In four years as the Royals’ assistant GM for player personnel, Armstrong helped build the current Royals team, before being named GM of the defending Western Hockey League champion Brandon Wheat Kings in August.
“It’s still a little strange [to be in the other dressing room in the Memorial Centre],” said Armstrong.
Missing from tonight’s game against the Royals will be Armstrong’s injured marquee Wheat Kings player — forward Nolan Patrick, the consensus projected No. 1 pick for the 2017 NHL draft.
“It’s unfortunate [for Victoria fans] because Nolan is a very competitive kid who always wants to play,” said Armstrong.
“It changes the complexion, so we are have challenged our players, and are doing it by committee.”
The Wheat Kings were just about everybody’s pre-season pick as the team to beat in the WHL this season. But they have been uneven at 12-9-3, with a five-game winning streak followed by a current two-game losing skid.
That should sound familiar for a Royals team that is the defending WHL regular-season champion and that is 14-11-2 and also subject to swings with a 6-2 homestand followed by two I-5 losses in Portland and Seattle.
“We’ve been fighting to gain consistency,” said Armstrong, of his Wheaties.
That’s a refrain being echoed down the hall this season in his old Royals dressing room, with Victoria head coach Dave Lowry also lamenting: “Consistency is missing. We need a better sense of urgency and to find out who we are and to identify that.”
But these should be passing issues for two good teams.
“Brandon is deeper than one guy,” said Lowry, saying there isn’t a great deal of comfort to be taken by facing a Wheat Kings team tonight sans Patrick.
Expect, meanwhile, to see a Brandon team in future years to reflect what Armstrong helped build in Victoria and earlier in Portland, the latter where he was head scout of what was a quick and efficient Winterhawks team.
“My thing is always to have a fast team with tempo,” said Armstrong.
“I stay with what I believe works — pace and skill.”
That should sound familiar to Royals fans.
Meanwhile, previous Brandon GM Kelly McCrimmon — still owner of the Wheat Kings but now assistant GM of the NHL expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights — was known as a WHL trade-deadline gunslinger. That, however, is not Armstrong’s style.
“I like to create things through patience. [Victoria GM] Cam Hope was a great mentor to me in that regard.”
Perhaps the prototypical players of the Armstrong era in Victoria are current undersized but quick Royals forwards such as Matthew Phillips, Dante Hannoun, Regan Nagy, Jared Dmytriw and Ryan Peckford.
It speaks volumes that both finalists for 2015-16 WHL rookie of the year award — Phillips of the Royals beat out Noah Gregor of the Moose Jaw Warriors — were 2013 Victoria bantam draft picks under Armstrong. (Gregor was part of the trade for now-graduated Royals defenceman Travis Brown).
“Grant [Armstrong] was a great influence on my career and set me up for success here in Victoria,” said Phillips.
Phillips and company are hoping Armstrong has a little less success on Blanshard tonight than he did in his past incarnation.
“Look at the players Grant brought in here,” noted Lowry.
“He really complemented our [Royals management] group. Grant is a very smart hockey man, and you don’t replace him.”
Patrick’s injury, meanwhile, did not cost the six-foot-three centre an invite as one of 12 WHL players selected to attend the 32-player Canadian team selection camp next month for the 2017 world junior hockey championship beginning Boxing Day in Montreal and Toronto. Patrick is listed as week-to-week with an upper-body injury.
Overlooked was injured Royals forward Tyler Soy, who is listed as out two-to-three weeks, with an upper-body injury.
“If [Soy] was healthy, he would have been in the mix,” said Lowry, Canadian assistant coach for the 2015 world junior tournament and 2016 Canadian head coach.
“But they start camp next week and [Soy] is not currently on the ice.”
Wheat Kings defenceman Kale Clague, who will be in action tonight on Blanshard, is among the 12 WHL players selected for the Canadian camp.
The Royals, meanwhile, have lost one of their better blueliners — Scott Walford — for three weeks with an upper-body issue. Forward Blake Barger remains out two-to-three weeks with an upper-body injury.
LOOSE PUCKS: Following tonight’s game, the Royals will head north to Prince George to face the division-leading Cougars on Friday and Saturday.