The Victoria Royals have had two games lopped from their original 24-game WHL schedule because the league announced it will not the play all the contests postponed by the Kelowna Rockets’ recent COVID-19 outbreak. Unkind wags around the league might quip that news caused a sigh of relief in Victoria.
The Royals lost their seventh-consecutive game, spiraling to 1-10-1 following a 5-3 loss to the Vancouver Giants (9-3) on Wednesday night in Kelowna.
“This is not what we wanted,” said defenceman Jason Spizawka, among 12 rookies on the rebuilding Royals team.
“It’s tough but we’re staying positive,” added the hometown Victoria product, and 2019 first-round WHL bantam draft pick, before the game.
“This is a great group of guys with a bright future. But none of us will forget this season,” said the Hockey Canada U-17 development camp invitee Spizawka.
It has been an ordeal by fire with the rookies simply thrown right into the fray because the Royals could return only three of last season’s ten 19-year-olds because that’s the WHL limit on 20-year-olds.
“We’re improving but it’s the details,” said Spizawka.
Despite brave preseason talk of aiming to be in the divisional hunt, the Royals brain trust knew there would be learning curve. It’s been made even steeper amid a pandemic-abbreviated season which doesn’t allow much time to rebound from mistakes or setbacks. And what this group needs is time, perhaps more than other rookie-laden clubs. The Kelowna Rockets (3-2), who went all in with veterans to host the eventually cancelled 2020 Memorial Cup, also have 12 rookies and the Prince George Cougars (4-5-2) have 10 rookies and are faring better than Victoria.
“Consistency has been lacking,” said Victoria GM and head coach Dan Price.
He is trying to deflect from his players outside opinions dissecting their lowly standing.
“We are maintaining a very inward focus,” said Price.
Special teams were key Wednesday as the Giants connected on three of nine power plays and the Royals on two of five.
“The was the storyline of the game,” said Price.
“Penalties killied us. Most of our penalties were stick infractions and we can’t afford that.”
Anaheim Ducks NHL first-round draft pick Brayden Tracey scored his eighth goal of the season, and sixth on the power play, for Victoria while captain Tarun Fizer and Ty Yoder added their third each.
Vancouver, which is 4-0 against its coastal rival this season, extended its winning streak to four games. Florida Panthers third-round NHL draft-pick Justin Sourdif, who has been having field days against Victoria, had a goal and two assists for the Giants and has 11 points in four games against the Royals.
Meanwhile, the WHL announced the Royals, Giants, Cougars and Kamloops Blazers will play 22 games and the Rockets 16, down from the scheduled 24 each. All games are being played, without fans, in the dual hubs of Kelowna and Kamloops.
The Royals next game is Friday in Kamloops against the Blazers (8-2).