If you’re 20 and still in junior hockey, it means you have likely been overlooked so far by the pros. But 20-year-olds, with their cagey experience, are worth their weight in pucks, especially since major-junior teams are only allowed three of them.
Their value was evident over the weekend as the Victoria Royals’ 20-year-old trio of Evan Patrician, Bailey Peach and Tarun Fizer scored the goals in the 3-2 Western Hockey League victory over the Vancouver Giants at the Langley Events Centre.
Patrician scored the winner with 12 seconds remaining in the third period to send the Giants (7-7-1) tumbling to their fourth consecutive loss.
“Our 20-year-old veterans have been tremendous in setting the tone for our whole group,” said Royals GM and head coach Dan Price. “Our veteran leadership group has created its own identity.”
The Royals (2-11-2) halted their club-record winless streak at 12 games after breaking the previous club standard of 11 from 2013. After the worst start in franchise history, the Royals now have points from three of their last four games. Don’t look now but Victoria, still at the foot of the table in the 22-team WHL, is four points out of a playoff placing in the Western Conference.
Price, ever the buoyant optimist with a personality to match, has never lost hope or focus through a jarringly harsh Royals rebuild which began last spring with a WHL-worst placing in the pandemic-abbreviated 2020-21 season. “We approach it as if we are 0-0 [on the season] and then try to win the month,” said Price.
There has been a glimmer over the last four games but the Royals must keep it up in order to not lose touch with the bottom pack in the Western Conference.
That task doesn’t get any easier. The next game for Victoria, which will be the first against a U.S. Division opponent in 20 months because of the pandemic, is Friday night at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre versus the Everett Silvertips, who are undefeated at 15-0-1 and ranked No. 2 in the CHL top-10 poll.