The oil patch has produced more than just Alberta crude for the Victoria Royals team bus.
Nobody is protesting this pipeline that delivers hockey players to the West Coast.
Eight Royals hail from, or have Alberta family roots, making this weekend’s Western Hockey League swing through Red Deer tonight, Calgary on Saturday and Edmonton on Sunday a big homecoming for Jamie Crooks, Tyler Stahl, Brandon Magee, Logan Fisher, Austin Carroll, Keegan Kanzig, Kolton Dixon and Coleman Vollrath.
As well, Royals GM Cam Hope is from Edmonton and head coach Dave Lowry has strong Calgary ties after playing for the NHL’s Flames and being part of the coaching staff for both the Flames and Calgary Hitmen of the WHL.
“All the Alberta guys are looking forward to this,” said Crooks, the defending Royals team MVP and native of Vermilion.
“For [fellow 20-year-old Stahl of Drumheller] and I, this will be our last trip to Alberta as juniors — at least in the regular season — so it’s pretty special.”
Tonight will also be notable for Red Deer natives Fisher and Dixon. But with the game against the Rebels televised across Western Canada by Shaw cable, they will get to play to a wider audience than just their family and homeys at the Enmax Centrium, although the latter will certainly be sweet.
The Royals, however, would be well-advised to keep their off-ice reunion celebrations muted. Because what they will face on-ice are three of the top five teams in the Eastern Conference with fifth-place Red Deer at 30-22-6, second-place Calgary at 37-17-4 and conference-leading Edmonton at 41-12-5.
Victoria, however, hasn’t been too shabby, either, and is 32-20-4 and tied for fourth in the Western Conference. The Royals lost for the first time since Feb. 1 when their five-game winning streak was snapped Wednesday night in Cranbrook against the surging Kootenay Ice, which has won 11 consecutive home games.
Royals forward Carroll, who was raised in Scottsdale, Arizona, but whose parents are from Calgary, pointed out that Victoria has been playing well of late.
“We have a winning mentality right now,” he said.
“We’re getting guys in front of the [opposition] goal and getting pucks on net. We have to keep it simple, stick to what we’re doing and don’t over-think it.”
Meanwhile, the Royals’ Minnesota contingent is set to become whole again at three with forward Logan Nelson ready to rejoin the Minny brothers Ben and Jack Walker in the lineup.
Nelson, a 2012 fifth-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres and a key cog for the Royals, is set to return to the lineup tonight in Red Deer after missing 22 games because of a lower-body injury sustained Dec. 28 which put him on crutches.
“It was tough missing six weeks, but that’s part of the game,” said Nelson.
“I feel good and I’m excited. I’ve been skating the last few weeks and feel like new.”
Nelson said ramping up to game speed shouldn’t be an issue.
“It’s like riding a bike,” he noted.
“I hope to jump right back into it. But it might take a few games to pick up where I left off [eight goals and 31 points in 34 games].”
Lowry will ease Nelson in, likely on a line with fellow Americans Jack Walker and Brandon Fushimi, who are 16-year-old rookies.
“It’s good to play with the young guys as I start out again; and I hope to get power play time, too,” said Nelson.
LOOSE PUCKS: The next home game for the Royals is Feb. 22 when the B.C. Division-leading Kelowna Rockets are at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre for the first of back-to-back games. And the game on Feb. 23 is Canadian Forces Appreciation Night.
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