Young Americans up next for surging Victoria Royals

Pundits might look back on last weekend as the moment the Victoria Royals arrived as a legitimate contender in the WHL’s Western Conference.

Not only did the Royals take three of a possible four points against the Canadian Hockey League third-ranked Portland Winterhawks, but they whipped seven goals over two games behind Canada’s 2020 world junior championship gold-medallalist goaltender Joel Hofer.

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As a sign of the Royals’ burgeoning confidence, they were not satisfied and thought they should have come away with all four points on offer against the talent-laden Winterhawks — who have a WHL-high five players listed on the Central Scouting mid-term rankings released Monday for the 2020 NHL draft — against none for the Royals.

“We don’t want overtime losses to be considered moral victories,” said Victoria head coach Dan Price, as a 2-1 overtime win over Portland was followed by a 6-5 overtime loss.

The surging Royals (23-13-3) are 6-1-1 in their last eight games and take on the Tri-City Americans (14-19-5) tonight and Wednesday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. The Amerks — who feature a couple of young Island forwards in 17-year-old John Little of Parksville and 16-year-old Parker Bell of Campbell River — are four points adrift of the final wildcard playoff berth in the Western Conference. This is about the time when a level of desperation begins creeping into teams on the bubble with February and March looming. So the Royals know they are up against a Tri-City team, led by 20-year-old AHL San Jose Barracuda-signed two-time Czech world junior forward Krystof Hrabik, with all to play for the next two games.

The Royals say they go in now knowing they can handle any style of play.

“That 6-5 game was a different style than we are used to but we have confidence we can be successful in high-scoring games, too,” said Price.

“The weekend was our first step forward as a complete group [following the trade late last week that brought Anaheim Ducks prospect and 2019 first-round draft pick Brayden Tracey to the Royals from the Moose Jaw Warriors].”

But don’t expect too much of a change in attitude from the Royals, who have always relied more on adhering to basic hockey fundamentals than flash.

“We still have a similar identity as a hard-working team that competes hard and is prepared,” said Price.

Case-in-point is the WHL goaltender-of-the-week award given Monday to the Royals’ Shane Farkas for the third time this season. The 20-year-old has been a wall in allowing only three goals with two shutouts in his last five games.

Victoria fans got their first look at 19-year-old goaltender Adam Evanoff, acquired from Moose Jaw in the Tracey deal, in the 6-5 overtime loss Saturday to Portland.

“[Evanoff showed he is] a highly athletic and very exciting goaltender,” said Price.

Indeed, Evanoff made a couple of monster saves among his busy 40 on the night against the high-octane Winterhawks, although no team wants to allow six goals in a game. To be fair, several ricochets did not go Evanoff’s way in the wild affair. Price said there were several pucks that Victoria skaters could have cleared and other things that could have been cleaned up in front of the net. And don’t forget, he added, Victoria got five goals past the touted Hofer in regulation Saturday, which is the first time that has happened to the St. Louis Blues draft pick this season.

Meanwhile, it took 29 games but Royals’ rookie forward and Island-product Riley Gannon registered his first point in the WHL on Saturday with an assist on rookie Swiss-import Keanu Derungs’ 10th goal of the season.

Price labelled Gannon, the Nanaimo Buccaneers graduate and 2018-19 Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League rookie of the year, as the Royals “most improved player.”

ICE CHIPS: Former Royal Brock Gould, who went the other way to Moose Jaw in the Tracey-Evanoff deal, is the fourth-rated North American goaltender for the 2020 NHL draft in the mid-term rankings released by Central Scouting.

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