The only reason the lowly Victoria Royals stayed close in many games over the past two seasons was goaltender Tyler Palmer standing up under a hail of rubber.
Palmer has been away from the Western Hockey League club without explanation for two weeks and the Royals are not commenting on the swirling rumours that he has asked for a trade.
“They are just rumours and we have no comment,” said Victoria GM and head coach Dan Price.
The Royals have listed Palmer’s absence under ‘personal leave.’
“These are young players, not professionals, and we take their privacy very seriously. We have granted him personal leave. That’s all I can say,” said Price.
Asked if the team is looking to trade the goaltender, Price responded: “Possibly. We are definitely looking at that position. We have good young prospects and there are other good goalies across the league.”
The WHL trade deadline is Jan. 10.
The situation is similar to that of Steve Passmore, who also faced a deluge of pucks on Blanshard Street as the goaltender of the epically losing WHL Victoria Cougars of the early 1990s, and was mercy-traded late in his junior career to the powerhouse Blazers in Kamloops, where he won a Memorial Cup enroute to playing in the NHL.
The starting job in the Royals crease falls to 17-year-old, six-foot-two rookie Logan Cunningham, who is 0-5 and has a 5.74 goals-against average in seven appearances.
“Logan is growing into his game,” said Price.
The Royals, meanwhile, dealt for a goaltender late Monday night. Kelowna Rockets-signed Nicholas Cristiano is coming to Victoria from the Rockets in exchange for a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2023 WHL prospects draft. The six-foot-one Cristiano, 18, has played four career WHL games for the Rockets and was playing this season on loan with the West Kelowna Warriors of the B.C. Hockey League with a 4.42 goals-against average and 1-2 record in four appearances.
The Royals (3-17-3) have the second-worst winning percentage in the WHL at .196. The league-worst Edmonton Oil Kings (.180) at least have the afterglow of winning the WHL championship last season and going the Memorial Cup before beginning their rebuild this season after heavy graduation. The Royals, meanwhile, missed the playoffs last season and are 10 points adrift of a playoff spot this season with a veteran team.
Victoria has lost five consecutive games, all at home, and seven of its last eight games overall. Its last point, perhaps tellingly, came in a 4-3 overtime loss against the Oil Kings at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
The Royals were blasted 9-5 in their last game Saturday night by the Regina Pats, who boast the consensus top pick for the 2023 NHL draft Connor Bedard. Even discounting Bedard’s hat-trick, Victoria was outscored by an otherwise decidedly average Regina team.
The Royals meet another Eastern Division team tonight at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. The Moose Jaw Warriors are making their first appearance on Blanshard since pre-pandemic in January of 2019. The Warriors (15-9) began their B.C. Division swing with a 5-2 loss in Prince George followed by 4-3 and 3-2 victories in Kelowna and Kamloops.
“The Warriors are a good team that plays really fast and takes advantage of transitions after turnovers,” said Price.