The January 10th WHL trade deadline has come and gone, and the Victoria Royals have decided to stand pat for the 2nd deadline in a row.
The Royals roster is now set in stone for the remainder of the season, and the players will be looking to reward head coach and general manager Dan Price for his faith in the group.
That opportunity begins immediately as the Royals host the Kelowna Rockets this weekend at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre for a back-to-back set this Friday and Saturday.
Puck drop is 7:05 p.m. on Friday night, and 6:05 p.m. Saturday.
Kelowna comes to town in the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 29 points, while the Royals are in 9th place with 24 points.
Given that the 7th place Prince George Cougars currently have 37 points, Kelowna is the team the Royals will be hunting if they want a spot in the playoffs come April, meaning a huge 4 points are on the line this weekend.
Sending the Rockets home pointless would surely be a galvanizing start to the final stretch of the season for this Royals group.
Royals to debut special Lunar New Year jerseys
Specially themed jerseys are one of the charms of junior hockey, and the Royals’ Lunar New Year jerseys this year are a thing of beauty.
Saturday night, the Royals will debut slick red, gold, and white uniforms with inspirations from Chinese iconography and symbols.
The night will include dragon dancers and Asian inspired cuisine and the first 1,000 fans will receive a lucky golden envelope where you could discover concession and team store discounts.
And if your envelope is truly the lucky one, a grand prize.
Check out these threads:
Royals see return of Laroque and Sapousek signing as ‘free’ acquisitions
The Royals—despite a troubling season which has seen them in the basement of the Western Conference all season—exited the deadline with the exact same roster it entered it with.
Armchair GMs would surely have loved to see the team move out some veterans and acquire more draft capital, particularly to continue padding a prospect pool that includes 15-year-old standout Cole Reschny, the Royals’ 3rd overall pick from the 2022 WHL Bantam Draft.
Dan Price and the Royals continue to execute a plan, and are committed to it.
“We are on an arc right now where we really see our 2004 and 2005 group as being a really solid and highly competitive group,” said Price.
That plan passes the fact test—the Royals had an extremely young team the previous two years, rostering an unusually high number of 16 and 17 year olds in order to develop those 2004 and 2005-born players.
And in a league designed for 19-year-olds, it showed. The team has struggled to put together wins consistently over the past few years, but over the last month, the optimist could find reason to believe the team has turned a corner.
Victoria has won 7 of their last 12 games, and while it needs to be proven they can sustain that, it is a significant improvement over their October and November performances.
You never want injuries to be a crutch, but the team has dealt with blows to significant pieces, and on a team who does not boast the luxury of a bunch of star players, they have certainly had an impact.
Most notably, the absence of Gannon Laroque would have been felt brutally, and Laroque has been as advertised since his return to the lineup, scoring 2 goals and 2 assists in 3 games already.
“He is a rising tide that lifts all ships,” said Price. “He lifts everyone up around him and his presence is more than just the tangible impact of his minutes on the ice.”
The Royals have tinkered a lot with the lineup this year – just 11 players from the opening night roster played in last Saturday’s game against Tri-City—and only 4 players have skated in every single game this year.
They’ve added Jake Poole, who leads the team in points, brought in two new goaltenders in Nicholas Christiano and Braden Holt, traded for Alex Thacker (13 points in 14 games), and added Teydon Trembecky, a 17-year-old 2005-born forward who fits well with the timeline of the rest of the Royals’ core.
And none of that includes Czech import forward Robin Sapousek, who played well for Czechia at the World Junior Tournament in Halifax and Moncton, and will be making his Royals debut sooner than later. He was selected 7th overall by the Royals in the 2022 CHL Import Draft and should make an immediate impact as a middle six forward with potential for more.
“He’ a classic two-way forward,” Price said. “He can really skate, pass it on a dime, [has an] excellent shooting release, and even though he’s Czech, he’s really a Swiss Army knife.”
All of this is to say, the Royals have a group of players that is significantly improved from opening day, and has had two recent major additions with Gannon Laroque’s return to the lineup and the addition of Sapousek.
For a team that has won just 36 of its last 129 games over the past 3 seasons, fans are certainly allowed to be skeptical and critical.
But there are enough facts here to find hope that this team can play some meaningful, entertaining hockey over the remaining 29 games, and continue building the foundation to a much more successful 2023-24 season.
And it starts tonight against Kelowna.
- Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, 1925 Blanshard Street
- Friday, January 13th, puck drops 7:05 p.m.
- Saturday, January 14th, puck drops 6:05 p.m.