Friday, June 14, 2024

Here’s what you need to know ahead of the Victoria Royals home opener tonight

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The Victoria Royals are back, baby!

WHL hockey is making its return to the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre tonight as the Royals play host to the Prince George Cougars for their home opener.

Puck drop is set for 7:05 p.m., but arriving earlier is highly recommended.

The Royals are kicking things off with a Plaza Party starting at 5:30 p.m., featuring the local band ‘Three Sailing Wait,’ who will be cranking up the energy and getting the crowd pumped at Gate One.

The first 500 fans through the gates will receive a commemorative home opener puck.

Victoria will also face off against the Cougars on Saturday night as they commemorate National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The game starts at 6:05 p.m.

During the offseason, the Royals underwent some changes in their front office. They brought in Jake Heisinger, former President of Hockey Operations and Assistant General Manager of the Winnipeg Ice, to help steer the ship.

Joey Poljanowski also joined the front office, coming from the Arizona Coyotes, where he served as Manager of Hockey Operations since 2019. He now holds the position of President of Hockey Operations for the Royals.

Dan Price remains at the helm as head coach, and his Royals return to town infused with the optimism of a new season and September hockey.

Can this team take the next step?

Here are three questions for the Victoria Royals this season.

Can the goaltending of now and the future hold?

The Victoria Royals start this season with three goalies on their roster: overaged goaltender Braden Holt, who was acquired from Everett last year, 19-year-old Nicholas Cristiano, and 16-year-old Jayden Kraus, their 2021 third-round pick.

Holt will assume the role between the pipes this year, providing the veteran, calming presence that this team so desperately needed after acquiring him last season. This marks his final year with the Royals, and he’ll be expected to shoulder a significant workload. He kicked off the year on a strong note, making 44 saves in a hard-fought 5-3 loss to his former team, the Silvertips, last weekend.

Beyond that, managing three goalies on the roster adds complexity. Cristiano will serve as the backup, likely getting starts during road-heavy or intense stretches of the schedule.

What makes the situation intriguing is the presence of Kraus. Playing in the WHL at 16 is a challenging feat for any position, but particularly for a goaltender. If he ends up playing more frequently than Cristiano—and given that he earned the first start of the season, that might be the case—it will be a remarkable show of confidence from the organization.

Can this defense be as good on the ice as on paper?

When examining the Royals’ roster, their defense group appears to be a standout feature. NHL scouts have shown a keen interest in their blueline talent, with the Arizona Coyotes selecting Justin Kipkie in the 5th round of last year’s draft, and the Minnesota Wild doing the same with Kalem Parker, but in the 6th round.

These two are expected to lead the defensive corps, but the talent doesn’t end there. Austin Zemlak, the 9th overall pick from 2020, is entering his third WHL season, and Victoria has also welcomed Hudson Bjornson, their 9th overall pick from the 2021 U.S. Prospects Draft.

Nate Misskey, on the other hand, received an invitation to the Edmonton Oilers’ development camp and impressed enough to secure a roster spot in the YoungStars tournament in Penticton in September.

These five players form a promising foundation for the WHL blueline. However, the key question is whether the team can defend effectively as a cohesive unit, minimizing the high-quality scoring opportunities faced by their goaltender.

Only time will reveal the answer.

Is this attacking group capable of scoring more?

One of the most pressing questions heading into this season revolves around the performance of the Royals’ forwards. With NHL-caliber defensemen and a capable, overaged goaltender guarding the net, it’s entirely reasonable to wonder where the goal-scoring prowess will emerge.

The team took a modest step forward last year, averaging 2.93 goals per game, a slight improvement from the previous year and edging closer to the league average of 3.34 goals per game.

For Royals fans, hope and excitement manifest in the form of Cole Reschny. As the 3rd overall pick in the 2022 WHL draft, he holds the distinction of being the highest-drafted player ever to join the Royals. Reschny arrives with aspirations of showcasing his high-level skill and offensive prowess after dominating Saskatchewan U18 AAA hockey last year. He led the league in points per game for both the regular season (1.92) and playoffs (1.55). While his skill with the puck is evident, adapting to the speed and physicality of the WHL may require some time.

Meanwhile, Brayden Schuurman aims to shoulder the offensive load and maintain good health. Last season, he had a somewhat inconsistent performance, tallying 16 goals in 39 games. A healthy Schuurman could significantly contribute to offensive improvement.

Matthew Hodson returns for his overage year, hoping to build on his 39-point showing from last year. Robin Sapousek, Tanner Scott, Teydon Trembecky, and Reggie Newman, who spent time with the Arizona Coyotes for their development camp this summer, are all back and ready to assume top-six roles with the club.

The forward group appears solid, but the question remains: will it be enough?

The answers start to unfold tonight!

Victoria Royals Home Opener Weekend

  • Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, 1925 Blanshard Street
  • When:
    • Friday, September 29th vs Prince George Cougars. 7:05 p.m. puck drop
    • Saturday, September 30th vs Prince George Cougars. 6:05 p.m. puck drop
Jeremy Weeres
Jeremy Weeres
Victoria Royals and hockey writer at Victoria Buzz

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