The Victoria Royals are 2-0 in the playoffs without forward Kody McDonald in the lineup. That trend will have to continue if the Western Hockey League club is to be successful in the second round of the 2019 playoffs against the Vancouver Giants.
The WHL announced Tuesday that McDonald has been suspended for six games for his intent-to-injure match penalty in the third period of the Royals’ 6-3 loss in Game 4 of the first-round series against the Kamloops Blazers on March 27. McDonald, who was on the Victoria bench at the time, swung his stick at Blazers forward Zane Franklin on the Kamloops bench after a remark by Franklin. The WHL suspended McDonald indefinitely after the incident before Wednesday’s announcement.
After Kamloops tied the series 2-2 that night, Victoria won the next two games to win the series 4-2 sans assistant captain McDonald.
“The WHL takes incidents of this nature very seriously,” WHL commissioner Ron Robison said in a statement. “Actions of this kind are unacceptable to the WHL.”
Taking into account the two games served in the Kamloops series, McDonald will miss the first four games of the next series. He will be eligible to return on Saturday, April 13, for Game 5, if required, of the Royals’ second-round series against the Vancouver Giants.
“We probably think the suspension was longer than it should have been. Others might think it wasn’t long enough. So, maybe the league got it right,” Royals GM Cameron Hope said.
McDonald, 20, was part of the trade on Jan. 3 that sent popular Victoria veteran forward Dante Hannoun, tied for fourth place on the all-time Royals franchise career scoring list, to the Prince Albert Raiders. The personable McDonald became an almost-instant Royals team leader.
“Now we have some clarity. We will rely on Kody’s leadership off the ice — we rely on his opinion on the ice or off — for the first four games of the Vancouver series,” Royals head coach Dan Price said.
“We will take the same mindset forward against Vancouver that allowed us to win the last two games against Kamloops without Kody. We have attacked offensively, and defended, by committee. We can handle Kody’s minutes. We have a lot of forwards who can play a 200-foot game and are comfortable at centre or on wing.”
The Royals will meet the Giants for the second consecutive year in the playoffs. This time it’s the second round after the Royals outlasted the Giants in a seven-game first-round marathon last year.
That was Vancouver’s first playoff appearance in four seasons. Now fully into their rebuild, the Giants are the B.C. Division and Western Conference champions as they beat the Seattle Thunderbirds 4-2 in their opening-round series.
The opening two games of the Victoria-Vancouver series are Friday and Saturday at the Langley Events Centre. The series switches to Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre next Tuesday and Thursday. Further games, if required, would be April 13 in Langley, April 15 in Victoria and April 17 in Langley.