2019 Playoff Preview: 2) Victoria Royals vs 3) Kamloops Blazers

Article collaboration by Ryan Sinclair and Jesse Phillips (@jessephil).

Franchise Playoff History

Victoria has yet to defeat Kamloops in a playoff series, going 0-2 since the Royals came into the Western Hockey League.

2013 1st round, Kamloops won series 4-2

2012 1st round, Kamloops won series 4-0

2018-19 Head-To-Head

Victoria 5-3-0-1

Kamloops 4-5-0-0

Victoria and Kamloops had a close season series, with the Royals winning five of the nine games in which these clubs faced each other. Of those nine meetings, four of them were decided by a one goal. However the Blazers have won three straight against the Royals, including a 8-0 victory in the last meeting. That 8-0 is deceptive, as Victoria put forward a depleted lineup with only 15 skaters and nine scratches. With playoff positioning on the line, was it a move for rest or one of necessity due to injuries? Probably a little of both.

The Blazers out-scored Victoria 30 goals to 25 in the season series, aided by the 8-0 Kamloops lopsided victory.

Scott Walford (Photo- Jay Wallace)

Scott Walford (Montreal Canadiens) led Victoria in scoring with nine points (2G-9A). Import forward Phillip Schultz led the Royals in goal scoring, with five goals against the Blazers.

For Kamloops, captain Jermaine Loewen (Dallas Stars) recorded 11 points (7G-4A) against Victoria in nine games.  Connor Zary (5G-3A) and Orrin Centazzo (8A) had eight points versus the Royals.

Season Series Recap

Victoria 0 @ Kamloops 8 (Mar 13 2019) Final
Victoria 1 @ Kamloops 6 (Feb 13 2019) Final
Victoria 2 @ Kamloops 3 (Jan 26 2019) Final SO
Kamloops 1 @ Victoria 4 (Jan 11 2019) Final
Kamloops 3 @ Victoria 5 (Jan 9 2019) Final
Victoria 2 @ Kamloops 3 (Dec 5 2018) Final
Victoria 2 @ Kamloops 1 (Oct 6 2018) Final
Kamloops 3 @ Victoria 6 (Sep 29 2018) Final
Kamloops 2 @ Victoria 3 (Sep 28 2018) Final

2018-19 Season

Victoria: Determined. Physical. Balanced. Tenacious. Prepared. These are descriptions for the Royals that routinely came from the team this season. On paper this year’s club is missing the skill level of last year’s team. The 2017-18 lineup of Phillips, Soy, Hannoun, Kaspick, and others was arguably the most skilled team to play in Victoria, racking up 39 wins. For this year’s team to finish the season with 34 wins, speaks to the effort of the team and the job Head Coach Dan Price and staff accomplished.

“I don’t think a lot of people gave our team the recognition or respect that they deserved,” said Price. “No one projected us to do what we did. Our players really took that personally and still do. Our team is going to try to be humble and prove people wrong.”

Kaid Oliver led the team in scoring with 49 points (photo-Brian Liesse)

Victoria saw breakout seasons from Kaid Oliver, D-Jay Jerome and Tarun Fizer, who made the most of the opportunity and ice-time.  Walford bounced back from injury and had the best season of his WHL career, and was named to the Western Conference Second All-Star Team.

Team leaders Ralph Jarratt, Griffen Outhouse and Kody McDonald all battled injuries throughout the year. However, when the Royals were able to dress all thee over-age players, the Royals were a hard club to play against.

On special teams, the power play was an issue this season at just 15.9%, putting them second last in the WHL.  Their penalty kill was ranked middle of the pack at 11th overall with 78.7%.

Jermaine Loewen (photo-Brian Liesse)

Kamloops: A rollercoaster of a season would be an understatement.  Some games they looked like they could light the entire city of Kamloops ablaze and other nights, put the entire city to sleep. The Blazers aren’t built with a ton of skill, but they do have a few players that bring you out of your seat.

Connor Zary is one of those players, especially of late. The 17-year-old finished his second season with 67 points in 63 games including 43 assists.

The Blazers finished the regular season with 64 points, and still needing to win a tie-breaker game against the Rockets to gain the right to face Victoria in the first round.

Their special teams cancel each other out. Their penalty kill is well below league average at 76.5% good for 18th in the WHL. Their power play, while not great, is only slightly below average sitting at 20.5% and 14th spot.

Kamloops and their tough to play against core of player have done their best work this season while playing 5-on-5. At even strength, Kamloops’ goal differential sits at -2, which when you consider their spot in the standings, is quite impressive.

Dylan Garand (photo-Brian Liesse)

Storylines To Watch

Victoria: For a second post-season in row, a main topic for the Royals are injuries. Without positional standing to play for in the last six games of the season, it is hard to tell how many of their injuries are more precautionary. A benefit to this year’s club is that they are more balanced, with players available to step up. Forward Logan Doust commented on his ability to cover for injuries, “I feel I’m a guy that can play in most positions. Obviously I don’t want anybody to get hurt, that’s never something you want for your team, but I think if it were to happen, I think I’d be ready to step up for sure.”

With a potential goalie controversy brewing with their opponents, Victoria has no questions in net. Outhouse is undefeated against the Blazers this season and had the opportunity to get some rest down the stretch.  Watch for one of the league’s best goaltenders to shine again in the playoffs.

Kamloops: Momentum, can they keep it up? Kamloops is on a roll gaining 11 of their last 12 points of the season to catch Kelowna. Their hot streak culminated in a 5-1 drubbing of their Okanagan rival in the WHL’s 7th ever tie-breaker game.

16-year-old Dylan Garand. He looks like he’s the real deal. The young netminder came in late in the year to replace veteran Dylan Ferguson and all he has done is post a record for 5-1 and backstop the Blazers to the playoffs.  If he does get the call in game 1, can he stand up to the heat that Victoria is sure to bring?

How They Match Up

Victoria: Expect a close and hard fought series, similar to the playoffs last year where the Royals battled the Giants over a seven game series. Both clubs have balanced lineups, that play aggressive on the puck. “Kamloops is a great example of how physical the west is,” said Dan Price. “Everyone’s very good on the forecheck, their defence play tight.” Price added “So against teams like that we always want to make sure we’re supporting the puck very well, breaking out of our zone quickly and cleanly, while trying to possess the puck.”

A key for Victoria will be the ability to capitalize on the power play. In what is expected to be a close series, making the most of the man-advantage will be extremely important, and something the Royals are looking to improve on.

Griffen Outhouse (photo-Chris Mast)

Finally, the Royals will have to stop the momentum that the Blazers come into the series with. If Victoria can secure a dominant win early in the series, the hot streak of the Blazers may burn out. A key to that would be to slow down the “J-Train”, as Jermaine Loewen has been great against the Royals and fantastic lately for Kamloops. Look for Jarratt to be a key in defending against Loewen.

Kamloops: All four of Kamloops’ wins over Victoria came with Royal’s backup goaltender Brock Gould between the pipes. With Griffen Outhouse tending to the goal, they haven’t been so lucky. The Blazers have only been able to manage 12 goals against Outhouse as he posted a 2.10 GAA and 0.936 SV% against the team from the River City.

Because of Victoria’s high pressure defensive strategy, it is imperative Kamloops moves the puck quickly. “They are a team that likes to play fast and get pucks up north quickly. Defensively they like to swarm and come at us very hard so it’s important to move pucks quickly.” Head Coach Serge Lajoie continued ” It’s another team we are very familiar with. As coaches, our job continues in terms of our preparation for Victoria.”

Connor Zary knows Victoria is rested, but he thinks the momentum Kamloops has generated will help them in the series “I think we just gotta ride this momentum, they have had their six days off, we played three days before our next playoff game. I think that’s going to help us sustain the rhythm. Every game has been a game seven, we’re gonna go in their and battle.”

DUBNetwork Prediction: Royals in seven games.

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