The puck is set to drop on the Victoria Royals 2022-2023 season this weekend as they welcome the Spokane Chiefs to the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre for a pair of games on Friday and Saturday night.
The home opener at 7:05 pm will be brought to you by Coldwell Banker, Oceanside Real Estate. Royals fans will get their hands on a free rally towel and will be able to partake in a pre-game tailgate party from 4:30 pm to 7 pm which will include food trucks, music, games and a beer garden.
Then on Saturday, September 24, the Royals will launch a brand new fan-friendly 6:05 pm start presented by Tedford Doors.
The games will have extra-special meaning for the Royals, who will be out for redemption after being eliminated from playoff contention by the Chiefs on the final day of the 2021-2022 season in April.
160 days after that heartbreaking loss, both teams will have that game at the front of their minds as they look to begin the season on the right foot.
“It’s a sense of opportunity,” said Royals General Manager and Head Coach Dan Price. “As soon as the game ended, our first thought was this game, the home opener. We didn’t know it was against Spokane at the time, but our minds immediately shifted to our next game…Everyone’s been preparing for this for a while and the fact that it is Spokane is great, a great opportunity to write a new chapter.”
Price looks forward to the challenge of playing against Spokane.
“They’re well-coached, they have a deep group,” said Price. “They were a younger team last year just like us, so they’re one year older, one year more familiar. And they play well on the road, as we saw last year when we had two really tough games against them here in Victoria. We know we will have to jump on them early, try and get a good start, try and play with a lead as much as possible…They present a great challenge for sure.”
Furthermore, Price feels this year’s group has the potential to contend with the league’s best.
“I have been impressed with our physicality,” said Price “I’ve said this could be one of our fastest teams, but I believe it could also be one of our most physical teams I’ve seen…We’re really looking forward to try and creating more puck possession and space on the ice through physicality.”
One of the main pieces coming back for the team is 18-year-old forward Brayden Schuurman, who ranked second on the team with 68 points with 29 goals and 25 assists last year and will be leaned on as a primary point producer this year.
Another Royal primed to take the next step is forward Tanner Scott, who is entering his third season with the club. The speedy winger out of Sherwood Park, AB is expected to play top-line minutes this season after recording 35 points on 14 goals and 21 assists in a depth role in 2021-2022.
Goaltender Tyler Palmer should also be another strongpoint for Victoria this weekend and beyond after a solid first season in 2021-2022 that saw him lead all WHL rookie netminders with a .908 save percentage and earn 17 wins on the year.
Despite all the positive signs heading into the year, the Royals will have to contend without team captain Gannon Laroque for the near future as he remains out with a lower body injury. The 19-year-old enjoyed a successful 2021-2022 campaign, recording 52 points on 10 goals and 42 assists and should see those numbers improve when he eventually makes his return later this season.
Coach Price is excited to see who will step up and fill the role left behind in Laroque’s absence.
“I really see that as a great opportunity,” said Price. “Because we’re very deep and we have so many guys with the ability to play those minutes, it’s just going to come down to who wants it.”
Similar to Victoria, Spokane suffered through an up-and-down 2021-2022 season filled with inconsistency and injuries throughout their lineup.
However, the season ended with the team finishing seventh in the West with a record of 24-39-4-1 with 53 total points and earning a playoff spot, where they would lose to Kamloops in the first round.
The Chiefs also benefit from several key returnees from last year’s roster, including forward Chase Bertholet, who recorded 67 points on 26 goals and 41 assists between stints with Winnipeg and Spokane in 2021-2022.
The team also brings back Nashville Predators prospect Graham Sward, who led all Chiefs defencemen with 58 points on 24 goals and 34 assists last season.
The primary option in net for Spokane this year should be Surrey, BC product Mason Beaupit, who has amassed a record of 24-38-6-1 in 53 career starts for the Chiefs over the past three seasons. His 2021-2022 campaign was his best year, earning 20 wins and recording a 3.63 goals against average to go along with a .893 save percentage.
Other players to watch:
D Kalem Parker – 66 GP, 20 PTS (2 G, 18 A) in 2021-2022.
F Riley Gannon – 67 GP, 34 PTS (21 G, 17 A) in 2021-2022.
F Teague Patton – 4 G in 2022-2023 preseason; 59 GP, 21 PTS (10 G, 11A) in 2021-2022.*
*with Medicine Hat.
D Sage Weinstein – 7 PTS (4 G, 3 A) in 2022-2023 preseason; 59 GP, 15 PTS (1 G, 14 A) in 2021-2022.
F Ty Cheveldayoff – 60 GP, 19 PTS (10 G, 8 A) in 2021-2022.
F Blake Swetlikoff – 62 GP, 29 PTS (11 G, 18 A) in 2021-2022.
Game one is scheduled to begin at 7:05 pm on Friday, Sept. 23, with game two starting at 6:05 pm on Saturday, Sept. 24. Both contests will be played at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in downtown Victoria.