This time, Royals fend off Cougars
By Cleve Dheensaw, Times Colonist
February 2, 2012
Royals forward Logan Nelson holds off Cougars defenceman Reid Jackson during WHL action at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on Wednesday.
Photograph by: Darren Stone, Times Colonist, Times Colonist
VICTORIA 5 PRINCE GEORGE 1
A meteor from Minnesota crashed into Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on Wednesday.
Ben Walker, the flash-quick rookie forward from the town of Edina in the Gopher State, scored twice on a three-point night to lead the Victoria Royals to a 5-1 Western Hockey League victory over the Prince George Cougars before an announced crowd of 4,369.
The Cougars franchise, which skated as the Victoria Cougars for 23 seasons from 1971-72 to 1993-94, returned to the team's original city for the first time since and leaves 1-1 after opening the two-game set with a 4-2 victory Tuesday night.
Prince George head coach Dean Clark, returning to Blanshard Street for the first time since he was a Kamloops Blazers junior playing against the Cougars at the old Memorial Arena in 198485, came in with a banged-up club forced to dress three affiliated call-ups
Unlike the previous night's sorry outing, the Royals took advantage Wednesday and were full value for the victory.
"We were more prepared tonight than [Tuesday night]," said Walker. "We realized we need to play hard every game and so we did."
And the effects were felt immediately in the standings, where the Royals, Cougars, Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds are at the nether reaches and fighting for the last two playoff berths in the Western Conference.
The result moved Victoria into seventh place, one point up on idle Seattle, although the Thunderbirds have three games in hand. The Royals are five points ahead of ninth-place Prince George with the Cougars retaining two games in hand. Victoria is six points up on 10th-place Everett with the Silvertips holding a game in hand.
"It was better work ethic [than on Tuesday]," said Royals GM and head coach Marc Habscheid, about the turnaround. "Very simple."
Chase Witala scored on Prince George's first shot at 3: 45 of the first period, but that's as good as it got for the Cougars.
Walker - who has been flying of late - made it 2-1 for Victoria with back-to-back goals. Jamie Crooks, on a two-man Royals power play, stretched that to 3-1 at 14: 07 of the second period. On the direct ensuing one man advantage, it became 4-1 through Dakota Conroy.
Steven Hodges, who with fellow forward Logan Nelson is one of two Royals cited in Central Scouting's mid-season rankings for the 2012 NHL draft, scored at 1: 22 of the third period.
Hodges later absorbed a dangerous-looking check from behind in the corner from Troy Bourke, the latter himself rated 107th among North American skaters by Central Scouting.
"We played the full 60 minutes tonight," said Hodges, who emerged none the worse for wear.
It wasn't lost on a potential draft pick like Hodges that the nationally-televised 2012 Home Hardware CHL Top Prospects game was taking place concurrently last night in Kelowna.
"Something like that is a bonus [if you get selected to participate]," he said, philosophically. "I was happy to be here helping out my team."
Meanwhile, Crooks came up with the hit of the night Wednesday, a brutal but clean open-ice demolition of Prince George's Jesse Forsberg, which created a bit of a retaliatory scrum.
The Royals now travel to eastern Washington state for difficult road games Friday in Spokane against the Chiefs (28-14-7) and Saturday in Tri-City against the Americans (35-12-2), the latter fifth-ranked among the 59 major junior teams in North America.
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