Being a hometown boy on a high-profile hockey team definitely has its benefits.
For Jack Palmer, the lone such player on the Victoria Royals, coming home has meant everything from sleeping in his own bed at his parents’ place on the West Shore to hanging with old buddies.
And while his former Western Hockey League club, the Brandon Wheat Kings, were the top draw in a hockey-mad town, being back home has special appeal.
“It’s kind of exciting,” he says of playing in front of familiar faces at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.
While he was close his teammates in Brandon, where he spent last season and the first 15 games of this one, one thing he didn’t experience much was getting texts from friends saying they’d be at the game that night.
“In Brandon I was with the team 24/7, but here I have friends outside of hockey, so that’s nice,” he says. So are those home-cooked dinners from mom, Denise, he adds.
Palmer’s dad, Brad, a member of the high-flying Victoria Cougars major junior teams of the early 1980s and a former NHLer with Minnesota and Boston, attends every Royals home game and some on the road. A Duncan native who left town at 14 to play hockey in Kelowna, he empathized with his son when Jack was homesick in Brandon.
“I know the coach there would have got a lot out of Jack … and he was learning that you have to play hard every day,” Brad said. “But the only problem with (playing there) was being so far away from home.”
A rangy forward – he’s listed at 6-2, 183 pounds – Palmer is a quick skater with soft hands. He has three goals and five assists since being acquired Nov. 6, but six of those points have come in the past seven games.
Royals team management sees Palmer as a player on the way up, a guy with plenty of upside.
“When he first got here we had to get him to understand there’s a certain way this team plays,” says head coach Dave Lowry, a systems guy who demands his players carry a team-first motivation. “He’s adapted well and is making strides.”
General manager Cam Hope says while Palmer, 18, is still considered a work in progress, “he is coming from a base of having great instincts and skills.”
Palmer, a former Saanich Braves player who admits to not always going full out in junior B, is anxious to prove he belongs in the WHL. He’s learned how to harness his skating power better and has worked closely with Royals conditioning coach Jeff Compton to find that extra gear on the ice.
Brad Palmer, who has coached his son at various times over the years but is now content to simply be a fan, believes Jack has “turned the corner” and realizes putting in the effort every night eventually pays off.
“He’s got to a point where he’s working hard and he’s getting rewarded for it,” Brad said. “When he works hard like that, no matter what the result, there’s no better feeling in the stands. I look down there and say, ‘that’s my boy.’”
Royals home for next couple of weeks
The boys in blue kick off a five-game homestand tonight with the first of two games in two nights against the U.S. Division-leading Portland Winter Hawks (26-12-2-2).
The Royals (28-14-0-2, honourable mention in CHL national rankings) will have new acquisition, high-scoring defenceman Travis Brown, in the lineup against the Hawks. Brown, obtained earlier this week from the Moose Jaw Warriors, has nine goals and 29 assists in 43 games this season and will immediately help the team’s power play, said Royals head coach Dave Lowry.
“He gives us more depth on the blueline and he’s a guy on the back end who can move the puck,” Lowry said.
To help make room for Brown the Royals dealt defenceman Isaac Schacher to Regina on Tuesday for fifth-round bantam draft picks in 2015 and 2016.
Game time Friday and Saturday is 7:05 p.m. at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre. The Royals host division rival Kelowna Jan. 17 and 18 and Medicine Hat on Jan. 21.