Yesterday the Victoria Royals clinched a playoff spot with the help of their BC Division rivals.
The Prince George Cougars lost in overtime, resulting in the scenario that the Cougars cannot catch the Royals in the remaining games. Prince George currently sits third in the Western Conference Wild Card race and have run out of possible points to catch Victoria.
The Royals will head to the playoffs for their 9th straight year, every year since they moved to Victoria from Chilliwack. In 58 games, Victoria has a 30-21-5-2 record and sit in second place in the BC Division.
“It’s nice at this time of year to have some certainty,” said Victoria Head Coach Dan Price. “You’re never sure going into any given year what the landscape is going to look like. It’s always such a competitive league and a competitive division. So we definitely never take it for granted.”
“Now that that one goal is checked off, it’s on to the next one,” added Price. “Which is try to have our best possible finish at the end of the regular season and then focus on round one after that.”
At the start of the season, many had Victoria pegged for a wildcard spot at best. Bucking those predictions, the Royals continue to prove their skeptics wrong.
Dan Price and his staff have his club playing energetic, competitive and disciplined hockey in what may be his best season yet behind the bench.
This weekend will see a condensed mini-series for the Royals and Vancouver Giants, as they face each other for three games in three days.
“It’s a really cool tradition,” said Price. “We’ve done it a few times now with Vancouver and it’s so similar to a playoff feel. Such a great matchup and I think you’ll see the full depth of the benches, especially with that many games in so few hours.”
The weekend kicks off Friday in Langley, then shifts to Victoria for games Saturday night and late Sunday afternoon.
Although the Royals have clinched their spot in the post-season, don’t expect the club to let up.
“It is a huge weekend, said Royals veteran Will Warm. “A lot of important points on the line, and it might decide who gets home ice if we end up playing Vancouver in the playoffs. Vancouver’s playing really well right now so we got to be ready for them.”
“The interesting thing is it’s not like the teams are miles apart in the standings, where you could afford to maybe deploy your personnel differently, or keep guys out,” said Price on the weekend series. “Both teams really need these points.”
“There is such a great energy around the team and the room right now,” said Price on his club. “A feeling of anticipation, excitement and a great challenge. That’s one of the things we love about playing the game and especially playing against a great BC Division rival like Vancouver. It’s a challenge and test against someone that brings out the best in you.”
“They’re a good team,” said forward Brayden Tracey. “But no matter who we’re playing, we got to play our game. Compete hard and bring all we got. If we bring our game, it will be a good result for us.”
Every game it seems like an unfortunate rotation for the Royals and the sidelines. Just when the club looks to have a player return, another one goes down with an injury.
Victoria welcomed the returns of forwards Brayden Tracey, Tarun Fizer, and Keanu Derungs recently.
Sean Gulka appeared to be a full participant in practice, and Victoria could use him versus the Giants. The motivation for Gulka is likely the chance to play in front of family and friends in his hometown of Langley on Friday night.
Graeme Bryks is listed on the weekly WHL injury report as day-to-day, however, is likely close to a full return.
“A few guys that have been out had a great week of practice and I’m hopeful they’ll be ready to play for the weekend,” said Price. “This time of year it’s always it really is day by day, you really have to evaluate every player each morning. This isn’t the time of year we can afford a setback.”
“This is an interesting weekend but I am hopeful we will have one or more bodies back in the lineup.”
On Saturday night versus the Kelowna Rockets, it was Noah Lamb who suffered an injury. The young defender left the game in the second period after some high contact, and he did not return. He is listed as upper-body, to be determined.
Shane Farkas remains sidelined, with no timetable yet on his return. Jacob Herauf is also still injured, however, he was in practice with a non-contact jersey. Ty Yoder will remain out with a lower-body injury, with a timeline of 4-to-5 weeks.