The Victoria Royals, continuing to defy their doubters, have risen to No. 4 in the Canadian Hockey League top-10 poll released Wednesday.
The Royals, labelled by many prognosticators as being in a rebuilding mode, were an honourable mention last week. They climbed dramatically after weekend wins in Kelowna and Kamloops moved Victoria to a surprising 6-0 start to the Western Hockey League season.
It’s a perch on which few expected to see the Royals this season. The torrid start has some people talking about a possible reprise of 2015-16, a season in which Victoria also cast aside modest pre-season predictions and went on to win the Scotty Munro Trophy as WHL regular-season champion.
“It is a testament to how our coaching staff has done a great job of getting the players ready to play,” said Victoria general manager Cameron Hope.
The Royals have an uncanny history of fast starts, which have held them in good stead when things even out later in seasons, as they invariably do. Victoria was 7-0 last season, and 4-0 and 7-1 in 2015-16.
“I don’t think there’s been a common denominator to those starts, other than readiness,” Hope said.
“Luck plays a part in it. And we’ve had key players playing well in this early stretch, especially our 20-year-olds [goaltender] Griffen Outhouse, [forward] Dante Hannoun and [defenceman] Ralph Jarratt before he got injured.”
Hope realizes that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
“It’s nice to get the recognition, but let’s not forget, we were ranked No. 1 in the CHL at this point last season,” he said.
Victoria went on to have a fairly strong 2017-18 season, but tumbled out of the national top 10. It never reached that heady height again in placing second in the B.C. Division behind the Kelowna Rockets.
Ranked No. 7 nationally in the CHL poll this week are the Vancouver Giants (6-1), which sets up nicely the first season meeting between the cross-strait rivals Saturday and Sunday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
“The Giants, on paper, are the best team in the B.C. Division,” Hope acknowledged.
“They have elite talent and can beat anybody in the WHL. This weekend set is going to be a great measuring stick for us.”
Ranked No. 1 in the CHL are the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, who dropped the fellow Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and previously top-ranked ranked Halifax Mooseheads to No. 3.
Marc Habscheid’s Prince Albert Raiders (8-1) are the top-rated WHL team at No. 2, with the Royals at No. 4, Giants at No. 7 and Brandon Wheat Kings (4-0-1) and Saskatoon Blades (6-2) awarded honourable mentions.