The Victoria Royals remain three points out a playoff spot after splitting two home games against the Portland Winterhawks this week.
That makes this weekend’s Western Hockey League road trip to Prince George even more important, as the Cougars are one of the teams the Royals are trying to catch – Spokane is the other – for the final Western Conference playoff position. Both teams have games in hand on Victoria, which enters the weekend banged up but motivated to gain ground on the Cougars and Chiefs.
On Wednesday at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre the Royals (16-33-5-1) fell 5-2 to Portland, powered on the attack by forward Cross Hanas, who scored two goals and added two assists.
Victoria goaltender Tyler Palmer had a busy two periods, stopping 35 of 38 shots in replacing starter Campbell Arnold, who left the game injured after the opening frame. Arnold wasn’t alone, as Wyatt Wilson and Bailey Peach also had to leave the game.
Despite the loss and injuries, there was one upside – Royals forward Marcus Almquist picked up his first career WHL goal.
“It’s a dream come true,” said the 2004-born Almquist. “I’ve been waiting a while for my first one, it feels good. I’ve been feeling it coming for a long time now and hopefully I’ll get more and keep it going.”
While Portland is well ahead in the standings – they sit third in the west with 79 points – Victoria, 5-3 winners on Tuesday night, captured the season series two wins to one.
Tarun Fizer beat Hanas to the punch when it came to four-point games, scoring his team’s first and last goals and adding two helpers in the win.
“He instills such confidence in the group,” head coach Dan Price said of the Royals captain. “He’s so well prepared, a tremendous teammate and cares about everyone. It’s not just the points, it’s the shot-blocking, the faceoffs, tracking back to help our goalie, all those gritty things that also contribute.”
Palmer turned away 47 Winterhawk shots for the victory, none more important than when he came sliding across the crease to make a windmill glove save with under two minutes to play and his team clinging to a 4-3 lead – robbing Portland of the tying goal.
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