Rockets Stun Royals in OT

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Kelowna Rockets take out Victoria Royals in Game 7
of WHL Playoffs

Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

Victoria, BC (ISN) – Playing their first ever game seven in franchise playoff history, the Victoria Royals were 0.2 seconds away from advancing to the next round of the Western Hockey League (WHL) playoffs, but a goal by the Kelowna Rockets’ Justin Kirkland sent the game to overtime, where 5:56 in, Kelowna’s Calvin Thurkauf beat Victoria goaltender Coleman Vollrath to give the Rockets the 3-2 win and send them on to the next round against the Seattle Thunderbirds.

The Rockets’ Devante Stephens (left) and Victoria’s Jared Dmytriw battle it out Tuesday in Game 7 (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The loss was a gut-wrenching one for the Royals, who, playing in front of a sold out house of 7,006 energized fans, came out like gangbusters in the first period, throwing everything they had at the Rockets, outshooting them 11-1 early and in the process, building a 2-0 lead thanks to goal by Tyler Soy just 1:44 in, and another, on the powerplay, by Alex Forsberg, at the 10:31 mark.

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Things looked good early for the Royals as Matthew Phillips (left) and Alex Forsberg (right) celebrate Forsberg’s first period goal that gave the Royals a 2-0 lead (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

One had to wonder though, if the Royals could maintain that intensity for a full 60 minutes against a veteran-laden and playoff-seasoned Kelowna squad and when the Royals held the Rockets to just one shot over the first 10 minutes of the second period and finished the second outshooting them 23-11, things were looking good.

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The Royal’s Matthew Phillips (11) maneuvers around Kelowna defenceman Joe Gatenby (28) (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Royals miss opportunities

The only downside was that the Royals themselves had many opportunities to get a third goal past Rockets goaltender Michael Herringer, but could not do so, as the Comox native came up with some big saves, especially a wicked glove save mid-period.

Those missed opportunities would prove problematic for the Royals, especially early in the third, as the Rockets caught a break 1:13 in when a Kirkland centering pass from behind the net bounced off the Royals Logan Fisher and into the net to cut the Royals lead to 2-1.

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Victoria forward Regan Nagy (24) loads up a shot Tuesday against Kelowna (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The game’s intensity nearly tripled after that and with fans on the edge of their seats, each team had multiple chances to score, especially the Royals, who, while only credited with four shots on goal in the period, saw many of their best chances miss the net.

The Rockets meanwhile started to pick up the pace and with just over two minutes to play, pulled Herringer for the extra attacker. That allowed them to keep the Royals hemmed in their zone for most of that time, and after a Royals clearing shot agonizingly went just inches wide of the open net, the Rockets would press again, before a whistle at the 1:04 mark.

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The Royals’ Tyler Soy (right) and Alex Forsberg (left) make life difficult for Kelowna goaltender Michael Herringer on a first period power-play (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

On that whistle, the referee asked the timekeeper to put an extra second on the clock and that proved to be a critical second, as with time winding down, the Rockets fed the puck to Kirkland at the top of the face-off circle to the right of the net, where he patiently made a little move to his right to gain a shooting lane and then fired a wrister through traffic and past the outstretched glove of Vollrath to tie the game and stun the Royals and the crowd.

In overtime, the Rockets started strong with Vollrath making a couple of key saves early, but then the Royals responded with a few chances of their own. The Rockets would counter again and after a bit of a scramble in the Royals end, Thurkauf would pounce on a loose puck just above the faceoff dot to Vollrath’s left, turn and fire a shot that managed to find its way through the five-hole of Vollrath and into the net for the dramatic game-winner, sending the Rockets off the bench and into the dogpile celebration.

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Kelowna’s Rourke Chartier (14) was bothered just enough on this partial break by the Royals Regan Nagy and would miss on this second period scoring chance Tuesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

As the dejected Royals squad made their way to console Vollrath and eventually toward the handshake line, the equally dejected fans gradually erupted into a great round of applause for the home squad to congratulate them on a fantastic season. The Royals then paid tribute to the fans with the now very common centre-ice stick salute.

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Stunned Royals and stunned fans react after Kelowna scored with just 0.2 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Royals Head Coach Dave Lowry was disappointed with the loss as one would expect, but had the utmost of pride for his players on the success they had this season and how they played in this game and in the series against Kelowna. “You have to feel disappointed and I really feel for the guys,” said Lowry. “They played extremely hard all year and for it to end the way it did was not the ending we were looking for.”

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A dejected Joe Hicketts skates toward his end of the ice, as the Kelowna Rockets celebrate their Game 7 overtime win in the background (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

“We’ve had a great season as a group and nobody expected us to be here,” added Lowry. “We were 0.2 seconds away from winning a game seven in our building. I am not going to take anything away from our group, I really like the way that we played for 60 minutes. We had a couple of mistakes that cost us goals, but the way that they have worked and they way that they have battled, right from the start of the year through the last game, I am really proud of my group. I can’t say enough about our leadership and the way they had the team prepared for the game tonight. That first period was probably one of the best we’ve played all year and we followed it up with a second that was equally as strong. Our younger players have larned alot this season and in these playoffs and we will be a better team next season because of that.”

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