Western Hockey League coaches are damned if they do and damned if they don’t this time of year.
When Victoria Royals star forward Tyler Soy went down in the meaningless final game of the regular season last year, some fans questioned why he was even on the ice at that point with the playoffs looming.
The Royals this season began sitting out key players as soon as they clinched home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. Now people are wondering about that decision as the Royals have lost four consecutive games, including the glaring 8-0 scoreline Wednesday night in Kamloops against the Blazers.
“As a coach, you assess the situation and make the best possible decision you can about balancing rest and being fresh with wanting players to also be executing,” said Royals head coach Dan Price.
There will be no healthy scratches Friday night, Price indicated, at a sold-out Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre as 20-year-olds Ralph Jarratt, Griffen Outhouse and Kody McDonald play the final regular-season home game of their WHL careers on Blanshard. McDonald’s appearance will be pending his injury situation.
It is the front end of the annual home-and-home season-closing set against the Everett Silvertips, with the back end Saturday night in Puget Sound.
This set has an interesting history. Two years ago, the Royals and Silvertips went on to meet in the first round of the playoffs. That series went six games, so the teams played eight consecutive games against each other. Or was it almost 10 consecutive, if you add in the five overtime periods it took to decide Game 6 in the longest game in WHL and CHL history.
Last year’s regular-season ending set against the ’Tips proved costly for Victoria. The Royals lost Montreal Canadiens third-round draft pick Scott Walford for the playoffs on an innocent-looking play during the penultimate game in Everett. That game mattered and was the contest in which Victoria clinched home-ice advantage for its first-round series against the Vancouver Giants. That rendered meaningless the next night’s game against the ’Tips in Victoria in which Soy was injured and subsequently limited to one playoff game.
So, what drama will this year’s Royals versus Silvertips season-ending set produce?
Everett (46-16-4) is the U.S. Division champion and trails Vancouver by two points in the race for the Western Conference regular-season crown, which will have ramifications if the Giants and Silvertips meet in the conference final. The ’Tips come into Friday night on a two-game losing skid.
Victoria (33-29-4) has second place sewn up in the B.C. Division and will have home-ice advantage against Kelowna or Kamloops in a best-of-seven first-round playoff series beginning next Friday on Blanshard.
“Royals and Silvertips are two well-matched teams and this is a perfect tune-up for the playoffs,” said Price.
Meanwhile, Price said he isn’t concerned about the garish 8-0 scoreline Wednesday in Kamloops.
“It sounds like I’m softening the blow, but the scoring chances were even,” he said.
“Kamloops was very opportunistic and converted. And Dylan Garand [the Blazers’ rookie goaltender out of the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey Association] played well and made huge saves.”