Young Victoria Royals gaining experience, if not wins

With apologies to The Who, the kids are alright.

Even if they’re not winning. Victoria Royals fans can only assume that will come in the seasons ahead after what has been a trial by fire for the youngest team of the 22 in the abbreviated Western Hockey League season, with an average age of 17.64 years on the Victoria roster.

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Forward Brayden Schuurman leads B.C. Division rookies in scoring with five points on three goals and two assists. Gannon Laroque with three points on a goal and two assists and Jason Spizawka and Kalem Parker with three assists each are tied for second place in B.C. Division rookie scoring and are also tied for the lead in scoring by rookie defencemen in the division. In addition, Victoria rookie goaltender Connor Martin has been a revelation.

“The rookies are doing a great job versus older competition and are playing lots of minutes and important minutes,” said Victoria GM and head coach Dan Price. “They are getting better and closer every day. You can feel the increased confidence day-to-day and game-to-game.”

Yet, this is clearly going to be a painstaking process. The Royals are 1-5-1 heading into today’s matinee in Kelowna against the Kamloops Blazers (5-1).

“We were in position to win every game except one,” said Price.

Blown leads have been an issue. “We push ahead to take the leads and then take untimely penalties, which gives the other team momentum, and sets us back on our heels,” said Price.

“That’s about team discipline and special teams. We have to be disciplined to keep it five-on-five.”

Those are the hard lessons being learned this year by the youth group.

The best of the Royals veterans, meanwhile, has been the seamless-skating Anaheim Ducks first-round NHL draft pick Brayden Tracey with at least a point in his last six games, on five goals and five assists for 10 points, with a goal in three consecutive games. Tracey is no doubt itching to get on with his pro career but the Royals can only hope Anaheim will return him next season as an over-age 20-year-old.

Victoria, however, can’t hope to match Kamloops in veteran talent today. The Blazers feature players such as Calgary Flames first-round NHL draft pick Connor Zary and New York Rangers goaltending prospect Dylan Garand of Langford, projected 2021 second- or third-round NHL draft pick Logan Stankoven and the dangerous 20-year-old Orrin Centazzo.

That noted, the Blazers dressed six 16-year-old reserves in Friday night’s come-from-behind 6-3 victory over the Royals.

The Royals, meanwhile, were missing four veterans who should be in the line-up next season.

Undersized but pugnacious defenceman Noah Lamb has an upper-body injury and will be out again today. Captain Tarun Fizer was hit by the puck in a freak pre-game warm-up mishap on Friday and was being re-evaluated Saturday, but is expected back today. Also missing are veteran WHL blueliners Nolan Bentham and Jacson Alexander, both Victoria products, who are not on the roster for the 2021 season for reasons the club has not divulged.

Past the quarter-pole of the 24-game season, the Royals are falling increasingly out of touch with the leading group in the B.C. Division. But this could be a very different team from today to the fall with veterans Lamb, Fizer, Bentham, Alexander and perhaps Tracey, along with the improving youth corps, for the 2021-22 season.

Victoria will meet the Vancouver Giants on Thursday in Kamloops and the Prince George Cougars on Friday in Kelowna.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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