WHL, Royals continue to play waiting game

The Victoria Royals beat the Portland Winterhawks in the first round of the Memorial Cup but lost to Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the second round this week. The E-sports tournament, with the Royals represented by forward and team-best gamer Ty Yoder, is the only action currently happening in major-junior hockey.

But as the virtual games go on, the waiting game continues in the real-life Western Hockey League.

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“As of now, the starting date is still January, so we have to prepare for that,” said Victoria Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.

If it changes, “we’ll adapt,” added Price.

It certainly will have to change with the latest B.C. restrictions running to midnight Jan. 8.

The WHL has remained steadfastly tight-lipped since announcing the Jan. 8 start date in October. Teams would only play within their own division in the regular season. An updated announcement is expected soon. The only snippet of information has been hockey analyst John Shannon tweeting last week: “Hearing plans of WHL to start up in early January may change … might push start date back closer to February.”

Price said he has heard ­nothing specific like that at his level.

“I’m not sure where that came from,” he said.

“I know the league has been very thorough with the goal of getting started safely as soon as possible. We will trust in the health authorities and trust in the league.”

The situation, however, has deteriorated since the WHL set its season-start goal of Jan. 8 after several previously-set dates had passed. Many provinces have regressed back to only severely-restricted individual training in what is being described as the second-wave storm before the calm of the coming vaccines next year.

“Some of our guys have gone from full-on training back to having no access to arenas or facilities — and so back to makeshift home gyms,” said Price.

Some of our players are even skating outdoors. They are adapting. We are supporting them the best we can with a lot of communication with the players happening online. They are sharing the frustration being felt by everybody around the world.”

It is especially tough on the players in their final season of junior eligibility.

“We’ve had those conversations with those players,” said Price.

“I remember being a 20-year-old [goaltender] in Junior A. It’s a special season you work all your junior career towards, when all your experience and leadership has built up and comes to the fore. But we are stressing that their hockey careers will not be over. There is still U Sports and the pros.”

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League started this fall but suspended play Dec. 1 to until Jan. 3 because of ­COVID-19 outbreaks in the league. The Ontario Hockey League, the other circuit in the major-junior Canadian Hockey League with the QMJHL and WHL, has targeted Feb. 4 for the start of its season.

Until then, there is only the virtual Memorial Cup to chase.


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