This year the Victoria Royals were locked in a tale of two extremes.
On one hand, you saw a team with a clear talent deficit, but enough spunk and belief to defend cohesively, attack opportunistically, and will their way to an underdog victory.
On the other hand, you saw a team that went large stretches without feeling competitive, and one capable of consistently allowing the opposition to score at least 6 goals or more.
It has ultimately been a challenging year, albeit one with a few silver linings if you’re willing to search for them.
But no team that is clearly in a rebuild gets a free pass on the pain and challenge of losing. It’s hard for the players, it’s hard for management, and it’s hard for fans.
This city has shown it will fully support a solid team and will go bonkers for a good one.
This team isn’t that.
But, with another season wrapped up and in the books, here is what we decided is the only way to summarize this season: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.
The Good: a solid defence core on a good timeline
As they say, defence wins championships.
This team isn’t close to dreaming of a championship, but this year showed the potential of an extremely valuable component to a roster: your defence core.
We can only imagine what this team would have looked like with more than 5 games from San Jose Sharks draft pick and team captain Gannon Laroque, but alas, that reality is one that is unavailable.
This defence group had to sink or swim, and though anything to do with allowing over 300 goals in a WHL season is decidedly not swimming, there is enough talent on a cohesive timeline here to generate some optimism for next season and beyond.
And so with that in mind, fans can reasonably have some excitement for a group that will largely return next year.
Austin Zemlak brings a tough and physical component to the group. Justin Kipkie turned in a 30+ point rookie year as a 6’4, two-way 17-year-old.
And Kalem Parker is the clear offensive talisman of the group, running the power play and making sure the puck ends up on the tape of the right players.
Both Jason and Ryan Spizawaka are eligible to return next year and provide solid depth.
If the Sharks decide to return Laroque for his overaged year, and if one more younger player can break into the roster, the Royals could ice a really good backline for next season that should continue to improve with age, strength, and maturity.
The Bad: Who the heck is going to score goals
The challenge with evaluating a team that scores less than 200 goals over a full season is that every player on that team is in an environment where goals and points are hard to come by.
Part of that is their own contribution to that, while the other side is having players being relied on to generate offense who don’t have the teammates or skills to do that.
But there is a plain theme to found with the Royals of late, and that’s that they have gotten top line production from a few well found places these past few years, but they have been overaged players imported from elsewhere.
Bailey Peach was last year’s overaged phenomenon, and this year Jake Poole was doing his best encore before an injury in early February largely ended his season.
The problem with that is they are here one year, gone the next.
The Royals have played a young forward group, but so far no Royals-developed players have jumped out at 17 or 18 years old and shown they can be an offensive catalyst.
Teydon Trembecky was an intelligent trade acquisition but he still needs some polishing. And Brayden Schuurman had brief flashes of that alongside Peach last season, and as a skilled finisher he would certainly be interesting to follow in a more offense friendly lineup.
But ultimately, a 17-year-old season produced by the likes of a Tyler Soy, Matthew Phillips, or Dante Hannoun have yet be seen in quite some time.
One that grabs your attention and tells you there’s a future top liner in there. Those players are hard to find.
But no doubt, the addition of a player or two like that would change the trajectory of this franchise in a meaningful way.
The Ugly: Losing adds up in time
This team is officially at three years of being a bottom team, and frankly, it’s not something this city has seen before with the Royals.
Victoria was under .500 their first season after relocating from Chilliwack in 2011, but then produced a successful era from 2012-13 through 2018-19 where they always had a points percentage above .500, including leading the entire league in points in 2015-16.
But it’s been three years of bottom feeding hockey, and that is fun for no one but the opposition.
The draft system slowly rewards teams that are struggling as Victoria has, and the Royals will reap the rewards of that in due time-they will select 4th at this year’s draft. But that is rarely a fast process and comes with few guarantees.
The bright side is that this team has great fans who continue to show up and support the local lads living their major junior hockey dreams out.
The most glaring issue is, however, the extremes Victoria tends to live on.
Consider their record this season broken down on a month-by-month basis:
What you see is a clear three month period from late September through November where they are wining with extreme rarity.
Then a two month phase from December and January where they played .500 hockey and won some impressive games, no doubt aided by the brief return of captain Gannon Laroque. That’s followed by one last extreme stretch where for two months they only manage to win three hockey games.
It’s not enough to inspire hope.
And at this point win-starved Royals fans will be satiated even from playing .500 hockey for a prolonged stretch of time.
And so, it’s time to see if this group of 2004s and 2005s can elevate this team next season. That is the group general manager and head coach Dan Price has been building since 2020, and next season will be their so-to-speak senior year where their team is comprised of Victoria Royals developed 18 and 19 year olds.
We’ll see if they can take a meaningful step next year.
Royals 2022-23 season by the numbers
Goals for: 199
Goals against: 323
Goals per game: 2.93
Goals against per game: 4.75
Power play: 17.6%, 19th
Penalty kill: 70.8%, 20th
Top goal scorers:
- Jake Poole, 29
- Riley Gannon, 18
- Matthew Hodson, 17
Top assist generators:
- Teague Patton, 33
- Kalem Parker, 32
- Alex Thacker, 29
Top point producers:
- Jake Poole, 57
- Teague Patton, 49
- Alex Thacker, 38
- Riley Gannon, 38
- Kalem Parker, 38
2022-23 Year End Awards
Mayfair Optometric Top Scorer – Jake Poole
Enex Fuels Most Valuable Player – Jake Poole
VicPD Community Service – Gannon Laroque
Rookie of the Year – Justin Kipkie
Jo Ann Thompson Foundation Scholastic Player of the Year – Justin Kipkie
The Keg Fan Choice – Brayden Schuurman
Gable Craft Homes Most Dedicated Player – Robin Sapousek
Wilson’s Transportation Top Defenseman – Kalem Parker
4 Season’s Fire Prevention Unsung Hero – Austin Zemlak
Apex Steel & Gas Hardest Worker – Matthew Hodson