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Sense of 'unfinished business' as Victoria Royals will open season against Chiefs

The Victoria Royals’ ­home-opening weekend for the 2022-23 Western Hockey League season, on Sept. 23-24 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, couldn’t be more bitterly ironic.
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The Victoria Royals’ ­home-opening weekend for the 2022-23 Western Hockey League season, on Sept. 23-24 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, couldn’t be more bitterly ironic.

The opponents will be the Spokane Chiefs, who beat the Royals in the final game of the 2021-22 season at the Memorial Centre to deny Victoria a playoff berth.

“The guys are going to be excited and pumped for this match-up,” said Royals defenceman Gannon Laroque.

“It didn’t end the way we wanted against them last season, and everybody remembers that, so these are going to be two fun games to start off against the Chiefs.”

Victoria needed to sweep the final two-game set in April against Spokane in order to advance to the post-season, and won the first tilt, before the Chiefs won the second game. Laroque said that it coming down to the wire was a lesson in itself to not leave yourself in such a precarious position: “You learn that even over 68 games, every game and point matters.”

It has been nothing but good news for Laroque, however, since the dispiriting final-weekend set against the Chiefs. During the off-season, the emerging blue-liner was signed to an entry-level NHL contract by the San Jose Sharks, named captain of the Royals for next season and invited to the Canadian world junior team selection camp next month in Calgary for the 2023 world juniors in Halifax and Moncton.

“This is the largest group of returning players we’ll have since my time in Victoria, and there’s a feeling of unfinished business,” said Royals GM and head coach Dan Price, about being drawn against Spokane for the home opener.

The WHL on Monday released the opening dates for the 2022-23 season for each of its 22 teams. The remainder of the schedule will be unveiled in the first week of July.

The WHL preseason ­schedule, meanwhile, has been announced with Victoria to play four ­exhibition games, but none at home. The Royals begin the preseason Sept. 10 against the Prince George Cougars at Jon Baillie Arena in Port Coquitlam and continue Sept. 11 against the Vancouver Giants at the Langley Events Centre, Sept. 13 against the Rockets at Prospera Place in Kelowna and conclude Sept. 14 at the Sandman Centre in ­Kamloops against the Blazers.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com