Royals close out WHL preseason with rare home game

Something will take place tonight that hasn’t happened at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre since March 2020 — a Western Hockey League game as the Victoria Royals close out the preseason against the Prince George Cougars.

The Royals have 27 players still on the roster, with three of them in NHL training camps and unavailable tonight Defenceman Gannon Laroque, selected in the fourth round of the draft this year by San Jose, is in Sharks camp. Forward Tarun Fizer is in Colorado Avalanche camp as a free agent who has moved on from rookie camp to main camp and forward Brayden Tracey, a 2019 first-round draft pick of the Ducks, is in ­Anaheim’s camp.

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The Royals opened the preseason last weekend in Kelowna with 7-3 and 4-1 losses against the Rockets.

“It will be a little bit of a ­different lineup [tonight] with an older group,” said Royals head coach and GM Dan Price.

“It’ll be more like a regular-season game.”

To satisfy B.C. health regulations for indoor sporting events, fans will need to show proof of vaccination and seating will be limited to half capacity (which is 3,503 for the Memorial Centre).

Price said there were several positive takeaways from the opening two games, despite the losses.

“Our younger guys showed they have developed a lot and took the summer seriously in terms of preparation,” said Price.

“Last [pandemic-abbreviated] season wasn’t long but it gave the younger group time to bond and get to know each other.”

The Royals will also get to know the Cougars well, as all the other teams in the B.C. Division. Because of the closed Canada-U.S. border to all but essential travel, the regular season will open with only games against divisional opponents. Games against U.S. Division teams are scheduled to begin in November. During one stretch in October, the Royals and Cougars will play each other six consecutive times.

“These teams will certainly get to know each other,” said Price, of tonight’s visiting Prince George squad.

The Royals’ regular-season opener is next Saturday at the Memorial Centre against the Vancouver Giants, 581 days after the last WHL ­regular-season game on Blanshard Street, which was also against Vancouver.

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