He may not have to next season. This Royals era always looked to be built to crest for the 2017-18 season, with depth and talent among the returnees that will certainly make Victoria highly regarded for next season in the WHL while teams built for this year like Seattle, Regina, and Prince George will be receding.
But that was small consolation on Tuesday afternoon. Especially for the graduating 20-year-old Royals players Jack Walker, Ryan Gagnon and Carter Folk; and four of the seven 19-year-old Royals, only three who can return as 20-year-olds.
There is an arc in every sports season, from those anticipatory first steps in training camp to the almost-always melancholic locker-clearout day, the latter which occurred for the Royals two days after their elimination Sunday in the longest game played in WHL and CHL history.
“I grew up here,” said 20-year-old graduating fifth-year Royals forward Jack Walker.
“It’s been a long ride with so many games. It will be weird not coming back,” added the native of Edina, Minnestoa.
Walker is a draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Folk, a native of Regina, will play U Sports Canadian university hockey next season and Quesnel’s Gagnon is mulling over U Sports or minor pro in the AHL/ECHL.
“It’s about becoming a man,” said Gagnon, who like Walker, also spent five seasons with the Royals from age 16 to 20.
“Victoria is a part of me and always will be. It will probably take to the end of the summer to process this. But it’s a new chapter.”
Hope said Royals head coach Dave Lowry is wanted back for a sixth season with the club. But every summer brings with it some degree of uncertainty with a coach the calibre of Lowry, who admits his goal is to get back to a pro bench.
“I’m not in a hurry to go anywhere. But like anybody, I like to explore opportunities. If one came up, I would have to look at it,” said Lowry, a former Calgary Flames assistant coach.
“I aspire to the next level. At some point, I would like to get back to the NHL. I can’t know if that’s going to happen. It’s something beyond my control. There are a lot of great coaches out there in the AHL, ECHL and across the CHL.”
Said Hope: “It’s overdue for Dave to be at a higher level. So far each summer, we have dodged a bullet.”
Meanwhile, the Royals’ 19-year-olds are Chaz Reddekopp, Tyler Soy, Regan Nagy, Ethan Price, Vladimir Bobylev, Marsel Ibragimov and Loch Morrison.
Reddekopp and Soy are NHL draft picks but do not yet look pro-ready. The persistent veteran forechecker Nagy is a valuable asset up front. Those appear to be the Royals’ three allowable 20-year-olds for next season.
“I want to play pro but I would not be mad about coming back next season as a 20-year-old if it better helps with my development,” said Reddekopp.
“It looks to be a good group here next year.”
That would leave four very able left-over 20-year-old players who Hope can use as trading chips to stock up on younger players.
“We’ll see how it shakes out,” said the Victoria GM. “These things tend to sort themselves out.”
After this injury-compromised Royals season, one that never really seemed to ignite, Hope has his sights set on what could be an explosive 2017-18 with the likes of Matthew Phillips and Dante Hannoun entering their 19-year-old seasons.
“This was a challenging season . . . we’ll put it in the [rear-view] mirror,” said Hope.
“We are excited about next season. We have a solid core of players born in 1998-1999.”
And they know all about dramatic exits and are just itching to finally rewrite the script.