Rockets at Royals

Victoria Royals forward Kody McDonald tries to get a rebound past Kelowna Rockets goaltender Roma Basran during first-period WHL action at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria on Tuesday. Basran was pulled after giving up two goals on five shots and the Rockets went on to lose 6-2.

It was a wash for those looking for clues about form ahead of a possible first-round playoff meeting between Victoria Royals and Kelowna Rockets.

The teams split a two-game set at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre with the Royals answering Monday’s 5-2 loss with a 6-2 victory on Tuesday night.

The Royals (30-24-3) appear entrenched as the second seed in the B.C. Division with 63 points behind the leading Vancouver Giants’ runaway 81.

The Rockets (24-29-5) are in third place on 53 points, but the Kamloops Blazers are gaining with 49 points and three games in hand.

“I hope we get into the playoffs,” said Rockets general manager Bruce Hamilton, clearly taking nothing for granted.

“We are young.”

But those youngsters are good, although Victoria was by far the superior team on Tuesday, despite losing the season series against Kelowna 5-3.

Kelowna leads the WHL with six players ranked by Central Scouting for the 2019 NHL draft, including projected first- or second-rounders Lassi Thomson, Nolan Foote and Kaedan Korczak. The others are Kyle Topping of Salt Spring Island, Alex Swetlikoff and goaltender Roman Basran.

This is the core group the Rockets are building around for the 2020 Memorial Cup.

“They are already playing big minutes for us,” said Kelowna head coach Adam Foote.

This, however, has been as season of some turmoil. Former coach Jason Smith was cut adrift Oct. 23 and replaced on the Kelowna bench by two-time Stanley Cup champion and Olympic gold-medallist, former NHL defenceman Foote.

Having son Nolan on the team made it the “hardest part of the decision,” said Foote.

But Nolan Foote has handled it well, as he has the pressure of being a projected high-round pick for the 2019 NHL draft.

“It’s helped that he had (older brother Cal Foote) go through it ahead of him,” said Adam Foote. Cal, a former Rockets blueliner and captain, was selected 14th overall in the first round of the 2017 NHL draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Victoria got off to a quick start Tuesday by taking a 3-0 lead in the first period. Kelowna starter Basran was pulled after letting in two goals on five shots. Backup James Porter didn’t fare much better as Victoria unloaded 41 shots on goal.

Victoria’s previously-hapless last-place power play continued to display its recent stirrings and produced goals by Kaid Oliver and Danish import Phillip Schultz.

Oliver scored twice on a four-point night to push his team lead to 27 goals. Logan Doust, Tarun Fizer and Kody McDonald scored the other Victoria goals.

Leif Mattson scored his 20th goal for Kelowna and Nolan Foote his 29th — the latter on the power play.

Griffen Outhouse made 35 saves for Victoria for his 111th career victory, which is seventh overall on the all-time WHL list, and nine behind the record 120 wins co-held by Tyson Sexsmith and Corey Hirsch.

ICE CHIPS: Jake Kustra of the Royals sat out a one-game suspension Tuesday for a charging major and game misconduct late in Monday’s game. . . . The Rockets are in Spokane to face the Chiefs on Friday.

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