It was a fitting Family Day for Kyle Topping of Salt Spring Island.
Topping had a CRD homecoming to remember Monday in front of many family and friends at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre by scoring the winning goal, adding an assist and being named first star in leading the Kelowna Rockets to a 5-2 victory over the Victoria Royals.
It’s been a long time coming, despite an otherwise bountiful WHL career.
“It was the first goal I’ve scored in Victoria in my WHL career and I’m happy to get it in front of so many people I know,” said the Rockets veteran, who reached the 20-goal plateau for a second consecutive season.
Not only was it Topping’s 20th goal but also the 60th point of the season for the former Cowichan Valley Capitals (BCHL) forward.
“We were hard on (Topping) because we believe Kyle has leadership qualities and we pushed him, and he has responded and taken on the challenge,” said Kelowna head coach and former NHL veteran Adam Foote.
“We expect Kyle Topping to be an impact 20-year-old for us next season (when Kelowna hosts the Memorial Cup),” said Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton.
Topping had a role model growing up on Salt Spring Island. Brother Jordan Topping, now a pro in the ECHL with the Toledo Walleye, also came out of the Cowichan Valley Capitals to have a productive four-season WHL career for the Tri-City Americans with 109 goals and 218 points.
“I definitely looked up to Jordan and wanted to follow in his footsteps,” said Kyle Topping.
The Royals and Rockets continue their two-game set tonight at Memorial Centre. It has the intriguing subplot of being a potential first-round playoff matchup between B.C. Division second-place Victoria (29-24-3) and third-place Kelowna (24-28-5).
“It had a playoff feel to it with some of the physicality and animosity boiling over near the end,” Royals head coach Dan Price said of the chippy ending to the game.
Jake Kustra of the Royals drew a charging major and game misconduct late in the third period that will almost certainly be looked at by the league.
“It would be a tough matchup,” said Foote, if a first-round series comes to pass between the teams.
Both teams rested their first-string goaltenders — Griffen Outhouse of Victoria and Roman Basran of Kelowna — with Brock Gould making 27 saves for the Royals and James Porter 26 for Kelowna.
The Royals pressed early but were rebuffed by Porter.
“He kept us in it when Victoria could have been up by a couple,” said Foote.
Lassi Thomson and Mark Liwiski had a goal and assist each for Kelowna before 5,198 fans.
Kaid Oliver scored his 25th goal for Victoria and added an assist, while Kody McDonald also scored and defenceman Scott Walford assisted on both goals.
“It was a competitive game (tied 2-2 until Topping’s game-winner at 10:07 of the third period began a run of three unanswered Kelowna goals), but we had a late lapse,” said McDonald.