The Western Hockey League season kicks off tonight (Sept. 23) with the Victoria Royals in Vancouver against the Giants.
Low scoring or high scoring, Royals coach Marc Habscheid said it’s tough to predict just what to expect this weekend. The Royals host the Giants in the second game of the home-and-home series on Saturday night, 7:05 p.m. at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.
“It’s the beauty of junior, the kids will be nervous, mistakes will be made and it will make for exciting hockey.”
One thing is for sure, this town is abuzz.
Harbour Air got so excited about the Victoria Royals they painted a DeHavilland DHC-3 Turbine Single Otter seaplane in Royals colours and offered discounts for ticket holders.
No, the Royals won’t be using the planes to travel but fans sure can.
“It was a nice flight, a great way to see the area,” Royals goalie Keith Hamilton said.
“Hammy,” as he’s known, is one of two offseason trades made by Habscheid to bring some experience into the Royals’ lineup.
“I know (our) team is tough to play against. They work hard,” said Hamilton, who came here from Portland where the Winterhawks had rivalries with U.S. division.
He also recently witnessed the animosity between the Royals and Giants that carried over from the Victoria team’s previous incarnation in Chilliwack.
“There are some guys who don’t like each other. It will make for some pretty good games.”
Hamilton is battling for one of two available roster spots, along with 20-year-old Braden Gamble and 17-year-old Jared Rathjen. The team’s starting position is still up for grabs.
Portland lost in the WHL finals to the Kootenay Ice. Fittingly, another of the Royals’ off-season acquisitions, Hayden Rintoul, was with the Ice and went on to the Memorial Cup.
“Certainly with (Rintoul and Hamilton) we wanted to bring in some experience. We’re going to be one of the youngest teams in the league,” Habscheid said. “(But) we don’t want patchwork, we want to build this team properly.”
With tickets as low as $5, president Dave Dakers of RG Properties’ sports and entertainment division is seeing through a commitment to give everyone access to Royals games.
Opening night against the Giants officially sold out Tuesday afternoon.
Adding a little magic to the night is opera voice Mark Donnelly – the famed Vancouver Canucks’ anthem singer – who will perform “O Canada” before the game.
The first 6,000 people to arrive will also get a cowbell, the preferred noisemaker of WHL fans. Play-by-play man Marlon Martens makes his live-game debut on The Zone 91.3 FM. The broadcast is also available at victoriaroyals.com.