If fans of the Victoria Royals have felt starved of live hockey because of the pandemic, they will certainly make up for it by getting their fill in October.
The Royals will open the 2021-22 Western Hockey League regular season with five consecutive home games at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. The curtain-raising home stand begins Oct. 2 against the Vancouver Giants and continues Oct. 8-9 against the Kelowna Rockets and Oct. 12-13 against the Kamloops Blazers.
“It’s a real advantage to help us get into a good rhythm,” said Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.
In all, seven of Victoria’s first 10 games are on Blanshard Street. The WHL is planning for fans to full capacity. The Royals, the youngest team in the WHL, will need to take advantage of that.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to be in front of our home fans again and experience that connection,” said Price.
Another quirk is at the end of the season when Victoria plays six consecutive home games from March 18-26, and then one away at Kelowna on April 2, to conclude. The front- and back-loaded home stands are the main feature of the 68-game campaign for Victoria.
“Points in October matter as much as the points in March,” said Price.
Teams will only play within their conferences to ease back into things with as little travel as possible. That means the Royals will meet only their nine Western Conference opponents in the B.C. and U.S. divisions.
“It will make for a lot of competitive rivalries,” said Price.
But it also means that 15-year-old North Vancouver prodigy Connor Bedard of the Regina Pats, who had 12 goals and 28 points in just 15 games during the pandemic-abbreviated 2021 WHL season and won gold with Canada at the 2021 IIHF world U-18 championship in Texas, will not be performing on Blanshard Street this season.
“I am sure there are fans in the Eastern Conference feeling the same way that there are lots of great players from the Western Conference they would have liked to see,” said Price.
The Western and Eastern conferences will only meet when their respective champions clash in the WHL final for the Ed Chynoweth Cup, with the league champion advancing to the 2022 Memorial Cup national championship tournament.
The 2020 and 2021 Memorial Cups were cancelled due to the pandemic.