The Victoria Royals are finally back home for a two-game weekend set, after going five weeks without back-to-back home games.
Royals fans keen to get out and support the squad on the weekend will be in for a doozy, as Victoria is right in the thick of a playoff race.
The top eight teams in the Western Conference will earn the right to continue their season through the end of April, and Victoria currently is on the outside looking in, sitting in 9th place.
But opportunity knocks, as the Royals welcome the Prince George Cougars into town for both Friday and Saturday night contests. Victoria trails the Cougars by just 3 points thus far for the final playoff spot, making this weekend series critical to their playoff ambitions.
With 11 games left in the season, you don’t want to say games are “must win” just yet. But if we’re going to apply that label to any game, it’s got to be these ones.
Puck drop is at 7:05 p.m. for both Friday and Saturday games at Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena.
A tale of 5 seasons for up-and-down Royals
Victoria’s squad has had an uneven season thus far, featuring a challenging losing streak or two, a long run of success fueled by Bailey Peach’s excellence, and more recently, a few wins thanks to some stellar goaltending by Tyler Palmer.
Here is the Royals season thus far at a glance:
Phase 1: Tough start but Schuurman announces his presence
October 2nd – November 6th
The Royals’ first 14 games of the season didn’t go as planned by any stretch of the imagination while icing a very young team for the second year in a row. They were also dearly missing the impact of captain Tarun Fizer as he went through professional tryouts with the Colorado Eagles, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche.
Despite the losses and absence of their captain, some foreshadowing would occur for the rest of the Royals season: Brayden Schuurman is going to take a massive step in his development.
Coming into the season with 5 goals through his first 23 career games, Schuurman scored a hat trick in the 2nd game of the season and immediately followed it up with a 2 goal performance the following night – doubling his career WHL goal total in a matter of 48 hours.
It was just the beginning for the feisty centerman, as he sits 7th in the league in goal scoring among under-18 players, with 26 goals in 57 games.
Phase 2: Royals are on fire and Bailey Peach goes on a tear
November 20th – December 30th
If there was any time to be sippin’ ice cold beer and crushing handfuls of popcorn at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, it was toward the end of 2021. Head coach Dan Price’s squad found a new gear through this stretch, and gave Royals’ fans a little glimmer of what’s possible as this youthful team improves and becomes more competitive.
But you can’t talk about Phase 2 without mentioning Bailey Peach’s ascension to league star. He was held pointless in just one of those 16 games, scored 16 goals and 33 points over that span, and capped 2021 off with an astonishing 7 point night at home against Vancouver with 3 goals and 4 assists.
It was pretty sweet.
Phase 3: 2022 is mean and unkind to the Royals
January 1st – February 16th
The 2020s as a decade is unlikely to be on anyone’s highlight reel thus far due to that whole pandemic thing. And if the Royals were hoping 2022 was going to be the “fresh start” to jolt their season and ride the momentum of Phase 2, their WHL opponents had other ideas.
Victoria faced a very untimely postponement in early January – having to reschedule 3 games amidst their best stretch of the season, and the two week gap without a game from their January 1st to January 14th seemed to completely crush their momentum.
Despite the losses, Gannon Laroque continued to be a bright spot through that stretch, maintaining his place among the elite defensemen in this league, and looking like a great 4th round draft choice by the San Jose Sharks.
Otherwise, it was a forgettable stretch where the entire team struggled.
Phase 4: Royals find some consistency, goaltending improves significantly
February 18th – March 12th
We’ve been watching hockey long enough here to know that poor goaltending numbers are often not just the goaltender – they’re also related to the overall defensive play of the team in front of them.
But the Royals’ goaltending for most of the year has struggled to cover for the porousness of the Victoria defense – until this last phase. Tyler Palmer has been exceptional over the past few weeks, recording his 2nd shutout of the season and a save percentage above .920 in 5 of his 7 starts. It doesn’t hurt that he was the WHL Goaltender of the Week for the week ending on February 27th.
Goaltending improvements matter, but it definitely helps that Tarun Fizer has 8 multi-point games over his last 12 games – being held scoreless just twice – to the tune of 8 goals and 24 points.
Fizer has been a man on a mission – clearly intent on doing whatever it takes to make the playoffs in what will be his final season as a Royal.
Phase 5: The Playoff push and five games against the Prince George Cougars
Which brings us to our current phase: the push to keep the Victoria Royals’ playoffless streak at just one. (Though there were no playoffs last year due to covid so technically the Royals have never missed the actual playoffs.)
As mentioned above, the Royals are three points shy of the final playoff spot. But the opponent they’re chasing is the Prince George Cougars, whom they will play five times over the final 11 games. If you hear a door knocking somewhere, it’s likely opportunity.
The only thing a player wants during critical parts of the season like this is to have control of their own destiny and not rely on scoreboard watching. If Victoria can win at least 3 out of the 5 against Prince George and keep their ahead above water against the rest of the schedule, we could all be treated to some good ol’ playoff hockey.
Join the Royals for Star Wars night and Eco Night
Friday’s theme will be Star Wars Night, featuring favourites from the series throughout the game.
Saturday Night’s game is Eco Night, where green initiatives will be showcased and the preservation of Planet Earth will be front and center. Everything from electric cars to solar panels will be displayed throughout the game.
Come support the Royals for their playoff push!