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Why the Giants-Royals rivalry is special for rookie centre Ty Halaburda

Ty Halaburda has nine points in 18 games for the Giants this season. VANCOUVER GIANTS

The Victoria Royals and ­Vancouver Giants have a ­geographically natural cross-strait rivalry. But it runs deeper than that for Giants rookie centre Ty Halaburda, who hails from ­Victoria.

“Even our home games are only a ferry ride away for my family and friends,” ­Halaburda said of the Langley Events Centre.

That’s where the Giants and Royals were meeting on Friday night in a late Western Hockey League game. The teams were tied 3-3 after two periods at press time. The derby continues on the other side of the strait tonight at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

“The first game of my WHL career was in my hometown when we played the Royals to start this season and that was something special that I will never forget,” said the five-foot-11, 165-pound Halaburda, who also played lacrosse.

Royals fans should get used to seeing him as a thorn in their side for many seasons to come. Halaburda is one of those rare players to step into the WHL at 16 years old.

“It was cool to make the team and I want to make the most of this opportunity and make a great impression,” he said.

He has been doing just that with three goals and nine points in 18 games for the Giants. He also scored two goals for Team Canada Black last week in its 5-4 victory over Team Canada Red in the Capital City Challenge U-17 tournament in Ottawa, which featured most of the Canadian players being eyed for the 2023 NHL draft.

“It was huge confidence builder to experience new ­players, who are your age, and in a national setting,” said ­Halaburda.

One of those wasn’t so new in old foe Matthew Wood of the Victoria Grizzlies of the BCHL, who was on Team Canada Red. The two grew up playing against each other on their respective South Island and North Island rep teams.

“It was cool to have two Island players in the final,” said Halaburda.

“Matthew is a heck of a player and we grew up facing each other on the Island.”

Right back at you, said Wood: “Ty [Halaburda] is a superfast skater and a 200-foot player. I like his game a lot.”

A special element of the tournament was having the Canadian women’s national team taking part as part of their ­preparation for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

“It was awesome, and a real honour, to skate against them and meet them,” said Halaburda.

“I grew up knowing all the names. [Two-time Olympic gold-medallist] Marie-Philip Poulin is a heck of a player to go up against.”

As for all the NHL scouts on hand, Halaburda said he didn’t pay them any notice: “I don’t think about that stuff. I just want to play my game, which is a fast, 200-foot game. I like to make plays and be creative but also be reliable in the defensive zone as a lockdown player.”

Those attributes became evident during his start in Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey and carried forward. The Giants took Halaburda in the second round, 32nd overall, in the 2020 WHL prospects draft out of the Langford-based Pacific Coast Hockey Academy, where he captained the Sea Devils U-15 team and played on a line with Ollie Josephson, who was taken fifth overall in the 2021 WHL prospects draft this week.

The games against the Royals will always be circled mentally in Halaburda’s mind.

“I know I’m going to get up for these games this ­weekend,” said Halaburda, part of a Giants roster that also includes ­Payton Mount and Julian Cull of ­Victoria and Will Gurski of Duncan.

The resurgent Royals went into Friday night with five ­victories in their last six games and had earned points in eight of their last nine games. The Giants went into the weekend set having had a six-game ­winning streak snapped by a 7-1 loss Wednesday in Kamloops against the Blazers.