There was nobody in the Royal Family, players or management, proclaiming a state of happiness about the Western Hockey League home opener at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
“We took it for granted [following Friday’s 4-2 victory in Vancouver against the Giants] and they ran us out of our own building,” said Victoria Royals defenceman Brett Cote, about Saturday’s somnolent 2-1 loss to the Giants.
But this isn’t football, which means another hockey game is usually around the corner. The Royals (1-1) get a quick turnaround in facing the seemingly always-steady Spokane Chiefs (1-0), who invade Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre for a two-game set tonight and Wednesday.
“We were disappointed we did not play to our capability in our home opener. But there are 35 more home games,” said Royals GM Cam Hope.
“Spokane has lost a lot of firepower from last season but this is a team that seems to have the ability to rejuvenate itself every year. The Chiefs always seem to find a way.”
They did in a 6-2 opening victory at Tri-City against the Americans as undrafted 20-year-old veteran Mitch Holmberg, who last season had 39 goals and 80 points for the Chiefs, scored a hat-trick.
Holmberg will be asked to do a lot on a roster that lost a total of 114 goals from last season’s 44-26-2 Chiefs team as defenceman and leading-scorer Brenden Kichton and veteran forwards Todd Fiddler, Blake Gal, Alessio Bertaggia and Dylan Walchuk have all departed.
The Chiefs use one of their three 20-year-old slots on undrafted goaltender Eric Williams of Langley, who carried the load last season with a 3.14 GAA in 55 games.
“Spokane is a hard-working team, just like Vancouver, and we have to put last weekend behind us,” said Royals forward Logan Nelson, who had four assists in the victory at Vancouver but was blanked in the home opener the next night.
“Maybe we got a little too comfortable. We can’t afford that,” added Nelson, who returned last week from the NHL training camp of the Buffalo Sabres.
“We’re the kind of team where all four lines need to be going if we are to be successful.”
It’s early, but this Spokane set will be telling in terms of how the Royals respond to the mixed messages they sent out on opening weekend.
“We have to up our effort level and intensity and play as a team,” said Cote.
The Chiefs have never been shy around the net. Even with the several player losses, they appear to have the sort of newcomers who should put pressure on Cote and company on the Royals blue-line.
“The Chiefs have always known how to score and they have the kinds of guys willing to pay the price in front of the net,” said Royals head coach Dave Lowry, after running his charges through a spirited practice Monday.
Victoria’s defence is again expected to be without towering Keegan Kanzig, who is still with the NHL’s Calgary Flames.
“We haven’t heard [when Kanzig] will be back,” said Hope. “We miss him.”
Another Royals blue-liner, the puck-moving potential high-round 2014 NHL draft pick Joe Hicketts, missed practice Monday.
“Joe is a little sore [after falling hard into the boards Friday in Vancouver] and is day-to-day,” said Hope.
Touted rookie defenceman Chaz Reddekopp, who missed much of training camp with an injury, skated all-out in practice Monday. But whether he’s ready for game speed is the question, so don’t necessarily expect to see him tonight as the Royals will ease him into the lineup over a stretch of time.
Royals forward Steven Hodges, 2012 third-round draft pick of the Florida Panthers, continues to rehab after surgery and will be out of the lineup for at least a few more weeks.
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