From all reports, a weekend team-building exercise up Island went well for the Victoria Royals.
With no pre-season games left before this Friday’s (Sept. 22) regular season Western Hockey League opener against the Vancouver Giants at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, the Royals are itching to hit the ice running, so to speak.
First-year head coach Dan Price, who credits his predecessor Dave Lowry for some of his personal growth as a coach, likes what he sees in this new version of the team, with a good mix of veterans and first-year players who are buying in to the concept of “Royals hockey.”
“The depth we have is tremendous,” says Price, who isn’t even including in the mix his three star players still at NHL camps – Chaz Redekopp with the Los Angeles Kings, and forwards Matthew Phillips with Calgary and Tyler Soy with Anaheim. Defenceman Scott Walford is back from Montreal’s camp.
“We’ve got versatility within each position as well. We’ve got defencemen who can defend but also lead the rush and be involved in the offence; forwards who can attack, of course, but can also defend down low in our zone, and who can penalty kill just as well as they play on the power play.
“As a coach that’s a really nice asset to have or group of assets to have, we can deploy players in different situations based on what the situation calls for and allows you to play any type of game, up-tempo, more of a checking game, or a transition game.”
Third-year Royals blueliner Walford, a third-round pick by the Habs in the 2017 entry draft (68th overall), agrees with Price’s sizing up of the team.
“There’s a lot of things to like,” Walford says. “First and foremost, our team is very close. We’re a tight-knit group of guys in the room and we all want to go out and there and play for each other and battle for each other and when you can do that, anything’s possible.”
Walford likes not only the skill this team features, but the versatility through the lineup.
“Everyone brings something different. It’s not a lot of one-dimensional players, a lot of guys can do different things and we’re starting to really buy into the system that our coach has put in place for us … We’re all just really excited about that home opener.”
Ask Price to define “Royals hockey” and he doesn’t hesitate: “It’s speed with the puck, speed without the puck, speed of transition, pace of play in the offensive zone. But also speed defensively as well, closing quickly to defend, getting the puck back as quickly as possible, being physical and tenacious, playing the whole game 200 feet up and down the ice and supporting each other as teammates, too. We’re just trying to continue that and not change anything and keep growing it from there.”
Personally, he says, there’s been “very little” adjustment going from being an assistant under Lowry to running the show.
“It’s not to say that it’s not hard work, it is, but the support from Cam [general manager Hope] and his entire staff, the support from Dave and the training and education we got from him every day last year really has helped us all prepare for this transition.”
The leadership group among the players and the experienced coaching staff have made things more smooth, he adds. “It’s absolutely a world-class staff, that’s not an exaggeration. I’m just the beneficiary of having amazing people around me.”