Hopefully, for Kevin Sundher’s sake, he’s wearing a new jersey on Wednesday.
The Western Hockey League’s trade deadline is Tuesday (Jan. 10) and Sundher, the WHL’s seventh leading scorer, is on contract to start his pro career in the Buffalo Sabres organization later this spring. Having won just once in the past 10 games, Sundher’s departure will leave the already-reeling Victoria Royals with a major gap.
But that’s the junior dilemma, and it’s up to fans to find the next gem to focus on.
Even without a winning team, the fan support for the Royals continues to be strong. The announced attendance at last weekend’s two losses to the Kelowna Rockets – 4-3 in a shootout on Saturday and 5-2 on Friday – was more than 12,000 (or was there a rush to see the arena’s swanky new video screens?).
It’s been a breakout season for Sundher, who came out from the shadow of last year’s stars Ryan Howse (Abbotsford Heat) and Roman Horak (Calgary Flames).
Now it’s time for Sundher to shine on the big stage.
Not to say that Victoria isn’t one of the bigger markets in the WHL, but it’s likely that such an effective two-way player as Sundher would have gained a little more respect, including an invite to Team Canada’s world junior tryouts, should he play under the microscope of the Vancouver Giants, or in the larger Ontario market.
How Sundher’s managed to retain minus-3 on the worst defensive team in the country reeks of the quality of his play. As of Monday morning the Royals’ 212 goals against in 42 games puts the club beside the OHL-worst Erie Otters, who’ve let in 200 in 39 games, and the Quebec-worst Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, who have allowed 206 in 43 games.
This is not a snub to the young Royals group who will continue to be “nurtured.”
Disconcerting as the departure of 19-year-old defenceman Jesse Pauls to “retirement” was last week, there is plenty of returning talent ready to emerge offensively next season.
Logan Nelson continues to be in the hunt for the rookie scoring race. The core of forwards Jamie Crooks, Steven Hodges, Brandon Magee, Tim Traber and Zane Jones are all going to benefit from a year’s growth by next September. And mid-season pickup Ben Walker is starting to look better, with nine points in 16 games.
Defensively, wouldn’t the season have looked a lot better by this point if the concussed Tyler Stahl had been around to lend his rugged and often nasty demeanour beyond four games?
Should Sundher stay, and if Stahl returns, the Royals – with one win in the last 13 games – could hold on for the remaining playoff spot.
Maybe starting goalie Keith Hamilton (or Jared Rathjen) wins them a playoff game or two. Maybe he steals the first round. It would take a lot, and it’s a lot to ask.
Realistically, the Royals need to grow into a winning team, and be able to keep it that way for a number of seasons.
And that means getting something now for Sundher, assuming a GM smart enough to realize his value is able to meet Marc Habscheid’s asking price.
And Sundher isn’t the only Royals player teams might find attractive. Like Horak before him, Robin Soudek is the latest Czech import with a shot at going pro from the Royals/Bruins organization. Great hands, hard hitting and an intense game when he brings it, Soudek would make a nice playoff addition.