Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

Victoria, BC (ISN) – The Victoria Royals completed their main camp on Tuesday and while the focus at camp, as well as at the draft and rookie camps that preceded it, has been on the players, all of the camps could not have happened if it were not for a slew of Royals staffers and a horde of volunteers working behind the scenes to make the experience a positive one for the players, parents and fans who were in attendance.

It takes a ton of coordination to arrange logistics, equipment, accomodation, first aid, etc. for the slew of players attending the camps and while the bulk of this has fallen upon Royal’s staffers Jeff Harris and Cory St. Laurent, it is a legion of volunteers behind the scenes to make it all work.

One such volunteer is Rachelle O’Brien, a student athletic therapist from Camosun’s Exercise and Athletic Therapy program who was on hand to assist the team and help out with any injuries that happen.  “We basically keep an eye on the games and practices and help out if there are any injuries,” noted O’Brien.  “We will treat anything minor and if it is something worse, we can take them in to the head therapist for a more thorough evaluation, or if it is something like a bloody nose from a fight, we will plug it up and send them back out there.”

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Trainer Rachelle O’Brien keeps an eye on a practice at Victoria Royals main camp on Tuesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

O’Brien’s duties at the camp, while obviously a critical one for the players, also fulfils part of the curriculum of her Camosun training that requires students in her program to complete 675 hours of “on-field” or “in-rink” practical experience as well as 600 clinical hours prior to graduating.  

As to how busy she has been over the course of the camp, O’Brien noted that there has been nothing critical to deal with. “So far so good. It is always nice when we are not busy. I’d rather have that, as opposed to dealing with broken limbs all over the place.  We do keep busy ahead of games as well, taping players up as needed and dealing with their minor aches and pains as needed.”

Having assisted before with a number of Junior B hockey teams and with the Shamrocks Intermediate lacrosse team, O’Brien has been impressed with the excitement of a  WHL camp, “This is really a big step above everything I have done before.  It’s exciting and there are so many more people milling about than I am used to.”

Another key volunteer is Bill Sanderson who keeps track up in the press box of all the statistics during scrimmage play, including goals, assists, shots on goal and plus minuses.  “We will make sure we record all the information so both the players and the coaches can see how they are doing relative to their shots and key statistics.”

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Returning goaltender Keith Hamilton in action at Royals Main Camp Tuesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

“I love doing this as it keeps me in the game and focused, as I am the one calling the goals and assists.  In a normal league game the referees would do this, but here my concentration has to be 100%, so it is great as it gets me warmed up for the season.”

Also playing a critical role is veteran timekeeper Bill Dawes, who many fans will recognize as the long-time clock operator for both the Salmon Kings and the Royals.  While Dawes’ role is a bit less in the camp scrimmage games given that the periods are running time and that no penalties are put up on the board, he still needs to keep an eye on thing and put up the goals when they happen.

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Official Kelby Whittich and timekeeper Bill Dawes chat prior to a scrimmage at Victoria Royals main camp (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

“I really enjoy doing this for the team as I love the game and this year, it has been fun to watch the new coaching staff come in and see how they are operating with all the young players.  As to the clock, I enjoy it, although when things go wrong, usually because of my big fingers hitting the wrong buttons, it is always fun to have 5,000 people letting you know about it!”

In addition to timekeepers and stat keepers for the games, they could also not happen without on-ice officials to keep things in order, as well as coaches behind the bench to keep the players alert and focused.

On the officiating side, Kelby Wittich and Blake Copeland, who are well known officials in the Junior B and minor hockey ranks in Victoria, are getting their first taste of WHL level action during the camp.  “It is great exposure to this level of hockey” noted Copeland “and gives us a great warm-up for the season, plus a chance to get to know all the players which is pretty cool.”

Asked about the difference in breaking up fights at the WHL level versus say the Junior B level, Whittich noted that, while there have not been many to deal with, things seem easier at the WHL level, “Here they get into their fight and when they are done, they are done and let us know and that’s that. It’s easy to break them apart at that point.  In Junior B, they often like to keep going and chirp at one another so it takes a bit more effort to get them under control.”

On the coaching side, Royal’s Assistant Coach Geoff Grimwood has been responsible for organizing a number of guest coaches to be behind the benches, most of which are from the minor hockey and Junior B ranks in the Victoria region.  “What we have done is bring in minor hockey coaches to run the benches during the scrimmages, generally bantam, midget or junior coaches who would be comfortable with the older groups. This is great experience for them to see what things are like at the WHL level.”

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Peninsula Panther head coach Rob Armstrong was a guest coach for Team Santorelli during a scrimmage Tuesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

“Their role on the bench is to generally make sure things keep moving and that the shifts are short and that the players keep some structure,” added Grimwood.  “Yesterday Dave Lowry had some specific instructions on who was to play with who, so the coaches make sure those combinations stay in place, that the pace keeps up and that the bench stays organized.”

As to the camp itself, Head Coach Dave Lowry has been generally pleased, but notes there is room for improvement, “It has been generally a very competitive camp, but at this point the intensity level has to pick up. We are getting down in numbers and some players need to realize they are going to have to battle hard for positions.  We have a number of fine young players here in camp and they are really pushing hard to make this team.  Our veterans are also working hard, so overall I like what I am seeing so far.”

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Royals Head Coach Dave Lowry keeps an eye on all his prospects during practice Tuesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)

The Royals final camp event will be an inter-squad game on Wednesday evening and then they will hit the road for exhibition games on Thursday in Kamloops and Friday in Maple Ridge against the Kelowna Rockets. They will play a lone home exhibition game on September 15th.