No one in the major junior ranks is banking on it. But even if it’s just a little, the Western Hockey League stands to benefit from the NHL’s greedy antics.
Last week the NHL cancelled its October games.
The general consensus around the NHL lockout is Canadian junior hockey leagues could see a small rise in attendance, but not enough to warrant extra marketing.
“Normally, we compete with Hockey Night in Canada on Saturdays, so that’s not happening,” said Victoria Royals owner Graham Lee at the start of the WHL season.
“If the fans come out because we’re winning that’s great, if they come out because there’s no NHL, I guess that will be a benefit for us too. I’m more concerned with building a winning environment for the team,” Lee said.
During the 2004-05 NHL lockout, however, the Vancouver Giants grew their following immensely in Metro Vancouver. That year the Giants climbed out of their expansion cradle and began the path to back-to-back Memorial Cup visits in 2006 and 2007.
And now the Royals look like a team poised to breakout, drawing a small but notable similarity.
With the retooled leadership core of head coach Dave Lowry and general manager Cam Hope, a crew of talented 18- and 19-year-olds looking to prove themselves, and a bevy of top 15- and 16-year-old prospects yet to contribute, the Royals look like a team on the rise.
The Royals won their first three games and are turning fans into believers with wins like last week’s come-from-behind victory over the Medicine Hat Tigers. Alex Gogolev scored to tie the game with a minute remaining and Brett Cote scored in overtime for the win. It’s still early, but that’s the kind of stuff winning teams do.
It’s also the kind of stuff that draws on-the-fence hockey fans, and displaced Canucks’ fans, off of their couches and into the local arena.
Sportsnet and Shaw television have both said they will explore added coverage of WHL games, should the NHL lockout continue. The added games won’t air until at least November, however, and it’s likely only a few of them, if any, will be Royals’ games.
This month is a chance for displaced hockey fans to get some live hockey and popcorn. And the Royals aren’t the only good hockey thing going on in Victoria right now.
The Victoria Grizzlies are also off to a great start in Colwood. And never overlook the excitement and intimacy of a junior B game. The only team better than the Saanich Braves in the nine-team Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League is the first-place Victoria Cougars.
Hockey night in Victoria
The Royals host the Kelowna Rockets Friday (Oct. 12) and Saturday nights, 7:05 p.m. at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.
The Kerry Park Islanders visit the Cougars tomorrow (Oct. 11), 7 p.m. at Archie Browning Sports Centre in Esquimalt. Friday night the Westshore Wolves visit the Saanich Braves, 6:30 p.m. at Pearkes arena.
Shaw TV will air the Royals on Nov. 20, Dec. 5, Jan. 25 and Feb. 15.
Spectrum Community school graduate Wade Murphy and the RBC Cup national champion Penticton Vees visit the Victoria Grizzlies on Friday (Oct. 12) at Bear Mountain Arena.