While most of Victoria was resting during the holiday break, the Victoria Royals were working hard to cement their position in the WHL Western Conference. And a solid home record of 14-5-1-1 shows the Royals are enjoying the advantage of playing in front of their royal subjects, er, fans.
Currently, the Royals sit comfortably in sixth place and have the fifth-place Tri-Cities Americans in their sights as the second half of the 72-game season began during the holiday break. The Royals trail the Americans by six points but have two games in hand.
The top eight teams in the division make the playoffs. Last year, the Royals squeaked into post-season play in the eighth spot. Somewhat ironically, if the playoffs began today, the Royals would once again face the Kamloops Blazers, the team that swept them out of the playoffs last spring.
Since the Christmas break, the Royals have played nine games, winning five, losing three times in regulation and losing once in overtime. They swept Prince George at home on Dec. 28 and 29, winning 5-1 and 4-3. The game on the 29th may have been a season-changer as the team erased an early 3-0 deficit and came back to tie the game with less than three minutes remaining. And while overtime solved nothing, it was Steven Hodges’ shootout goal that was the difference-maker.
The team then journeyed to Kelowna on Jan. 2 to face the red-hot Rockets, who hadn’t lost in 15 games at home at Prospera Place. Despite playing the Rockets tight at even strength, three power-play goals did the Royals in. The Rockets went on to defeat the Royals 4-2.
A return to the friendly Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre for a pair of games against the Tri-Cities Americans saw the Royals lose a heartbreaker on Friday (3-2), with the winning goal coming in overtime with less than a second left. On Saturday, Jan. 5, a resilient Royals team came out with a 5-2 victory playing a complete team game in front of around 6 000 fans, including a vocal group of approximately 30 Tri-Cities fans that had made the drive up to Victoria.
During the break, the Royals caught the injury bug. Three of the top five Royals missed games and had to spend some time in the press box.
Russian sniper Alex Gogolev missed the first three games after Christmas with an upper body injury. Forward Logan Nelson looks to be out of the lineup longer (4–6 weeks) with a lower body injury. Another valuable missing asset for the weekend set against Tri-Cities was forward Ben Walker. Walker was in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting hit awkwardly by a Kelowna player who was on the receiving end of another Royals player’s body check. And while Walker required a stretcher to get off the ice and a trip to the Kelowna hospital for observation, he is listed as day-to-day and hopefully will return to the lineup.
While the Royals didn’t have any players participating in the World Junior Tournament in Ufa, Russia, rookie defencemen Ryan Gagnon and Joe Hicketts played in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Quebec. While their squad, Team Pacific, finished fifth, the team was captained by Hicketts, who gained valuable experience and scored six points in five games.
The next home action for the Royals is a game against provincial rivals the Kamloops Blazers on Jan. 16 (a team the Royals beat 6-4 on Jan. 15). For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.victoriaroyals.com.