The Victoria Royals and Lethbridge Hurricanes are currently a matching set in one regard. Not that it’s something either Western Hockey League team wants to boast about.
Victoria and Lethbridge are each winless in their last six games at 0-5-1 ahead of their matchup tonight at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
At this time of year in hockey, most teams are quietly desperate in some way.
It’s the Hurricanes, however, who are in the more dire situation — in ninth place and five points adrift of the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
It’s been that kind of season for Lethbridge, with goaltender Ty Rimmer already surpassing the 24-year-old franchise records for most saves and shots faced in a season. The 20-year-old undrafted native of Edmonton has made a yeoman effort in the Hurricanes crease with an astounding 55 starts and 57 appearances in 62 Lethbridge games this season while maintaining respectable averages of 2.99 goal against and a .916 save percentage. If that doesn’t have league all-star written all over it, it’s hard to tell what does.
Rimmer may just have to skate out and start scoring the goals, too.
The Hurricanes have been shut out 2-0 in each of their last two games, against Red Deer and Kootenay.
Victoria (32-24-5) has clinched a playoff spot in the Western Conference and is now jockeying for seeding, trailing fourth-place Tri-City by six points and fifth-place Spokane by five with 11 games remaining.
But the Royals know just how dangerous it is to dismiss Lethbridge (25-28-9) and look ahead to a pivotal weekend against Spokane at the Memorial Centre, with games set for Friday and Saturday.
“We are facing a team [Lethbridge] that is fighting for its playoff life,” said Victoria head coach Dave Lowry.
And not that the Royals have been doing great, either, in losing four straight games — albeit to top-drawer teams Edmonton, Calgary and twice to Kelowna.
“We have work to do to play with the top teams,” said Lowry.
But Lethbridge isn’t one of them, which gives Victoria a rare chance to take on the role of favourite tonight.
Team captain Tyler Stahl will likely be back in action as the 20-year-old defenceman skated full speed in practice Tuesday after missing two games following a puck off the knee in Edmonton.
“With [20-year-old forward Alex Gogolev] also out, we became a very young team,” said Lowry, adding that Stahl’s expected return is huge. “He’s a calming influence with the young guys.”
Among those is 16-year-old swing-man Jack Walker, who can go back to forward after playing defence in spots during Stahl’s absence.
“Tyler [Stahl] has a big body and he can throw it around,” said Walker.
“And he is a good leader off the ice and a role model.”
Victoria is hoping to finally tie the franchise record for 33 wins in a season, set in 2010-11 when the team was located in Chilliwack and known as the Bruins.
Reaching that benchmark has been delayed by a winless stretch in which Victoria has allowed 30 goals in six games, 15 of them in two games last weekend against Kelowna.
“We’ve had breakdowns in the defensive zone and have been taking too many penalties. Plus, our special teams need to be better,” said Walker.
That’s where the return of Stahl should help.
“That was obviously tough to watch [from the press box] last weekend,” said the Royals captain.
“We were not the team we need to be for 60 minutes against Kelowna and I’m not sure why. The [player] leadership group sat the guys down and discussed things that need to be done to right the ship to make sure that it’s us who gets fourth place and home-ice advantage for the playoffs.”
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