WHL set to push back start of season

The Western Hockey League continues trying to stickhandle through the pandemic.

The league is expected to announce today that its start date for the 2020-21 season will be pushed back to Dec. 1. The WHL had previously set a start date of Oct. 2 due to COVID-19. Regular-season play normally begins in September.

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The Ontario Hockey League, part of the Canadian Hockey League with the WHL and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, announced Wednesday it is planning for a 64-game regular season beginning Dec. 1.

The 2021 CHL-championship Memorial Cup tournament is to be hosted by the OHL from June 17-27 at either Oshawa or Sault Ste. Marie. The 2020 Memorial Cup, scheduled for May in Kelowna, was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Victoria Royals are the only WHL team among the 22 not to have a player among the 125 WHL alumni listed on Phase 4 rosters among the 24 NHL teams competing in the 2020 Stanley Cup qualifiers.

The franchise is represented only by defenceman Nick Holden of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, who played for the club when it was located in Chilliwack and known as the Bruins. But the Royals can no more take credit for Holden than the B.C. capital can for Zdeno Chara, Brett Connolly, Dan Hamhuis or Jansen Harkins, who were produced by the Cougars well after the franchise left Victoria for Prince George.

Forward Noah Gregor played half a season for the Royals, however, and made his NHL debut this season with the San Jose Sharks, who are among the seven NHL teams not to make the 2020 qualifying sets taking place in Edmonton and Toronto.

The Royals have never really been bad and are among the most consistent teams in the league. Victoria is one of only three WHL clubs — along with Portland and Everett — to not have missed the playoffs since the team began playing on the Island in 2011-12.

“It speaks to the overall depth and intensity level this team has been able to establish, with players who fit in well, despite perhaps not having those elite [future] NHL players,” said Royals head coach, and now freshly-minted GM, Dan Price, who will be entering his fourth season as Royals head coach, following a season as assistant to former five-season Victoria head coach Dave Lowry.

Price pointed to Royals products and AHLers Joe Hicketts and Matthew Phillips as potential future NHL regulars with former gold-medallist Team Canada junior blue-liner Hicketts having had 22 career games so far as a call-up with the Detroit Red Wings, another non-tournament team.

“There is also Brayden Tracey [the Anaheim Ducks first-round draft pick who played half a season for Victoria this year],” added Price, who took over from Cam Hope as Royals GM this summer.

But only the select few will make it to the NHL and a big part of a WHL coach’s job is getting the other 98 per cent ready for what comes next in minor-pro, U Sports or civilian careers.

“We try to instill in our players the kind of work ethic that will carry them through life in whatever they do, and to live a healthy lifestyle, and be good citizens,” said Price.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

Twitter.com/tc_vicsports

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