Jamie Crooks, the oldest player in the Western Hockey League, is one of the few players in the junior league who could legally enter a bar in the U.S. Division.
Aside from irrelevant trivia like that, Crooks has piled up some really useful milestones, like reaching the WHL career 100-goal plateau on Saturday in the 4-1 win over the Vancouver Giants.
The soft-spoken native of Vermilion, Alta., will look to add to that career total tonight when the Royals (27-17-3) host the Prince Albert Raiders (28-17-4) at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
Crooks turned 21 on Jan. 8, leading to being referred to among the other Royals as “Daddy.”
“The guys joke about it but it’s all in good fun,” chuckled Crooks, one of three allowable over-age players on the Royals roster with captain Tyler Stahl and leading scorer Alex Gogolev.
Crooks — last season’s Royals MVP and leading scorer with 37 goals — has an opportunistic knack around the net with 22 goals in 44 games this season.
Although undrafted, Crooks looks to have what it takes to crack the minor pros at the AHL or ECHL levels. The other option is the four years of university he has owing him — from two seasons with the Royals and the two previous when the franchise was in Chilliwack and known as the Bruins — if he wishes to go the CIS route.
Those are weighty decisions and they are fast approaching.
“I just want to enjoy my last season of junior and worry about that after,” said Crooks.
The surging Royals are coming into tonight riding a franchise-record seven-game winning streak despite missing several forwards during that stretch. That has included Crooks, who returned to the lineup Friday against the Giants wearing a full face shield after missing two games following being hit in a game Jan. 16.
“That’s because we played simple hockey,” said Crooks, of the streak-through-adversity.
Royals forwards Ben Walker, Trent Lofthouse, Logan Nelson and Luke Harrison were scratched because of injury Saturday in the victory over Vancouver.
Walker, however, looks ready to return tonight after missing 11 games following an inadvertent hit by teammate Stahl in a game at Kelowna on Jan. 2.
“We will re-evaluate Ben [this] morning,” said Royals head coach Dave Lowry.
“Anytime you have a [by far team-best] plus-20 player back in the lineup, it’s easy to find a spot for him. It pushes the other guys. But we will bring [Walker] in slowly.”
Yet, while one key forward looks ready to return, it has been the way this season with the Royals that another may be problematic. Gogolev, last week’s WHL and CHL player of the week, watched Monday’s practice from the stands but Lowry was coy about what that meant. The coach quipped to reporters that he may just be keeping his leading scorer “rested and fresh.”
Rearguard Stahl will likely sit out for a second straight game tonight while the league reviews his checking-to-the-head infraction in Friday’s game against the Giants.
Meanwhile, tonight heralds the return of former Royals forward Dakota Conroy, who is thriving since the trade early this season that sent him to Prince Albert. Conroy, who had 11 goals and 18 points in 67 games last season split between the Royals and Brandon Wheat Kings, has 18 goals and 43 points in 45 games this season for the Raiders.
Growing up together in Edmonton, Conroy and Royals forward Brandon Magee are good friends. Magee has hardly been a slouch, either, with eight goals in his last three games including three straight game-winners for the Royals.
“We’ve been exchanging text messages,” said Magee, about tonight’s intriguing matchup between the old buddies.
The Royals will be keeping a close defensive watch tonight on their former teammate Conroy.
“He has offensive ability and he thinks the game through,” said Crooks.
Conroy is one of the surprises on an overall surprising Raiders team that, despite losing its last two games, is leading the East Division and is third in the Eastern Conference behind the Edmonton Oil Kings and Calgary Hitmen.
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