Most of the cavalry has returned and is ready to ride.
Tyler Soy, Matthew Phillips and Jack Walker are all back with the Victoria Royals after stints at National Hockey League training camps. Chad Reddekopp (Los Angeles Kings) was the only remaining player still away at the pro level on Thursday as the team prepares for a pair of games against Kamloops this weekend.
The Blazers (1-1) saddle up for two 7 p.m. encounters at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre tonight and Saturday against the Royals, who are still looking for their first win after being swept at home by Prince George last weekend.
“It’s extremely important for our group,” Royals head coach Dave Lowry said of having his veterans return from the pro level. “Just the presence in the locker-room and the way that they work — it’s something that we missed the first couple of games.”
Not to mention the scoring punch as the Royals collected just a pair of goals in 3-1 and 5-1 losses.
“We knew going into last weekend we were going to have to work to score goals,” said Lowry. “You take Soy’s 46 goals out; Walker, Phillips, [Alex] Forsberg, Joe Hicketts — that’s a lot of offence missing.
“What we had last year was we had guys that came back a year older, a year more mature and they took that step. What we need now is we need the guys that are returning to take that step,” said Lowry.
Forsberg (31 goals and 91 points) and Hicketts (eight goals and 53 assists) have moved on. Soy had 85 points last season, while Walker and Phillips contributed 84 and 76, respectively.
All three are expected to play this weekend and they all know their roles.
“This being my last year, I’m expected to be a leader,” said Walker, who returned from Toronto Maple Leafs camp. “I’m coming back with a mindset that we’re a team that can win and we need to play like that.
“Watching the older guys in Toronto, I’m going to take what I learned from them and try and show the young guys here so that they can be successful moving forward.”
The same goes for Phillips, who was with the Calgary Flames.
“I think it comes down to our older guys being leaders and our younger guys having energy and stepping up as well,” said Phillips. “There are goals. For me, I haven’t put a number on it. I just want to be a leader. Last year I wanted to come in and contribute and this year I want to do more. On some nights I hope to be the leading player and give the chance a good team to win.”
Phillips watched the Royals play last weekend while with the Flames.
“I watched the game Friday and the first two periods on Saturday. It was tough to watch because if we win 10-0 or lose 10-0, I hate not being able to come and play with these guys. So it was tough that way, but I’m ready to be back and go to work,” said the diminutive sniper. “Last weekend we were a bit scrambly, but getting a couple of guys back this weekend will help a lot.”
Walker was in total agreement.
“We can only improve from last weekend. We had a couple of rocky starts a few years back, too, and we ended up being a 100-point team. The first weekend, the guys had a lot to learn from it,” offered Walker.
“We did a lot of good things,” said Lowry. “Obviously we made mistakes. This is a young group and it’s going to be a work in progress. For everyone who said we were going to be one of the favourites, I thought we over-achieved last year and we’re going to have to over-achieve this year if we want to be successful.
“I liked their work ethic [last weekend],” added Lowry. “The power-play hurt, but the penalty-killing didn’t allow a goal, which he thought was exceptional.”
LOOSE PUCKS: Forward Ty Westgard is expected to be out with a hand injury.