The Victoria Royals are driving right into a messy situation in Prince George. It has nothing to do with the winter road conditions up north which, after all, are probably no worse right now than on the Island.
The mess is inside CN Centre, where the Royals will skate Friday night and Saturday against the reeling Cougars.
The Prince George Western Hockey League team is in a state. The Cougars fired head coach and 14-season NHLer Richard Matvichuk on Feb. 6 after 11 consecutive losses.
Cougars GM and 11-season NHLer Mark Lamb assumed the head coaching mantle on an interim basis. Not that it matters much. The Cougars are now winless in 13 games. At 16-32-6, and 10 points adrift of the last wild-card berth, the B.C. Division and Western Conference last-place Cougars have about as much chance of making the playoffs as Willows Beach has of seeing picnic parties this weekend.
A column last week by Neil Godbout, Prince George Citizen editor-in-chief, was headlined: “Are we the next Cranbrook?” It referenced falling attendance in Prince George and the recently announced move of the WHL’s Kootenay Ice to Winnipeg next season.
Not that old-school Victoria fans will weep over the situation. Many with long and bitter memories still hold a grudge over the move of the Victoria Cougars to Prince George in 1994-95.
So there’s still a lot of baggage which comes with a Royals-Cougars tilt.
The Royals, second in the B.C. Division at 27-23-3, must guard against complacency this weekend in Prince George. The Cougars’ skid has to end some time and no opposition team wants to have that pinned on them.
“We expect two hard games because we know the Cougars will be playing with desperation,” said Royals head coach Dan Price.
The Royals, meanwhile, were very unhappy with Wednesday’s 6-1 loss in Kamloops to the Blazers.
“I felt the team was ready. But it wasn’t from the start, and there were too many fundamental breakdowns [in a 4-0 Kamloops first period]. I take responsibility for that,” Price said.
“I know our guys are going to come out hungry in Prince George.”