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Depleted Royals hit the road through U.S. Division

Victoria visits Tri-City on Friday
Coach James Patrick's Royals visit the Tri-City Americans on Friday night. (DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST)

There is no bugle-blaring blue line cavalry coming to the ­rescue any time soon for the injury-ravaged Victoria Royals and no wand-waving magic fairy to rush the recovery of ­missing defencemen Austin Zemlak, Ryan Spizawka, Hudson Bjornson and 2024 NHL draft-ranked Nate Misskey, who remain listed week-to-week.

Victoria head coach James Patrick had some simple words of advice for his remaining blue-liners: Talk to each other on the ice, said the ­21-season former NHL defenceman. After the sweep by the ­Portland ­Winterhawks last week at ­Save-on-Foods Memorial ­Centre, Patrick said he wanted his ­re-grouping and suddenly young defence to have learned one thing from watching a ­Winterhawks blue line corps that featured four NHL draft picks: “How well their defence plays together and communicates. Their defence communicates way better than ours. We’ll learn from that and go on to have a real good week.”

That week continues tonight in Kennewick, Washington, against the Tri-City Americans. It is part of a stretch in which the Royals will get to know the Star Spangled Banner as nine of their last 11 regular-season games are against U.S. ­Division opponents, ­beginning with the Winterhawks sweep of the ­Royals last weekend on Blanshard Street and ­continuing tonight in Tri-City, on ­Saturday in Portland against the ­Winterhawks, on Tuesday in ­Spokane against the Chiefs, March 8 in Everett against the Silvertips and March 9 at the Memorial Centre against the Silvertips. The Royals will conclude the regular season this month with two home games each against the Prince George Cougars and Wenatchee Wild.

Although the stretch did not start well against the ­Winterhawks, Patrick said following the two losses that something could have been learned from them: “It was a benchmark playing a team like this [Portland]. Our players can learn from the pace they play at and how strong they are on the puck.”

The Royals have lost three consecutive games and are 2-10 in their last 12 games and have slipped to fifth place in the Western Conference, four points behind fourth-place Wenatchee. The sixth-place Vancouver Giants, 8-2 in their last 10 games, have climbed to within three points of Victoria with two games in hand. But it would still take an epic collapse for Victoria (27-24-8) not to play in the post-season for the first time since 2018-19 after the pandemic scuttled the 2020 and 2021 playoffs and the Royals just plain missed the last two post-seasons in 2022 and 2023.

Eight teams make the conference playoffs and ninth-place Tri-City is 15 points behind Victoria but still within hailing distance of six points behind eighth-place Spokane. It is clear the Americans will be motivated tonight. And just as clear that there are no reinforcements coming for the Royals on the back end. They are just going to have to deal with it — and communicate with each other.

ICE CHIPS: The Royals have a major injury on the front end too. Czech-import forward and two-time world junior medallist Robin Sapousek, injured in the world junior tournament in January in Sweden, has returned to Victoria but remains listed as month-to-month.