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Royals Lunar New Year jerseys have special meaning for Spizawka

Victoria hosts Kelowna on Friday and Saturday
Ryan Spizawka and the Royals host the Rockets on Friday night. (ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST)

The Victoria Royals’ jerseys this weekend in honour of Chinese New Year will be of special significance for defenceman Ryan Spizawka, who is of Chinese descent on his mother Maureen’s side of the family.

“Growing up we would have the whole family for pot-luck get-togethers, make dumplings, and go down to Chinatown and watch the dragon dance,” said the veteran Royals rearguard.

“Hopefully we can celebrate this weekend with wins. The dragon patch on the shoulder looks pretty cool.”

The third-season Royal is from Victoria and a rare Western Hockey League player who gets to play in his hometown in what is a draft league. Not only that, he got to play on the Royals with his twin brother Jason Spizawka, a former first-round WHL draft pick of the Royals who is now pursuing his schooling.

The Spizawkas grew up with the red envelopes this time of year: “They are considered lucky and usually have money inside, which is always nice, and some candy,” said Ryan.

The Royals will be looking for some of that luck to rub off as they meet the Kelowna Rockets (24-26-3) Friday and Saturday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. The Royals (25-21-8) need it after going 2-7-4 in their last 13 games as they deal with an acute rash of injuries.

“It is a lot of [playing] minutes but we are rising to the challenge and hopefully we push through it going forward,” said Ryan Spizawka.

“There are no excuses. We have to stick to our system. What has been costing us lately are inopportune and unfortunate-timed mistakes that other teams have been able to capitalize on. We haven’t been able to do the same thing. What it’s going to take is a clean game from us with work ethic and winning the battles for the puck. We can’t win games if we don’t have the puck and hold onto it. We have to get some points here and these are really important games this weekend. Every point matters. A couple of years ago we missed the playoffs by just one point.”

Spizawka has emerged as vacuum when it comes to attracting the puck on opposition shots and blocking them.

“Blocking shots is something in which I take a lot of pride,” he said.

“I am trying to soak in some wise words from [Royals head coach] James Patrick, who had a pretty good career in the NHL as a defenceman. I get a lot of pointers from him about where to be and always wanting the puck and about work ethic and what it takes to be successful.”

Spizawka is Ukrainian on his dad Tim’s side of the family.

“Perogies and cabbage rolls and all that growing up,” he said.

Although there is no family remaining in Ukraine, Spizawka is cognizant of the situation there with the Russian invasion: “It’s not a good thing going on and we’re just keeping an eye on it.”