Neil Young observed that rust never sleeps. It certainly doesn’t and is insidiously relentless when inactivity occurs.
So fans will know what Victoria Royals defenceman Scott Walford means when he talks about “getting rid of the rust.”
The Western Hockey League certainly believes he has done just that in naming the third-round Montreal Canadiens draft pick to the WHL team that will play the Russian junior team Nov. 5 in Kamloops and Nov. 6 in Langley before the Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior League also host the Russians in the annual CIBC Super Series.
Walford, who missed the playoffs last spring and was on the shelf all summer after shoulder surgery, becomes the fourth player in the eight-season Royals era to play for the WHL in the series against the Russians following Matthew Phillips last year, Tyler Soy and Joe Hicketts twice.
Walford will join a loaded WHL blue line that includes first-round NHL draft pick Ty Smith of the Spokane Chiefs, second-round Canucks selection Jett Woo of the Moose Jaw Warriors, second-round Canadiens prospect Josh Brook of the Warriors, second-round Pittsburgh Penguins selection Calen Addison of the Lethbridge Hurricanes and projected 2019 first-round NHL draft lottery pick Bowen Byram of the Vancouver Giants.
But first up for Walford is a set tonight and Saturday against the struggling Kelowna Rockets at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
Asked about his return from the lengthy lay-off, Walford replied it’s “been better than I expected it to be and a lot of little things are starting to come together.”
But timing takes time to get back. The native of Coquitlam has four assists and eight penalty minutes in seven games for the Royals. If his puck handling still needs to have some of the rust knocked off it, the six-foot-two Walford’s long arms and spidery reach have been invaluable in keeping incoming opposition puck carriers off to the sides.
“Each game out has felt a lot better,” said Walford, following a practice this week.
Walford’s veteran presence has helped bolster a surprising start for a young Victoria team (8-1 and No. 4 in the Canadian Hockey League top-10 ranking) that few expected much of this season.
“We’re the underdogs in the division but we like that and embrace that role,” said Walford.
“What we have always done well in this organization is to play together as a team. It started with the foundation [former five-season Royals head coach] Dave Lowry laid and it’s been a smooth transition to [sophomore head coach] Dan Price. We focus on the details more than anyone outside this organization can imagine.”
Walford used an NHL example.
“We play a Las Vegas [Golden Knights] team system. That can go a long way, as we’ve seen.”
While the Royals have thrived this season, the annual B.C. Division powerhouse Rockets are last in the Western Conference and second-to-last in the WHL at 2-9 after graduating last season’s top four scorers — Dillon Dube, Kole Lind, Carsen Twarynski and defenceman Cal Foote — to pro hockey.
Yet, the dismal start is still startling, considering Kelowna has five players listed by Central Scouting for the 2019 NHL draft, tying with the London Knights for the most among CHL teams. Included in that list is projected Rockets first-rounder Nolan Foote. This is the core group the Rockets will build around for the 2020 Memorial Cup, when Kelowna hosts the CHL major-junior championship tournament. That this group has been slow to emerge has become a talking point league-wide, especially since the Rockets have only missed the playoffs once in 23 seasons, and will need to start putting together some wins to avoid that rare fate.