Victoria Royals hit the road looking to ground Kelowna Rockets

All the marquee power is with the Rockets as the Victoria Royals prepare to face Kelowna for the third time in the last four Western Hockey League games.

That’s what having four players selected in the first two rounds of the 2019 NHL draft will do for you. Lassi Thomson and Nolan Foote were taken in the first round and Kaedan Korczak and Dillon Hamaliuk (acquired via the off-season from the Seattle Thunderbirds) in the second round.

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The Royals answer with a load of undrafted players, albeit 11 who are 19- or 20- year olds. That veteran savvy should begin to count for something soon. It better. That’s what the Royals are banking on and why the team was built this way for this season.

“This is an older, experienced group and there is a lot of confidence within it,” said Victoria head coach Dan Price.

“A lot of our guys feel they have something to prove in terms of being overlooked. A player like [Royals blue-liner] Will Warm has been injured in his career and might not have received the same amount of exposure because of that. Our guys are motivated this season because if the team does well they feel they will get the recognition they deserve.”

Although rosters turn over in the WHL, rivalries endure, and even newer players can instinctively feel it. Victoria and Kelowna have had their moments over the years. There was some unpleasantness in the corner at the final buzzer the previous time the Royals and Rockets met, last week at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

Rockets head coach Adam Foote, the two-time Stanley Cup champion and Olympic gold medallist blue-liner for Canada, was reportedly not pleased with how the minor melee came about.

“It was just in the moment, after a contested two-game set, and I don’t think anything will spill over [into tonight’s game at Kelowna],” said Price.

Especially with Price saying the key for the Royals is to get a good start in the game, something that didn’t happen in the 6-3 loss Saturday night at home to Medicine Hat, as the Tigers scored on their first shot in the first minute.

Kelowna (9-4-2) is undefeated in regulation in four games, with three wins in that run. The Royals (6-7-1) have dropped their last two games, including a 1-0 loss to the Rockets, which followed a 4-3 shootout win.

The Royals will continue their road swing through the Interior by heading north to play the Cougars (4-11-1) on Friday and Saturday in Prince George.

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