It’s all about perspective as the Victoria Royals visit the Rockets in Kelowna tonight with just one point separating the teams in the WHL B.C. Division table.
Kelowna is 10-8-2 with people wondering what’s wrong with the Rockets? Victoria is 10-7-1, and on a four-game winning streak, with fans suddenly asking what are the Royals doing right?
That’s because the season expectations for the Rockets were so much higher than they were for the Royals. But here they are with the Royals bearing down on the B.C. Division third-place Rockets and holding two games in hand as they look to continue turning the table within the table. Victoria is also only three points behind the B.C. second-place Vancouver Giants with four games in hand and with a better winning percentage at .583 than both the vaunted Giants (.545) and Rockets (.550).
Not that it’s much of a discussion point with the Royals.
“We don’t talk about the standings in our dressing room,” said Victoria captain Phillip Schultz.
“I didn’t even know what Lethbridge’s record was going into our last game [3-2 victory Friday over the 14-6-3 Hurricanes] until I looked it up later.”
The Royals have stayed in the mix against the favoured B.C. Division heavyweights Kelowna, Vancouver and Kamloops Blazers by looking inward.
“We can’t worry about the opposition,” said Victoria forward Gary Haden.
“We focus on what we can do.”
The Rockets have three players selected in the first two rounds of the 2019 NHL draft. Nolan Foote was taken in the first round and Kaedan Korczak and Dillon Hamaliuk (the latter acquired via the off-season from the Seattle Thunderbirds) in the second round. That’s with 2019 NHL first-round selection Lassi Thomson opting to leave the Rockets to return to play in Finland this season.
The Royals don’t have that NHL draft pedigree. What they do have, with 11 in total, are more 19-or 20-year olds than most teams in the division. That veteran savvy has begun to count for something and the Rockets, Giants and Blazers are beginning to realize they discount the Royals at their own peril in the divisional race. Victoria is proving it will not be an easy out this season.
“We don’t really have first, second, third or fourth lines,” noted Haden, one of several newcomers with WHL experience that were added to the Royals lineup during the off-season.
“We just roll the lines through. We have tons of depth, as tends to be a feature of older teams.”
And the older guys are doing what they are supposed to do. It is an adage in junior hockey that no matter how many 18-year-old NHL draft prospects are on the roster, a team will only go as far that season as its 20-year-olds take it.
Victoria’s three allowable over-agers were all in evidence in the last outing. Second-star Haden had a goal and assist, defenceman Will Warm two assists and goaltender and first-star Shane Farkas 39 saves in the 3-2 win over a very good Lethbridge team loaded with talented players such as overall seventh-selection 2019 NHL draft pick Dylan Cozens.
None of Victoria’s three 20-year-olds were on the team last season.
“We’re really starting to feel that veteran leadership show its maturity, calmness and poise,” said Royals head coach Dan Price.
“Especially as the guys, who have come from different places, are getting to know each other.”
Meanwhile, Victoria defenceman Jacob Herauf will sit out his one-game suspension tonight for a kneeing major penalty in the game against Lethbridge. Also not making the trip to Kelowna, but due to injuries, are defenceman Noah Lamb and forward Carson Miller.
The Rockets’ rookie import find Pavel Novak, the Czech who has 10 goals and 21 points, is suspended eight games for a checking-from-behind major.
ICE CHIPS: After the game in Kelowna, the Royals will return home to host the Edmonton Oil Kings on Friday night at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.