No need to feel blue this weekend, especially if blue line play is your thing. Ty Smith and Scott Walford were teammates this week on the Western Hockey League team that split the two-game set against the Russian junior selects in Kamloops and Langley.
It’s back to club play tonight for the pair as they go head-to-head tonight and Saturday night when NHL first-round draft pick Smith and the Spokane Chiefs play Walford and the Victoria Royals at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
Smith was the first WHL player chosen in the 2018 draft, going 17th overall to the New Jersey Devils. Walford was a third-round selection of the Montreal Canadiens in 2017.
“[Smith] is a phenomenal defenceman and very offensive,” said Walford.
That is attested by Smith’s impressive 73 points last season from the rearguard position and 22 points in just 14 games this season.
“He is very skilled but also very composed and poised,” added Walford, about his brief-time teammate Smith, who is now again an opponent.
It’s a given Smith will be in the Canadian selection camp next month at Naden and The Q Centre, and will likely make the team for the 2019 IIHF world junior championship to take place in Victoria and Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
“We have to be aware of [Smith] because he is super dynamic and a shifty guy who is hard to get the body on,” said Royals forward Dino Kambeitz.
“Our game plan is to shut him down and I think we can do it.”
Walford, meanwhile, is on the bubble as to whether he will receive an invite to the Canadian junior team selection camp. He put his best skate forward this week for the WHL select team in the set against the Russians.
“It was fast and competitive and was an awesome experience that helped me grow as a player, which is something I bring back with me to Victoria,” he said.
“The first game was my better game overall but the third period of the second game was my best period. I hope I left a good impression [with Canadian selectors] showing that I can play all three ends [defensive, offensive and special teams].”
The other big plotline heading into the Victoria-Spokane set is the injury situation involving key players. Royals veteran 20-year-old defenceman Ralph Jarratt is in a foot cast and out four to six weeks. In better news for Victoria, previously injured forwards Dante Hannoun and Kaid Oliver were both skating full-speed in practice Thursday and neither was wearing a yellow no-hit jersey. Oliver, who has a team-leading 11 goals and 18 points in 13 games, is good to go tonight after missing the last game in Portland. Hannoun had not yet officially been cleared by Royals medical staff but appeared ready for a return after missing three games. He has six goals and 13 points in 11 games.
“Dante brings leadership on the ice and can get on the scoresheet,” said Kambeitz.
Spokane will be missing a big name. Los Angeles Kings’ second round draft pick Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who began the season with five games in the NHL and his career first assist for the Kings and five games in the AHL with two assists for Ontario Reign, is reported by Bob McKenzie of TSN to be preparing for wrist surgery and will be out six to eight weeks after scoring two goals in two games back down with Spokane. That is a massive blow, not only for the Chiefs, but also potentially for the Canadian junior team if Anderson-Dolan can’t make it back in time for the world championship tournament.
Both the Royals (9-5) and Chiefs (8-6-3) have lost their last two games, with former No. 7 Victoria tumbling out of the CHL national top-10 poll this week.