The situation in the Western Hockey League seems to be bearing out what most health officials are saying about the Omicron spike being sharp but short.
The Victoria Royals were among 15 WHL clubs that were under COVID protocols the past two weeks to now be green lit to return. The Royals were given the go-ahead on Wednesday. All 22 WHL teams are now eligible to compete in regular-season play.
The Royals are in Kelowna Friday and Saturday to meet the Rockets after having four consecutive games postponed due to seven players previously being on the league protocol list.
“We have been approved to practice, travel and play. As it stands, and unless we hear otherwise from league, these games are on the schedule and we’re playing this weekend,” said Royals head coach and GM Dan Price.
The team held its first post-hiatus practice Wednesday at the Memorial Centre.
“We are so banged up that the rest was a bigger advantage than disadvantage,” said Price.
He described piecing together the Royals lineup this weekend as a “jigsaw puzzle.”
Victoria forwards Evan Patrician, Riley Gannon, Anthony Wilson, Reggie Newman and defenceman Lukas Shipley have returned from COVID protocols, while Devin Aubin, Kalem Parker, Marcus Almquist, Ryan Spizawka remain on protocols and are listed as day-to-day.
Of the eight injuries listed, captain Tarun Fizer is week-to-week with a lower-body issue and world junior championship player and Swiss import forward Keanu Derungs is to be determined with a lower-body injury. Both did not make the trip, which continues with games Tuesday and Wednesday in Prince George against the Cougars.
Affiliated call-up blue-liners Nate Misskey and Justin Kipkie have been returned to their U-18 teams. Called up for the road trip are goaltender Logan Cunningham from the Northern Alberta Xtreme of the Canadian Sport School Hockey League to replace Campbell Arnold, who is out day-to-day to injury, Kelowna Chiefs Junior B forward Alex Edwards, and six-foot-four Alberni Valley Bulldogs BCHL-signed defenceman Luke Rybinksi, an 18-year-old with WHL experience.
Victoria is 12-14-4 and Kelowna 16-10-4 and the Rockets are difficult to beat at home at 11-4-1. The Royals are .500 on the road at 6-6-3. Victoria has managed points in three of five games against the Rockets and is 1-2-2 against Kelowna on the season. The previous meeting, which was the last game Victoria played on New Year’s Day, was a 5-2 Rockets victory in Kelowna.
With the four recent postponed games to make up, and five in total including one from a previous halt, game density will now be an issue for Victoria. The Royals have six games in nine days, returning from their road trip to meet Vancouver and Everett next Friday and Saturday at the Memorial Centre.
“Wednesday was one of only a few practices we have left,” noted Price.
“Pretty much from now on it’s play, recover or travel. But that’s good in getting us into a playoff-type rhythm.”