If not for a failed Harbour City arena referendum, they might have been the Nanaimo Ice of the Western Hockey League. So instead of a handy Island derby, the Victoria Royals had to bus a long way to Winnipeg to meet the Ice franchise for the first time since its relocation from Cranbrook.
And then only to drop a 5-2 decision Saturday as the spiralling Royals lost for the fourth consecutive game after an 8-1-1 run.
The Ice are playing in a 1,621-seat rink, home to the University of Manitoba Bisons, until a 4,500-seat arena is built in suburban Oak Bluff, Man.
The quarters are only cramped in the stands as the Wayne Fleming Arena features an ice sheet that is wider than most in North America, although it is the regular 200 feet in length. Victoria’s top skaters used the extra space to good advantage in the first period as Gary Haden, on the power play, and Tarun Fizer gave Victoria (25-17-3) a 2-0 lead.
But then the roof of the tiny rink crashed down on the Royals as the Ice (28-16-1) scored five unanswered goals, three on the power play.
“The difference was penalties,” said Royals head coach Dan Price.
“They really tired our penalty kill and wore us out. They use the extra width of the rink well and have the skill to do it.”
The Ice feature Las Vegas Golden Knights prospect Peyton Krebs, the 17th overall selection in the 2019 NHL draft. Krebs had just returned from a torn Achilles tendon last month, which probably cost him as he was cut from the Canadian selection camp ahead of the 2020 world junior championship. But this guy can play, as attested by his three assists Saturday.
“Krebs distributes the puck well, although not all their goals were pretty tonight,” said Price.
The Ice still have a 2020 world junior player in Nino Kinder, who represented his native Germany.
Winnipeg goaltender Liam Hughes was required to make only 19 saves for the victory while Adam Evanoff made 34 saves for Victoria.
The contest was the second for Victoria in its six-game, 5,500-kilometre road swing through the Eastern Division, which continues Tuesday at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon against the Blades