If this is Tuesday, it must be Victoria. The B.C. capital was outgoing commissioner Ron Robison’s 15th stop of his farewell tour of the 22 Western Hockey League cities.
Not that the hockey gods were going to let his 24th and final season be an easy one, especially with the league still emerging from the effects of the pandemic. That was evident in the crowd of 2,792 on hand to watch Robison drop the ceremonial opening puck ahead of the Victoria Royals’ 6-1 victory over the Kamloops Blazers at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre as rookie Cole Reschny scored his first WHL hat trick.
“I think we recovered really well out of COVID. Our local sponsorships and community support has always been tremendous,” said Robison.
“Our biggest challenge is getting ticket sales to where we really want them. We’re probably 10 to 15 per cent away from where we need to get to from current levels to pre-COVID levels. But we see that continuing to build and we are where we need to be in our third season post-COVID. We always have to remain family affordable.”
Robison was always a true gentleman in a rugged business. That ethic held in his 44 years of sports administration, including 20 with Hockey Canada before taking on the WHL gig in 2000, which was three years before the oldest Royals or Blazers on the ice were even born.
This season alone Robison had to deal with the league’s indefinite suspension of Wenatchee Wild head coach Kevin Constantine, and Constantine’s eventual firing by the Wild, for reportedly making “derogatory comments of a discriminatory nature,” according to the Associated Press. Robison this season also had to ease Bill Peters back into hockey as head coach of the Lethbridge Hurricanes after Peters completed anti-racism training following an incident when Peters was coaching in the AHL. Last week, Swift Current Broncos head coach Devan Praught was suspended five games for allegedly violating the WHL’s standards of conduct.
“We’ve worked extremely hard in working on our environment for the players,” said Robison.
“The standards are much different today than they were a few years ago. They come with standards of conduct and very high expectations for not only our players but for our staff. They are very important role models for all the communities we represent and it’s important they conduct themselves in a professional way.”
The Chilliwack Bruins became the Victoria Royals under Robison’s watch in 2011-12: “This was a very important centre for us for many years and we wanted to make sure we returned a team back to Victoria [after the Cougars departed for Prince George in 1994-95],” said Robison. “We felt Victoria was an important market for the league to get back to.”
Asked about how he is going to feel next September, Robison replied: “It’s in your blood and has been for a long time and it’s going to be very strange not getting ready for a new season.”
ON THE ICE: Reschny’s was a natural hat trick and pushed his season totals to 10 goals and 25 points in 21 games to show why he is ranked by the Elite Prospects website for the second round of the 2025 NHL draft.
“It was a huge win for us and it’s nice to play with [linemates Ben Riche and Dawson Pasternak],” said Reschny.
Reggie Newman, Logan Pickford and defenceman Nate Misskey scored the other Victoria goals while Robin Sapousek added two assists. Conner Radke was the only Blazer to beat Braden Holt, who made 29 saves in goal for Victoria in a solid outing. Dylan Ernst made 20 saves for Kamloops.
The Royals (14-10-2) and rebuilding Blazers (6-14-5) meet again Wednesday night at the Memorial Centre as part of their four consecutive games against each other, concluding Friday and Sunday in Kamloops.
“I thought we played well tonight and just have to stick to our game,” said Reschny