Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
The Victoria Royals play three key home games this week, all of which may have big implications on their bid for a Western Conference playoff position.
Victoria, BC (ISN) – Although there are still 16 games remaining in the Victoria Royals inaugural Western Hockey League (WHL) season, the next three games on the schedule, all at home this week, could be critical in deciding whether or not they secure a Western Conference playoff position.
The Royals are deadlocked with the Seattle Thunderbirds for seventh place in the Western Conference, but sit just one point up on the Everett Silvertips and four points up on the Prince George Cougars for playoff spots.
The Thunderbirds play Everett four more times and Prince George twice more over their final 17 games, while the Royals play the Cougars four times and the ‘Tips twice more this season in their remaining 16 games.
Royal’s January Player of the Month Ben Walker will look to continue his hot streak this week against Calgary and Prince George.
Two of those four Royals match-ups against the Cougars come this Friday and Saturday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria. Prior to that however, the Royals will need to take care of matters in a Wednesday evening tilt against the always tough Calgary Hitmen who sit in sixth place in the East.
Prince George is also playing Wednesday evening against the Red Deer Rebels (who are fighting for a playoff spot in the East), so depending on the outcome of both Wednesday night games, the Cougars and Royals could be tied with 56 points heading into Friday’s game, making the two-game set one of the biggest the Royals have faced at home to date.
Keith Hamilton, here making a blocker save last week against Everett, will likely get the start in all three of the Royal’s critical home games this week.
Should the Royals hold on for the 8th playoff spot in the West, they would, if the playoff started today, be facing the Kamloops Blazers who occupy the 1st spot with 84 points and who will likely finish first or second as they currently hold a 17-point lead over Vancouver for first place in the B.C. Division.
A 7th place finish matches the Royals up against the Tri-City Americans, although the Americans dropped two of their three games over the past week, and have seen their U.S. Division lead dwindle to just one point over the Portland Winterhawks.
Unless miracles happen, it is unlikely that the Royals will finish any higher than seventh, as the sixth place Kelowna Rockets are presently 15 points ahead of both the Royals and the Thunderbirds in the standings.
Captain Hayden Rintoul and his defensive colleagues will face a tough task this week with key home games against Calgary and Prince George.
It is certainly shaping up to be an exciting finish to the Royals first season, and an exciting week of hockey ahead and they are no doubt expecting their fans to fill the building on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, as they have been doing all season, to help cheer the team on to victory.