Thursday, May 23, 2024

Playoff-bound Victoria Royals expected to see injured players return

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After dismantling the Wenatchee Wild to the tune of a 7-3 victory at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre Wednesday night, the final battle of the long, 68-game season awaits.

On Friday, March 22nd, the Victoria Royals will host the Wenatchee Wild for Fan Appreciation Night, where the stars are you, the fans.

Gates open at 6 p.m. with puck drop at 7:05 p.m.

Given it’s the final game of the season for the Royals, let’s get you caught up on the Western Conference playoff picture.

WHL standings as of March 21, 2024. (WHL)

There’s a glut of teams ranging from 4th to 7th who are all within three points of each other, with the Royals sitting in 7th.

Unfortunately, Vancouver and Kelowna are playing each other through the final weekend, so they are each guaranteed points, making it unlikely Victoria can pass them.

In a perfect world, one team sweeps the other, leaving Victoria ready to play leapfrog with a win Friday night.

That means the highest Victoria can finish is 6th place, which would put them on track to meet Everett in the first round. If Victoria loses tomorrow night and Spokane earns at least 3 points from their final two games, the Royals could end up as the 8th seed.

So there’s a lot to play out over the final few games of the season here.

But who, in theory, would the Royals want to face?

Here are their head-to-head matchups against the three top seeds:

  1. Prince George: 1-7-0-0
  2. Portland: 0-2-1-1
  3. Everett: 0-4-0-0

Frankly, the top teams in the league are at the top for a reason, as Victoria has struggled to beat them.

But we could caveat that three of the four matchups against Portland were played in late February/early March when the Royals were at the peak of their injury problems.

The same was true with two of the matchups against Everett.

Though, of course, anyone on the Royals will tell you that injuries are no excuse.

If we got to choose an opponent, it would be Everett—they’re a little looser defensively than the other two—which may work in the Royals’ favor.

And though all three possible opponents are easily categorized as ‘elite’ based on the appreciable gap in the standings, you might be able to call the Silvertips ‘less elite’ than their two counterparts.

Prince George has had the Royals’ number all season long, and that would certainly be a matchup the players would like to avoid.

Royals finding their health at the perfect time

There was a game in mid-February where the Royals played the Kamloops Blazers and lost 3-1. Missing from that game were defencemen Nate Misskey, Austin Zemlak, Ryan Spizawka, and Hudson Bjornson, which is three of the Royals’ top four defencemen.

They were only able to dress 17 of 18 skaters, were also missing Robin Sapousek, and had to use Dawson Pasternak as a defenceman to help out the blue line, which obviously hurt their forward group.

All of this is to say that the Royals have endured a muck of injuries but appear to be finding reasonable health once more—and at the perfect time.

Reggie Newman had missed four games with an upper-body injury and returned last night, bringing his usual competitive fire and spending six minutes in the sin bin.

Nate Misskey had his brilliant season interrupted in early January, missing nearly two months. But he returned on March 15th and is winding his way back into form.

He scored Wednesday night, giving him 7 goals in 43 games so far.

Austin Zemlak also returned on March 15th, bringing his signature brand of sandpaper back to the blue line. He had missed roughly a month and a half, and his steadying presence will be felt immensely on the penalty kill again.

That leaves Ryan Spizawka, Robin Sapousek, and Hudson Bjornson still on the injured list.

Bjornson is still week-to-week with an upper-body injury, while Spizawka has been skating and could return during the first week of the playoffs.

If Spizawka returns and the Royals can escape further injury, it would be the first time they’ve iced their 6 best defencemen since December.

Sapousek, meanwhile, is still recovering from a shoulder injury suffered at the World Juniors back in December. The sense from management is that if the Royals can make it through the first round, he could possibly suit up in the second round.

Playoffs are the ultimate fan appreciation

It’s been a while since dedicated Royals fans have had the playoffs to look forward to following Fan Appreciation Night.

Over the past three seasons, it has basically been, “thanks for coming out, hopefully we’ll do better next year.”

But this year, the Royals have been able to offer more than just appreciation; they’ve iced the best hockey product this city has seen in years.

The franchise has had a strong bounce back season while producing thrilling third period comebacks, enjoying outstanding production from the blue line while playing a fast, fore-checking style.

Cole Reschny’s star has begun to shine—and who knows how bright it will become—and the team’s older, homegrown core of Justin Kipkie, Nate Misskey, Robin Sapousek, Tanner Scott, and Reggie Newman have all shown that they are capable of being top players on a good team.

Oh, and the Royals also made a blockbuster trade in October where they sent away Kalem Parker and Brayden Schuurman, acquiring a heap of draft capital and somehow the team got better.

Which is also in part thanks to Dawson Pasternak being the perfect early-season acquisition, bringing high skill and a veteran presence to play alongside Reschny.

He’s also helped head coach James Patrick out a bit by being able to play on the blue line in a pinch.

All of that is to say that while the team has struggled to play through injuries over the past few months, there are also clear signs of a franchise evolving and being ready to take the next step.

This season hasn’t felt like years previous.

We all remember the hayday of Matthew Phillips and Tyler Soy scoring points at will. We remember the peak of the Royals, when Joe Hicketts was the stalwart on the blueline and Griffen Outhouse was the brick wall guarding the cage.

The Royals aren’t quite back to being there yet. But fans have playoff hockey upon us, an exciting young core, and reason to believe that next year should be another step up the WHL’s competitive ladder—make sure to grab your playoff tickets!

In the meantime? One last regular season game before we get to the playoffs and see what this team is made of.

With Friday night’s game being Fan Appreciation, the Royals are offering massively discounted tickets for $8.50 (plus $4 service fee) to the final game of the season against the Wenatchee Wild—click here for the exclusive deal!

Fan Appreciation Night – Victoria Royals vs. Wenatchee Wild

  • Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, 1925 Blanshard Street
  • When:  Friday, March 22nd, puck drops at 7:05 p.m.
Jeremy Weeres
Jeremy Weeres
Victoria Royals and hockey writer at Victoria Buzz

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