There is more to the return of the Western Hockey League than Victoria welcoming another sports franchise into the fold.
The Royals have a chance to become a touchstone for citizens of this region, no matter how far they find themselves from Greater Victoria.
Unlike the Salmon Kings, who toiled in the pro hockey underworld that is the ECHL, Victoria’s WHL club is part of a storied league that in many ways is interwoven into the fabric of many cities across Canada. This is more true today than it was for the former WHL Cougars, who called Victoria home from 1971 to 1994.
The Canadian Hockey League, an umbrella organization for the WHL and its major junior counterparts in Ontario and Quebec, is a magnitude more sophisticated than it was two decades ago.
Songs have been written about the Wheat Kings. Sault Ste. Marie still makes hay from the fact Wayne Gretzky played one spectacular season there, and Rimouski Oceanic jerseys with Sidney Crosby’s name on the back still sell well across the continent.
Being connected to the CHL is what separates the nascent Royals from so many of the other legendary sports clubs that call Victoria home.
Fans rightfully love such local institutions as the lacrosse Shamrocks and rugby’s James Bay Athletic Association. We also have our share of individuals who have gone on to represent the Capital Region at the highest level of amateur and professional sport, not to mention the world of entertainment.
But, given time, a team playing in the WHL has an opportunity that is simply not available to any other club or athlete.
Major junior hockey is one of the few enterprises present in most major communities from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Because of that, individual teams can enter the national consciousness. It will be much easier for other Canadians to recognize our city because we now have something tangible in common with theirs.
But first, for the Royals to truly become a symbol of our community, this season needs to be the first of many – not just a temporary fling.
Of course, if the team wants to speed the process of ingratiating itself with Victorians, they can do something the Salmon Kings struggled with: win games.
We look forward to seeing them try.