Victoria Royals ready to get physical with Giants, Cougars

There is an adage about familiarity breeding contempt.

It is beginning to apply in the B.C. Division of the Western Hockey League. That’s bound to happen when the only opponents are divisional. There are 22 teams in the WHL but each B.C. Division team only sees four opponents in the 2021 pandemic-reduced season.

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“It got nasty in our last two games against Kamloops,” said Victoria Royals head coach and GM Dan Price.

He expects no different when the Royals meet the Vancouver Giants (5-3) tonight in Kamloops and the Prince George Cougars (3-2-2 heading into Wednesday night’s late-finishing game against Kamloops) on Friday in Kelowna.

“I expect there’s going to be a lot of physicality in both games,” said Price.

The Royals (1-6-1), already the youngest team in the league with 12 rookies, will again be missing veteran players to injury. Defenceman Noah Lamb and import forward Keanu Derungs, who represented Switzerland in the 2021 world junior championship, are both day-to-day but unlikely to be ready for tonight. Captain Tarun Fizer is day-to-day but expected to return against Vancouver. Veteran forward Riley Gannon from Nanaimo was injured against Kamloops and is out for the remainder of the 24-game season.

Matthew Smith and Graeme Bryks, the latter a converted forward, are the only veterans on defence with Lamb out.

“We have faith in our young defencemen. They are skilled and hard working” said the 20-year-old Smith. “”

The Royals are last in the division and running out of any option but to string together a winning streak. There are no playoffs, made official this week by the cancellation of the Memorial Cup. The only goal is to top the table and be declared divisional champion. For a graduating 20-year-old, it will be the last stab at a championship. Divisional or not, it still matters for those chasing it.

“There’s only the regular-season champion standing at the end of this and we believe that we are improving and can string together some wins to be in the hunt,” said Smith.

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