It will be a tale of two routes for Victoria Royals forwards Keanu Derungs and Tarun Fizer as they prepare for their abbreviated 24-game 2021 Western Hockey League season beginning March 26.
The WHL B.C. Division was given the go-ahead Monday to play by the provincial government. The B.C. Division will be in two bubbles without fans, with the Royals and host Rockets based in Kelowna, and the Vancouver Giants, Prince George Cougars and host Blazers based in Kamloops.
Players begin self-quarantining Saturday and will report to their hubs in Kelowna or Kamloops on March 13, where they will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival followed by an additional quarantine period.
Players, coaches and staff will undertake a second COVID test before training camp begins and be tested regularly during the season. The schedule will be released later.
Fizer, like most of the Royals, hasn’t played since the WHL suspended operations last March in the final week of the 2019-20 regular season with the playoffs also cancelled. Among the rare Royals exceptions, in terms of playing time during the pandemic, has been Derungs.
The import started the season with 16 games on loan from the Royals to EVZ Academy of the Swiss pro second division before representing Switzerland at the 2021 world junior championship in the Edmonton bubble.
“I’m excited and happy to hear the news we will have a season. I am one of the lucky guys and was able to at least play some games [during the pandemic],” said Derungs, who came to stay with his billets in Victoria following the world juniors.
“I was fortunate and can’t believe that most of my Victoria teammates have not played for an entire year,” said Derungs, whose 15 goals and 29 points earned him the 2019-20 Royals rookie-of-the-year award.
Among those game-less during the pandemic was Fizer, who had 19 goals and 53 points in 57 games in 2019-20, before everything came to an abrupt halt last March.
“I have not played in a year and am really excited and can’t wait to start,” said Fizer, who has stayed in hockey trim by skating at his local rink in Chestermere, Alta.
Fizer said it was tough to watch the WHL teams in Alberta start play last week. But it will even out.
“We’ll all play the same number of games , so it really doesn’t matter in the end,” said the veteran Fizer, entering his fourth season with the Royals, and who turned 20 on Monday.
“Whoever comes out the hottest in our division will be the favourite. We’re going to play only the teams within our division, so it could be chippy and rough by the end, but it’s going to be fun. As long as we’re playing hockey we’ll be happy.”
Even an abbreviated 2021 season will at least give the graduating 20-year-old players some semblance of a final season of junior and also showcase the 18-year-olds for the 2021 NHL draft and 19-year-olds looking for pro contracts.
“My goal is the NHL, so these games are very important to me as I want to show everyone I am a good player,” said Derungs, who turns 19 next month.
“It’s crazy that some players, who I played against in the world junior championship, are in the NHL and that I am watching them on TV. It has given me motivation to work hard to reach my goal.”
It’s only 24 games. But it’s not the quantity that matters in this context.