Red-hot Victoria Royals hope to keep Vancouver Giants at bay

That’s what you call returning in style.

Victoria Royals forward Tarun Fizer scored a hat-trick after missing the previous four games to an upper-body injury.

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There isn’t much time to enjoy the 6-1 victory Wednesday night at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre over the visiting Tri-City Americans, with back-to-back games looming against the Vancouver Giants tonight at the Langley Events Centre and Saturday back on the Island at the Memorial Centre.

“It sucked having to be out but the guys still picked up seven of a possible eight points while I was gone,” said Fizer.

It’s part of a Royals’ run of 8-1-1, which is tied with the Edmonton Oil Kings for the second-best record in the Western Hockey League over the last 10 games after the Portland Winterhawks’ 8-0-2.

“If we stay strong together, we can be a deadly team,” said Fizer.

“It’s obviously a media story when you’re considered the underdogs [which Victoria was to begin the season].”

It isn’t lost on Fizer who the Royals face tonight and Saturday, and what the Giants did last season in making the league final.

“We feel we can make a good run this year,” said Fizer.

The underachieving Giants (17-18-4), meanwhile, are winless in five games at 0-3-2. Much more was expected of a club that returned a decent amount of players from last season’s team that came within a Dante Hannoun overtime goal for the Prince Albert Raiders in Game 7 of the WHL final.

The Giants’ roster includes Colorado Avalanche-prospect Bowen Byram, the fourth overall selection in the 2019 NHL draft and 2020 world junior champion with Canada, and fellow NHL-drafted players Milos Roman (Calgary Flames), Alex Kannok Leipert (Washington Capitals), former Royals forward Eric Florchuk (Capitals) and goaltenders David Tendeck (Arizona Coyotes) and Trent Miner (Avalanche). In addition, Justin Sourdif is ranked 23rd among North American skaters and Cole Shepard 153rd for the 2020 NHL draft.

Yet, the previously-unheralded Royals (25-13-3) are 15 points ahead of the Giants. Even with Vancouver having two games in hand, few could have predicted that in September.

“There’s no magic to it,” said Royals head coach Dan Price.

“It’s just a lot of hard work and preparation.”

Having Fizer back and healthy is not going to hurt the cause. The five-foot-11 centre, who turns 19 on March 1, has been overlooked in the NHL draft but has 14 goals and 36 points in 38 games this season and plays a pro-type style.

“[Fizer] is a complete, 200-foot player,” said Price.

“He is a future pro. He is going to make money playing hockey.”

It will have to start at the AHL/ECHL levels, or Europe, but Fizer appears to have the tools to eventually turn pro.

More clearly defined with those sorts of skill sets is fellow Royals forward Brayden Tracey, who has two goals and six points for Victoria in the four games since being acquired last week from the Moose Jaw Warriors. Unlike Fizer, Tracey was most definitely noticed for the NHL draft and was selected in the first round last year by the Anaheim Ducks.

“[Tracey] is a special player,” said Fizer. “He sees it all. His vision on the ice is something else.”

That’s why hearts went into throats at the Memorial Centre late in the first period Wednesday night when Tracey had to be helped off the ice after going down hard following a hit that drew for Tri-City defenceman Bryan McAndrews a five-minute major penalty for kneeing and a game misconduct.

The Royals have had a history of significant injuries to key players. So the small crowd that braved the rare Victoria snow event, not to mention the Royals themselves, breathed a collective sigh of relief when Tracey returned to the game in the second period.

ICE CHIPS: Victoria product and 20-year-old forward Tyler Preziuso has six goals and eight points in 11 games for Vancouver since being acquired by the Giants following five productive WHL seasons with the Medicine Hat Tigers.

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