By Tim Collins
The Victoria Royals drop the puck on the start of their 2016-17 regular season on Friday when they take the ice against the Prince George Cougars.
The game will kick off a four game home stand — a schedule General Manager Cameron Hope feels will allow the team a quick start to the season.
“We’ll be able to practice at home and then play our games for a home crowd. It’s a great way to start,” said Hope.
But the start of the new season isn’t without it’s challenges.
When the team takes the ice for their season opener, they’ll be doing it without last year’s goalie, Coleman Dollrath, last year’s leading scorer, Alex Forsbery, and Logan Fisher — all of whom aged out and have left the team.
“That’s just the nature of junior hockey. You know you’re going to lose your older players as they age out of the league and you hope you’ve done everything you can to fill those gaps,” said Hope.
To that end, the Royals announced earlier in the week that the club has acquired 20-year-old forward Carter Folk from the Lethbridge Hurricanes in exchange for a fourth round pick in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft. Folk will be coming to Victoria after recording 31 points and 77 penalty minutes in 66 games for the Hurricanes last season.
But the holes in the Royals roster will be further aggravated by the fact six of the team’s best players (Jack Walker, Tyler Soy, Chaz Reddekopp, Mathew Phillips, Ralph Jarratt, and Joe Hicketts) have been sent to NHL rookie camps and will not be back for the opening games of the season.
According to Hope, there’s a chance one or more of those players may not return at all, as it’s possible they may sign with an NHL team. Common wisdom holds that team captain, Joe Hicketts will be signed by the Red Wings for the upcoming season.
“These are some pretty big holes to fill,” said Hope, adding it’s a situation faced by all major junior hockey teams. “The good thing about having these guys missing is it gives the new younger guys those important minutes on the ice where we can see what they’re capable of.”
He said the Royals currently have nine new faces on the bench, and the upcoming games will give the organization the chance to evaluate who will be staying with the team and who will be packing their bags for home.
“These guys are all good players but when our players return from the NHL rookie camps, we’ll be making a few cuts,” said Hope. “We still have a few hearts to break.”
As for the long term prospects for the team, Hope is philosophical in his approach.
“Last year no one expected us to do much, and we ended up winning the WHL regular season championship and the B.C. division championship,” said Hope. “This year, we’re going to try to repeat that performance. We always aim to do our best.”