The first four or five games does not a season make.
That said, you would rather be the Victoria Royals right now than the Kamloops Blazers.
The Royals moved to 4-0 in the Western Hockey League, dropping the Blazers to 0-5, with a 6-3 decision before 3,447 fans Sunday at Save on Foods Memorial Centre.
“We have a high-quality leadership group and it’s deep,” said Royals rookie head coach Dan Price.
Chief among that group is fourth-year forward Dante Hannoun, who scored a hat-trick Sunday, and has six goals on the season and leads the Royals with 11 points.
“We are a fast team and a smart team,” said Hannoun, the undersized but quick 19-year-old from Delta.
“We are finding the sweet spots on the ice.”
Are they ever. The Royals have outscored the opposition, which so far has consisted of two games each against Kamloops and the Vancouver Giants, by a combined 23-8.
The four wins to start the season tied the franchise record, set in 2015-16, by the Royals team that went on to win the Scotty Munro Trophy as WHL regular-season champions.
Hannoun was a sophomore on that team but refused to be drawn into making comparisons just yet. There is a long way to go.
“I will say we are a close group and we are just going to keep doing what we are doing,” he said.
Although he is five-foot-six, which is probably why he was never drafted by an NHL club, Hannoun is not hesitant to throw around his modest 160 pounds as he also laid on the hit of the game Sunday.
“I thought I would lean into him,” deadpanned Hannoun, about the thundering board check.
Price said he felt something click on the bench after a sluggish 1-1 first period: “Dante decided we were going to take over the game and that he was going to be a big part of that.”
The Royals recorded a couple of career firsts for rookies Sunday as defenceman Matthew Smith scored his first WHL goal, and goaltender Dean McNabb earned his first WHL win, as Royals workhorse regular starter Griffen Outhouse was given a rare day off.
“It was nice to get that out of the way,” said McNabb, who made 28 saves.
“It’s something I’m definitely going to look back on.”
Smith, meanwhile, is blooming into a surprise on the blueline, starting in training camp.
“It was good to get the first one [goal] out of the way,” he said, echoing McNabb’s thoughts.
Smith rode the press box for the first two games and made his WHL debut in Saturday night’s 4-3 Victoria win over Kamloops at the Memorial Centre.
“The plan is to work my way up the depth chart,” said the 17-year-old, out of Saskatoon.
Adding to the theme of firsts, Royals veteran Spencer Gerth scored his first goal for the club Sunday. The depth forward played 47 games for Victoria last season with no goals and one assist. But he is covering a lot of ice this season with his big stride and knows his support role.
“Spencer is an older player developing his game nicely on both sides of the puck,” said Price.
“It was nice to see him rewarded.”
Sophomore Eric Florchuk scored the other Victoria goal. Third-round Washington Capitals draft pick Garrett Pilon, Brodi Stuart and Dallas Stars-signed Swiss defenceman Ondrej Vala responded for Kamloops,
It was a homecoming weekend for the Blazers’ triumvirate of Island players. Kamloops goaltender Dylan Ferguson from Lantzville, signed recently to a three-year NHL entry-level contract by the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights, showed why by making 35 saves in a standout performance in Saturday’s 4-3 Victoria victory (while Max Palaga made 26 saves Sunday for Kamloops).
Blazers blueliners Sean Strange are from Saanich and Nolan Kneen from Duncan.
“It’s cool because we [Kneen, Ferguson and Strange] all grew up within an hour or two drive of each other on the Island. But it’s tough starting 0-5. Yet this is a great group and a close group and we are staying upbeat and staying with the system,” said Kneen, who was invited to the July development camp of the Florida Panthers.
Kneen brought up his rookie season with the 2015-16 Blazers team that started 0-6 but rallied to make the playoffs and take powerful Kelowna to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
Indeed, the first few games do not a season make, which is something the Royals are well advised to heed.
“Victoria is a talented team that takes advantage of your mistakes . . . and we made critical mistakes at critical times this weekend,” said veteran Kamloops coach Don Hay.
“Now we go back to work.”
The Royals, meanwhile, go up to Kelowna on Wednesday for a key early-season showdown with the Rockets (2-0-1) before meeting up again with the Blazers on Friday in Kamloops.
ICE CHIPS: The Royals are still without 20-year-old players, forward Tyler Soy and defenceman Chaz Reddekopp, who are with the AHL affiliates of the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, respectively.