chief’s power play attempts (Photos: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
However like Williams in the first, this time it was Royals goaltender Patrik Polivka who came up big on a number of occasions to keep the Chiefs off the board and preserve the 1-0 lead into the third.
Victoria defenceman Brett Cote eludes pressure from Spokane’s Adam Helewka (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
Early in the third, the Chiefs would get the equalizer when the puck found its way to Riley Whittingham who was stationed just off the right corner of the crease. He was able to swat at the puck before Polivka could cover it, tapping it home between Polivka’s legs just 2:22 into the frame.
Victoria’s Tyler Soy is restrained by Spokane defenceman Matt Sozanski (21) as he tries to make his way toward the Chiefs net in third period action Friday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
After that the checking became intense and both teams had limited chances – the Royals outshot the Chiefs 6-4 for the period – and neither could find the net and the game headed to a full 20-minute sudden death overtime period.
The Royals Brandon Magee earned assists on both Royals goals Saturday including the OT game winner (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
The overtime period was just as entertaining as previous three periods and both teams had early chances, especially the Chiefs who somehow failed to put the puck into what appeared to be an empty net during an early goalmouth scramble that saw Polivka flat on the ice and well out of position. Fortunately the Victoria defence was able to clear the puck from danger.
Victoria’s Brandon Fushimi skates the puck into the Chief’s end under the watch of Spokane’s Jacob Cardiff (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
Eight minutes into the frame however, the Royals Brandon Magee would slickly advance the puck into the zone and make a nifty feed to Steven Hodges who would cary the puck into the corner and then make a great back door pass to defenceman Travis Brown who had snuck in from the point. Brown would whack at the puck and somehow squeeze it under the pads of Williams and over the goal line to give the Royals the win – their first over Spokane on home ice in seven games – and send both the crowd and the Royals bench into a frenzy.
Victoria’s Steven Hodges and Spokane’s Jeremy McIntosh battle for a loose puck as referee Brett Iverson looks on (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
With the game winning goal, Brown earned himself third star honours for the night, while Williams (31 saves on 33 shots) and Polivka (26 saves on 27 shots) were the second and first star respectively. Key to the Royals win was killing off five Spokane powerplays and keeping the WHL’s leading scorer Mitch Holmberg (62G, 56A) off the scoresheet.
Victoria’s Travis Brown watches from behind the net as his game winning goal at 8:10 of overtime trickles across the goal line behind Spokane netminder Eric Williams (Photo: Erich Eichhorn / Island Sports News)
The two teams go right back at it, as Game 2 in the series takes place Sunday afternoon with a 5:00 pm start.