Victoria Royals players are drilled at practice ahead of this weekend’s Western Hockey League season-opening games against Prince George at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre. Don Descoteau/Monday Magazine

Victoria Royals on a roll heading into WHL season opening weekend

Team looks to gain revenge on Prince George after pre-season loss to Cougars

Change is inevitable in most things, but especially junior hockey, where turnover of players aging out or drafted into the NHL makes setting an opening day roster a challenge.

While they have little say in the matter, Victoria Royals management has left the beginning-of-season placement of three of the team’s four drafted pro prospects in the hands of the NHL teams that own their rights. That, along with other factors, means roughly half of the Western Hockey League club’s 2018-19 roster is full of new faces.

RELATED: Victoria Royals expecting a different look for 2018-19 WHL season

Head coach Dan Price, whose team opens the season with a home doubleheader against Prince George this Friday and Saturday (Sept. 21-22) at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, understands player turnover as well as anyone and is a proponent of the team-first, group chemistry philosophy for attaining success.

“It’s about the quality of the group and what they can do together,” he said, not about what certain individuals could do for the team.

He bristles at the notion the Royals are rebuilding, having likely lost key forwards Matthew Phillips, Tanner Kaspick and Lane Zablocki to the pros. Instead he points to the strengths of those players epected to suit up in Victoria.

“It’s a tight group; they’re fast, they’re tenacious, tons of energy – we have great leadership and great youth coming in as well,” he said. “I’m just looking most forward to puck drop on Friday.”

The three 20-year-olds, forward Dante Hannoun, goaltender Griffen Outhouse and defenceman Ralph Jarratt, are doing an “exceptional job” leading the way, Price added. But younger players have also stepped up – six wore a captain’s ‘A’ in the pre-season – to share in a leadership capacity.

Price sees a couple of patterns emerging in this group: cohesiveness and team speed.

“Their ability already at an early point in the season to play as a group of five … to attack as a group, to defend as a group, has been exceptional,” he said. “I really see our success coming from a co-ordinated effort as opposed to one or two players making plays.”

RELATED: WHL Royals gear up for final day of training camp

Second-year right winger Tarun Fizer expects a fast-paced, close game Friday when Victoria meets the Cougars, whose 3-2 win on Sept. 9 was the Royals’ only loss in five pre-season games. While both clubs have much different lineups than last season, he likes the look of his team.

“We have a very special group here, very talented and young,” he said.

Having faced B.C. Division opponents Kamloops, Kelowna, Vancouver and the Cougars in the pre-season, Price expects divisional play this year to feature a lot of speed and physicality on the forecheck.

The trimmed-down 68-game WHL season sees the Royals play B.C. opponents 36 times.

Pre-season provided promising results

Some highlights from the Royals pre-season action:

• Third-year WHLer D-Jay Jerome was a cyclone, leading the team and the WHL in pre-season scoring (5G–5A), while posting a team-high 18 shots on goal in five games

• Rookie centre and Denmark native Phillip Schultz (4G–1A) and fellow Royals newcomer Tyler Lees (1G–4A) rounded out the top three, while Fizer notched three goals in two games

• The Royals six goalies in training camp collectively posted a 2.75 goals against average in five games.

Game times Friday and Saturday are 7:05 p.m. For tickets, visit victoriaroyals.com, call 250-220-7777 or drop by the Select Your Tickets box office at the arena Monday through Saturday.

editor@mondaymag.com

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