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Royals edge Giants on a night of Western Hockey League nostalgia

The Victoria Royals won the game 3-2 with a dramatic goal from Evan Patrician, who scored against his former Vancouver club with just 12 seconds remaining in the third period.
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The fans on hand for the Western Hockey League game between the Victoria Royals and Vancouver Giants on Saturday night at the Langley Events Centre could have been excused for feeling a bit nostalgic.

There was a lot of history on display, including the Memorial Cup, as the Giants honoured the 50th anniversary of the WHL (then known as the Western Canada Hockey League) coming to B.C. in 1971-72 with the expansion Victoria Cougars and Vancouver Nats and the Estevan Bruins moving from Saskatchewan to New Westminster.

It set up a physical and often rowdy rivalry between Victoria and New Westminster in the brawling and bench-clearing era of hockey that took its cue at the top from the two-time Stanley Cup-champion Philadelphia Flyers, known as the Broad Street Bullies. (The Nats, meanwhile, are now the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL.)

On hand for the Royals-Giants game, won 3-2 by Victoria, were New Westminster Bruins alumni forwards Stan Smyl and Mark Lofthouse and coach Ernie (Punch) McLean, along with New Westminster-born Kamloops Chiefs WHL alumnus Ryan Walter.

“Fifty years ago, the Estevan Bruins relocated to New Westminster giving B.C. its first WCHL franchise, along with the Vancouver Nats and the Victoria Cougars,” said Dale Saip, Vancouver Giants senior vice-president, in a statement.

”This weekend, we’re excited to celebrate that history [which] helped blaze the trail for future B.C.-based teams to find championship success in the WHL.”

The night might have evoked the rough-and-tumble 1970s, but the Giants and Royals stuck mostly to hockey. Victoria got the winning goal from Evan Patrician, who scored against his former Vancouver club with just 12 seconds remaining in the third period. Bailey Peach and captain Tarun Fizer scored the other Royals goals.

The Royals (2-11-2) halted their club-record winless streak at 12 games after breaking the previous club standard of 11 from 2013. The Giants lost for the fourth consecutive time in falling to 7-7-1.

“We approach it as if we are 0-0 [on the season] and then try to win the month,” said Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.

The Royals’ scheduled game Friday in Kamloops against the Blazers was postponed to Feb. 16 due to the current impassability of roads. That followed the postponed Royals’ games from last weekend against the Spokane Chiefs after Chiefs players testing positive for COVID-19. Those games will now be played Jan. 11-12 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

“We have been able to get in quality practice time and work on things,” Price said of the ample amount of training time his club has had over the past two weeks.

“Our injured players have had time to recover. The time has been helpful in getting to know what our team is all about.”

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 versus the Everett Silvertips, who were undefeated heading into Saturday at 13-0-1 and ranked No. 2 in the CHL top-10 poll.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com