Cremation by Brandon Magee

Royals defenceman Travis Brown in round one of the WHL Playoffs. Jon Howe (provided photo)

The Victoria Royals opened their seven-game series against the Prince George Cougars Friday night in blistering fashion, despite a nail-biting start.

While the Royals opened with a solid three minutes of sustained pressure in the Cougars’ defensive zone, consecutive penalties to the boys in white and blue cost them dearly.

Despite the best efforts of diminutive defensive dynamo Joe Hicketts, the Cougars clawed past Royals goaltender Vollrath twice. Unable to answer, the Royals skated to the locker room after 20, down two-zip.

Things were looking grim at the opening of the second, but enter Magee: a gritty, grinding mess at the front of the Cougars net let him bang one in with an assist from Hicketts. The arena leapt to its feet, then barely had time to pick up their beers before Magee scored a top-shelf, cross-bar ringer a mere minute later.

With everything tied at two, the game picked up to a furious pace. General chippiness expressed via bone-crushing hits came to a head halfway through the second with an exchange of pleasantries behind the play drawing twin penalties.

Four-on-four turned out to be the forte of Royal’s centre Greg Chase: streaking in from the neutral zone all alone, Chase split the defence and deked the Cougars’ goalie, with a highlight-worthy goal earning the Royals the lead.

Not to be outdone, Magee managed to cap his night nicely by wiring in his third with under two minutes left in the second. The play earned the winger his first-ever WHL playoff hat trick. Jubilant fans showered the ice in caps; but four-two was not an insurmountable lead, so optimism was cautious.

Caution proved well-deserved as the Cougars used a third power play to score, though more credit should go to the officials; failure to penalize a vicious behind-the-play bit of stickwork left the Royals a man short on the PK. The roars of an incensed crowd, the majority of whom were seated with an excellent view of the travesty, no doubt shook Vollrath’s concentration and the Cougars slipped a third past him.

The comeback stalled, however, and the Royals tidied away a secure win as left-winger Taylor Crunk, with help from Hicketts and Magee put the game away with an empty netter a half-minute before close.

The following night, the Royals continued their taming of the Cougars. Magee continued to lead the Royals with two goals in the third period. The final was 5-4 in favour of Victoria, putting the the Royals in the driver’s seat for the remainder of the first round. Prince George managed to get four past Vollrath, who stopped 30 of 34 for the win. The Royals romped to victory without ever trailing in game two. Royals fans can only hope the rest of the series goes off in similar spectacular fashion.

The Royals  hit the road next for games 3 and 4 in Prince George on April 1 & 2, then return home for game 5 on Saturday, April 4 if necessary. 

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