Victoria Royals veterans start to Warm up

It will take some searching through the annals of the Western Hockey League to find a matching situation, if there has been one before.

The Victoria Royals’ three allowable 20-year-olds — forward Gary Haden, defenceman Will Warm and goaltender Shane Farkas — are newcomers to the organization.

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“I don’t know if this has happened before that all three 20-year-olds have never played a single game for the team,” said Haden.

“The oldest three guys on the team feel like three rookies.”

Warm concurred: “It’s a unique situation, for sure. But it’s an awesome group of guys and everybody has clicked. It’s a new chapter.”

A new closing chapter is more like it for the trio of 20-year-olds.

The Royals this month traded 20-year-old defenceman Scott Walford, who had spent his entire four-season WHL career in Victoria, to the Saskatoon Blades for 31-goal scorer Haden in a bit of a shock move.

The Royals acquired Warm from the Edmonton Oil Kings in June for a 2021 fifth-round bantam draft pick. The Royals traded a fourth-round bantam draft pick and conditional compensation for Farkas from the Portland Winterhawks in May to replace graduating Griffen Outhouse in the crease.

Warm and Penticton’s Farkas are ending their junior careers in their home province.

“The surroundings are more familiar. I am from B.C. — North Vancouver and having spent a lot of time in Whistler — so I was super excited by the trade,” said Warm.

“There were relationships I had built in Edmonton. But this feels like home.”

Warm will fill what was expected to be Walford’s leadership role on the Victoria blue line.

“I’m a two-way defenceman who competes hard and is physical but can also make plays offensively,” said Warm.

Haden is from Airdrie, Alta., where he grew up playing against former Royals star forward Matthew Phillips, who as a 20-year-old Calgary Flames-signed prospect, played last season in the American Hockey League at Stockton, California.

“Phillips was a year older, and we played against each other in Calgary [youth rep] hockey every other year,” said Haden.

“I would try to catch him, but it was hard.”

Haden is trained as an electrician but hopes to light up Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in another way. The Royals are hoping Haden can bump his 31 goals from last season into the 40, maybe 50, range. But Haden is careful not to put undue pressure on himself.

“If I can get to 40 goals, or more, that would be amazing, and give us a good chance to win a lot of games,” said Haden.

“But I play best when I’m not worried about scoring. If I play my 200-foot game, the goals will come.”

This is all played for a purpose. Being an electrician can wait.

“My goal is pro hockey, either in North America or Europe,” said Haden.

“All options are open.”

The three 20-year-olds on the roster need to have impact seasons if any WHL team is to be successful.

Returning defenceman Jameson Murray is also 20, giving the Royals four over-agers in training camp and the exhibition season, meaning a decision will have to be made.

The Royals closed out training camp with the annual Blue-White intrasquad game Thursday night at the Memorial Centre.

The Royals’ preseason opens tonight in Kelowna against the Rockets and Saturday in Kamloops against the Blazers.

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