The Vancouver Giants and Kamloops Blazers looked formidable last March, but the Victoria Royals were also deep in veteran talent and potentially lurking to spring a spring playoff surprise.
We’ll never know, of course.
The Western Hockey League rules allowing only three of the 10 Royals 19-year-olds from last season to return as 20-year-olds, left the Victoria brain trust with an array of players from which to whittle down. That they chose forward Brandon Cutler as one of the trio, along with defenceman Matthew Smith and goaltender Adam Evanoff, says everything about what management thinks of Cutler.
After the playoffs were cancelled, Cutler waited out the decision during the pandemic-extended off season in his home province of Alberta: “I can only control what I can control.”
A major attribute the coaching staff was looking for, with 12 incoming Royals rookies, was mentorship ability. “Our older guys are leaving a legacy with our young group,” said Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.
It’s a task Cutler has taken to heart. “I believe the future in Victoria is going to be big with these young players,” said Cutler, who turned 21 in January.
“I want to leave a good impression on them. I’ve told them to work hard every day and to not take anything for granted because it goes by so quickly. You don’t want to waste a day. It’s what every over-ager tells the rookies because it’s true.”
It has been an ordeal by fire for the 1-11-1 Royals. “We are trying to stay positive,” said Cutler, who has five goals and 10 points in 13 games.
“It has not been a matter of work ethic. A lot of the bounces in the games, which could have gone either way, have not gone in our favour. But it’s great just to be playing. I was thrilled to get the news there would be a season of some sort.”
Cutler is in his fifth WHL season, two in Red Deer and three with Victoria, and said he is uncertain if his future path in the game leads through the minor pros or U Sports: “I am totally concentrated on this season at the moment.”
That’s fine by the Royals coaches and to the benefit of the team’s rookies.
Victoria plays the Prince George Cougars (4-7-2) on Monday in Kamloops and the Kelowna Rockets (4-2 heading into a late-finishing game Saturday) on Tuesday in Kelowna.
ICE CHIPS: Royals defenceman Noah Lamb is out at least another week while Swiss Under-20 international Keanu Derungs remains day-to-day … Anaheim Ducks first-round draft pick Brayden Tracey is displaying his pedigree with points for Victoria in 10 of the past 11 games with eight goals and 15 points in that run … A story last week in the Times Colonist about the 2021 WHL U-15 draft, to be held in December, was in error. The Royals will not have a first-round pick because it was traded to the Brandon Wheat Kings in the 2018 deal that brought forward Tanner Kaspick to the Island. Kaspick, a 2016 fourth-round NHL draft selection of the St. Louis Blues, is now a pro in the AHL with the Utica Comets, a farm team of both the Blues and the Vancouver Canucks … The Royals’ 2020 first-round U-15 draft-pick Austin Zemlak, selected ninth overall, has been called up, but will not play this week … An Island sporting brothers tradition — from the Patricks, Pedens and Chapmans to the Gaits, Nashes and Courtnalls — will continue with Price confirming forward and hometown Victoria-product Ryan Spizawka will make his WHL debut Monday or Tuesday to join sibling and Royals rookie blueliner Jason Spizawka. It will be the fourth time in WHL history that identical twin brothers have played on the same team.