Perhaps no player in the Victoria Royals training camp better represents the changing nature of elite-level hockey development than forward Carter Loney.
Canadian major-junior is no longer the surest route to the pros, as evidenced by the increasing number of players in recent years in the NHL draft coming out of Europe, U.S. collegiate NCAA and U.S. junior leagues, high schools and the U.S. U-18 program.
Loney, the Royals 10th round pick in the 2017 WHL bantam draft, is a bit of an emerging gem. Loney played in the annual Blue-White intra-squad game Wednesday night at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, which was won 4-3 in a shootout by his Team Blue squad. Because he is also considering the NCAA, he will not play when the WHL exhibition seasons starts for the Royals, on Friday in Kelowna against the Rockets and Saturday in Kamloops against the Blazers, because doing so would jeopardize his NCAA eligibility.
“My first option right now is [NCAA] Div. 1 because I feel it’s a better development path for me,” said Loney.
“The lesser number of games they play in college means I can spend more time in the weight room to get stronger, because I’m not a big player [five-foot-nine, 154-pounds].”
The Royals still believe there is a chance Loney could choose them, and they would love to have him in future seasons.
“I’m not closing any doors,” said Loney.
“If I did play WHL, this is definitely the place I would play it, because Victoria is a very good organization and the competition in this camp has been great.”
Loney has not picked a school yet but said he has been contacted by Minnesota-Duluth and Bemidji State. There’s a lot of time left for that decision for the 16-year-old forward, who will go back to play at RHA Academy in Winnipeg this season.
A dual citizen, Loney has attended the USA Hockey Select 15 and Select 16 camps. He was born in Columbus, Ohio, during his dad’s well-travelled hockey career. Brian Loney was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in 1992 and played 12 games for the Canucks in 1995-96 and played in the AHL for Syracuse Crunch, the ECHL for the Greensboro Generals and in Germany for the Kassel Huskies, Augsburg Panthers and Bad Nauheim EC.
Brian Loney started in the NCAA at Ohio State before playing in the WHL for the Red Deer Rebels. Like father like son? The Royals are hoping so.
“My dad has given my a lot of smart advice about the various paths available to me in hockey,” said the younger Loney.
Meanwhile, the Royals will be young this season, meaning several players will have to play beyond their years. Among them is sophomore forward Dino Kambeitz.
“It’s cool to be thought of as a leader on this team,” said Kambeitz, who was also a standout lacrosse player in his native Colorado.
“I learned a lot about doing the right things on the ice last season from Tanner Kaspick and Noah Gregor [NHL-signed players who will be entering the camps this fall of the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks, respectively]. I watched how those guys prepared.”
How players such as Kambeitz, a physical forward with 11 goals and 18 points as a rookie, grow into their roles will be crucial to Victoria’s fortunes this season.
“I understand the word rebuild is being used about our team but I think people underestimate and will be surprised by how good we are.”
Yet, the rebuild plotline sticks to this Royals training camp like wildfire smoke did to the Island this summer.
“A lot of younger guys are going to have to step up into key roles and they are going to be thrown into a lot of minutes,” said Royals assistant coach and 19-season NHL defenceman Doug Bodger from Chemainus.
“But the potential is there.”
The veterans, such as 20-year-olds Dante Hannoun and Ralph Jarratt, will play massive mentorship roles this season.
“I don’t think in terms of rebuild. It’s just a younger team, that’s all” said blue-liner Jarratt.
“I have a little more responsibility as a mentor on a young team, with the defence specifically, but also the whole team in general. I will remember what the older players taught me when I was younger and apply that.”
Jarratt’s last Blue-White game Wednesday was also a time for reflection.
“I remember the 20-year-olds — Travis Brown, Austin Carroll and Brandon Magee — when I was 16, saying to enjoy it because it goes by so quickly,” he said.
Bodger is expecting a boffo 20-year-old season on the blue line for Jarratt.
“He simplified his game last season and it really showed,” said Bodger.
“Ralph didn’t get a lot of points but he was our best defenceman by keeping it simple.”
SLAP SHOTS: Riley Zimmerman, Blake Bentham and D-Jay Jerome had the goals for the victorious Blue side in Wednesday’s intra-squad game. Kaid Oliver, Logan Valkama and Tyus Gent had the Team White markers.