Victoria Royals general manager Cam Hope joked that he’d rather be “anywhere but here” as he conducted season-end interviews outside the team’s dressing room at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.
“I think it always feels the same this time of year, for all but the champion your season’s going to end in disappointment,” said Hope, whose Western Hockey League team was packing up after losing four straight in the Western Conference semifinal to Tri City. “But this year in particular I thought we had a team that was really going to be able to do something special and we were defanged toward the end and not able climb that last hill.”
The Americans closed out the series last Wednesday at home with a 5-3 win. Tri City’s other victory margins were 7-0, 4-1 and 6-5.
The timing of injuries to key players, forwards Tyler Soy and Tanner Kaspick and defenceman Scott Walford for the entire Tri City series, not to mention other assorted games lost to injuries, didn’t help as the Royals attempted to match up with the powerful Americans.
While admitting that having Soy, Kaspick and Walford in the lineup would have changed the complexion of the games, first-year head coach Dan Price said he was proud of how the players who were in the lineup stepped up and gave it their all right up until the end.
He called the past season of working with the players, fellow coaches and other staff probably the “best year of my life.” Price spoke of how close the team is and the message the staff had for them after the game 4 loss and at Friday’s clearing out day.
“We told them it’s worth it at the end of the day. There are many, many people that would trade places with us even though it’s disappointing that we aren’t still playing,” he said. “It’s a real special place here and a real special group and the fact that we went through all of those things, the good things and the tough times, they were very much worth it because we got to do it together.”
Hope was asked how tough a job it will be to replace upwards of half the roster next season.
“That’s junior hockey, the rosters turn over somewhere between a third and half every year anyway. That process has already started,” he said. “The bantam draft is two and a half weeks away now, we’re focused on that, and the import draft and all those things that are coming up. The rebuild starts.”
WHL rules only allow teams to carry three 20-year-olds – for next season that’s 1998-born players, of which the Royals had 10 to finish this year.
“These things tend to take care of themselves,” Hope said, noting that seven Royals are drafted and/or signed with NHL clubs already and might not be in the picture for next season anyway.
Speaking about the job his rookie head coach did this season, Hope said he expects that Price will be moving up the coaching ladder before long.
That wasn’t exactly evident when Price was asked if he’d like to come back.
“I love it here, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”