Kelowna Rockets defenceman Jason Smart battles Royals forward Ryan Peckford in WHL playoff action Thursday night in Victoria.

Royals take series opener from Rockets

Dante Hannoun scores game winner as Victoria gets the jump in WHL Western Conference semifinal

The WHL’s regular season champs took the first step in dethroning the defending champs.

Dante Hannoun’s goal early in the second period stood up as the game winner, as the Victoria Royals edged the Kelowna Rockets 2-1 Thursday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Arena in the opening game of the Western Conference semifinal series.

While it wasn’t the result the Rockets were looking for, assistant coach Kris Mallette said it was a much improved effort over Kelowna’s last meeting with Victoria—a 7-4 loss on March 16 at Prospera Place.

“We definitely came out to play,” Rockets assistant coach Kris Mallette told AM 1150’s Regan Bartel. “What I liked most is that they scored first and we were able to answer right away. That meant we were in the game. Coming from the last game, they beat us in pretty much every facet, but I don’t think that was the case tonight.”

Jack Walker opened the scoring for the Royals at 4:01 of the opening period, before Tyson Baillie tied the score just over a minute later with his first goal of the post season.

Hannoun beat Rockets goaltender Michael Herringer for the decisive goal at 1:25 of the second period.

The Royals outshot the Rockets 41-30.

Game 2 of the series goes Saturday night in Victoria.