It is described in sports as a championship window and it has slammed shut on the Kamloops Blazers with NHL first-, second- or third-round draft picks Connor Zary, Logan Stankoven, Caedan Bankier, Ollen Zellweger plus Canada world junior championship gold-medallist goaltender Dylan Garand of Langford graduating over the last couple of Western Hockey League seasons.
The Blazers gave it a try, even hosting the Memorial Cup last season, but fell short of the championship the club coveted. One player, however, remained hanging on the sill after the window closed and the Blazers dealt with him Friday by trading second-round Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick Fraser Minten to 2023-24 contender Saskatoon for the Blades’ first-round picks in the 2024 and 2025 WHL prospects drafts, a fourth-rounder in 2024 and hometown Kamloops forward Jordan Keller. The Blazers (6-13-5) have 13 new players and are clearly rebuilding for the future.
But that doesn’t mean the Victoria Royals (13-10-2) can take eight points for granted as they meet the Blazers four consecutive times, beginning tonight and Wednesday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, and Friday and Sunday in Kamloops.
Royals head coach James Patrick related a story about following his nephew, second-overall NHL draft pick Nolan Patrick on the then-powerhouse Brandon Wheat Kings, and wondering why they always had trouble with a very young Swift Current Broncos team. That Broncos team was building for the future and won the WHL championship three years later in 2018.
“I always go back to that because it was as clear as can be,” said James Patrick.
“Swift Current had all 16-, 17-year olds [against his nephew] but oh my god did they work. Brandon had a top-end team and led the Eastern Conference by a mile but that young [Broncos] team out-worked them and out-played them [in a game that Patrick recalled].”
There-in is a message to his Royals team this week.
“The Blazers have young players and are building for the future but they also still have some really important veteran players who know their way around this league. We can’t even go down that street that this might be easy,” said Patrick.
“For me, it’s going to be how hard we compete because we didn’t compete hard enough last game [8-1 loss in Spokane on Saturday]. In certain areas, we have to be better and that’s where it’s going to start.”
The message sunk in during a spirited practice Monday at the Memorial Centre.
“Bouncing back [from Spokane] in these four games against Kamloops is huge,” said Royals defenceman Nate Misskey.
“We need all four of these games to be in the win column and I think we can do it. The battle and compete is going to decide who wins these games. We can’t take it lightly. We’re a good enough team to battle with them and beat them but we have to work and do our jobs and play to our systems,” added Misskey, who skated in the rookie training camp of the Edmonton Oilers.
“Four games against one team and you start to figure out what guys do. We had a good practice today and are ready [for the week].”