Saturday, June 15, 2024

Victoria Royals will play back-to-back games for Hockey Day in Canada this weekend

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Victoria will experience more than just snow this upcoming weekend, as Canada’s national audience and Sportsnet’s media team will be present at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre and Ship Point over the next few days for Hockey Day in Canada.

There will be an alumni game on Friday night (with our very own Seanna Wainman co-hosting on one of the benches), a festival day on Saturday (featuring the presence of the Stanley Cup in town), tournament road hockey, a book signing event, and plenty more for community members, NHL fans, and Royals fans alike.

It should be a great couple of days.

Adding to all the hoopla of a national event in Victoria is the fact that your upstart Victoria Royals are putting together a mighty fine hockey season and have a Saturday-Sunday home set against the Kamloops Blazers.

Note that puck drop Saturday is set for 4:05 p.m., while Sunday’s game starts at 3:05 p.m.—grab your tickets for either game here!

WHL standings as of January 18th, 2024. (WHL/screenshot)

The Royals currently sit 2nd in the BC Division and 5th in the Western Conference with a 23-14-3-3 record.

Victoria has firmly established itself as a very good but non-elite Western Conference contender and sits comfortably in the conference’s upper tier.

Typically, there are three or four teams league-wide that can maintain a .700 points percentage and are considered championship favorites, while the teams above .600 should be aiming to win at least a playoff series or two.

The Royals find themselves in the latter group, and, after making two trade deadline moves to finalize the roster for the remaining 25 games of the season, will be looking to secure home ice for round one of the playoffs.

Victoria will also be at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre for the next two weekends (Kamloops this weekend and Vancouver next weekend) after a lengthy road trip out east.

Let’s check in on the squad and get you set for the next few weekends of Royals hockey.

Royals take advantage of quirky points system, fans get full value

The Victoria Royals have been insistent on giving fans full value for their tickets of late, with six of their past seven games going to overtime.

It’s a preposterous sequence, one that charms fans with close, competitive games right up to the final whistle, and, of course, gets them out of their seat with a few extra minutes of 3-on-3 overtime madness.

Victoria was on the right side of those overtime games back around the new year, beating both Edmonton and Calgary in overtime to complete thrilling come-from-behind victories in front of the home fans.

On their eastern road swing, however, the script was a bit less favorable. Four of five games went to overtime, but the Royals were unable to find the winner in any of the extra frames, losing three in overtime itself and one in the shootout.

And that’s where hockey’s odd point system works in the Royals’ favor. Despite going 0-1-3-1 on their road trip, Victoria comes home with four points – two wins worth of extra time losses. It’s a pretty odd stint, and, while losing five games in a row can put a bit of a cloud over a team, there’s still a massive, impossible-to-miss silver lining around that cloud that says, “hey, we got four points.”

They’ll take that and run.

With that road trip in the rearview mirror, the Royals’ schedule becomes very straightforward. Their remaining 25 games are all against Western Conference opponents, with 14 against the B.C. Division and 11 against the U.S. Division.

That means a massive opportunity awaits for the Royals to finish in the top four in the conference and claim home ice for game one of the playoffs – a moment this city is surely ready for.

Injury bug hits the Royals at a critical time

The Royals have delivered surprise after surprise this year, significantly improving on a clunky 0-4 start while banking win after win despite trading two of the team’s better players way back in October.

While those have been rather pleasant experiences for the fans, the Royals themselves have been dealt a few unpleasant surprises of late, with Mr. Everything-top-line-center Robin Sapousek getting injured at the World Juniors, and Nate Misskey being injured on their recent road trip.

Both players are week-to-week with upper-body injuries, meaning the Royals will have to navigate the upcoming week without two of their best players.

Hudson Bjornson also hasn’t played since December 28th and is also nursing an upper-body injury.

Sapousek has been great this year, producing timely goals, a never-say-die attitude, and a rare tenacity as a puck hound with decent touch around the net. His grit, along with Tanner Scott’s speed and Reggie Newman’s net presence, has given the Royals an excellent and dependable top line, one that head coach James Patrick can comfortably deploy in any situation.

Misskey, meanwhile, had been gaining momentum on an excellent season after being passed over by NHL teams in his draft year last season. He’s been cruising at a 0.75 points-per-game clip through most of the season and had just been ranked 66th on the Central Scouting midterm ranking for the 2024 NHL draft.

Given he started the season just as a “player to watch”, his ascension in the rankings shows just how good he’s been this year.

The Royals will have to dig deep. Losing a top-line center and top-pairing defenseman will be the largest hurdle this team has faced this season.

How will they respond?

Key injuries gives new additions opportunity to shine

Built into any injury in any sport is the fact that the head coach has an open spot on his lineup card to fill.

No one wants to see injuries happen, but the players on the team are well aware of when increased opportunity awaits.

That will be the chance everyone in that locker room sees but no one will say—especially for the two new faces acquired at the deadline, forward Tyson Laventure and defenseman Jaren Brinson.

Brinson figures to slot in on the bottom pair and perhaps on the penalty kill, but Laventure will have the bigger opportunity, likely getting a chance at center either with Tanner Scott and Reggie Newman or on the wing alongside Cole Reschny and Dawson Pasternak.

The 6’3 Laventure was brought in to replace Matthew Hodson as one of the team’s overaged players and adds skill and flexibility to the lineup. While Sapousek is still out, Laventure can feature on any of the top two lines. With a healthy roster, Laventure could provide a sizable complement on the wing to Dawson Pasternak and Cole Reschny, giving Patrick the option of moving Ben Riche to the third line.

Alternatively, he can keep Riche up on the second line (he’s been a solid complement to the Pasternak-Reschny duo) and have Laventure anchor an improved third line, creating matchup challenges for their opponents. He also figures to make his way onto one of the power play units.

Laventure is off to a good start in his Royals career, with a goal and an assist through two games, including a +4 rating.

Brinson has an assist along with a -4 rating through four games thus far.

Learn what’s happening with Hockey Day in Canada

Catch up with the Royals season so far

Jeremy Weeres
Jeremy Weeres
Victoria Royals and hockey writer at Victoria Buzz

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