The Victoria Royals will begin a six-game Eastern Conference road trip this Wednesday with a stop in Central Alberta for a matchup against the Red Deer Rebels.
It will be the Royals’ first road trip out east since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020, as teams were restricted to intra-conference play for the past two years.
Victoria (2-8-2-0) enters the week on the back of two close losses, falling 3-2 to the Winnipeg ICE last Tuesday before a 6-5 overtime defeat at the hands of the Vancouver Giants on Saturday.
Head Coach Dan Price believes the road trip will provide a prime opportunity for the team to build some momentum and begin to redefine the narrative of the season:
“We’re really looking forward to it,” said Price. “And it’s a great way to turn the page for us as well, because that was a really tough loss [against Vancouver] at home and it was great to see the fans out, they gave us a lot of momentum during the game. So, we’re going to try to get hot for them on the road and have a little hot streak coming back to Vic.”
While they’re still not getting the results they would prefer, the Royals have improved their play dramatically over the past two weeks after a challenging start to the year.
The team posted a record of 0-6-0-0 to begin the season, surrendering 28 goals while scoring just 12 of their own for a goal differential of -16 through their first six games.
However, that differential would shift to an even zero over their next six games, as they surrendered 19 to their opponents while scoring 19 of their own, resulting in a record of 2-2-2-0 over that span.
If the Royals can continue to improve as they have over the past few weeks and find a way to turn some of those close losses into wins, they could quickly find themselves back in playoff contention over the next few weeks.
The addition of 20-year-old forward Jake Poole – who was acquired via trade from the Kelowna Rockets earlier this month – has been a large factor in the team’s recent turn-around. Poole has quickly become an indispensable part of the Royals’ attack, exemplified by a four-point performance – in which he recorded his first career hat trick – against the Giants on Saturday.
Coach Price expects Poole to remain a key piece at the top of the lineup going forward:
“One thing we learned about him is that he’s a really good left-winger,” said Price. “A right-handed shot that’s on his off wing. He just opens up well and sees it very well. And he’s a great leader and a great person, so he’s been a great addition.”
The McAuley, AB product has recorded a team-leading eight points on four goals and four assists through his first eight games in a Royals uniform and will look to continue that pace on the upcoming road trip.
Tyler Palmer continues to shoulder the load in net for Victoria, starting 10 of 12 games for the club this year and is expected to make his 11th start of the season against Red Deer on Wednesday. The 19-year-old has amassed a record of 2-6-2-0 with a 3.63 goals against average (GAA) and a .891 save percentage (SV%) in 2022-2023 while facing the third most shots (293) of any goaltender in the WHL.
Red Deer may be the toughest opponent Victoria will face during their Easter Conference tour, as they enter the week with a perfect 10-0-0-0 record and stand as one of the few unbeaten teams in the entire CHL.
The Rebels are led on offence by 20-year-old Anaheim Ducks prospect Ben King, who has recorded 10 points (five goals, five assists) in five games since returning from Ducks’ camp earlier this month.
The team also features one of the top young prospects, Victoria native Ollie Josephson, who was a standout for the South Island Royals U18 AAA squad as a 15-year-old before being selected in the first round of the 2021 WHL draft by the Rebels last December
Red Deer goaltender Kyle Kelsey also holds an Island connection, having spent the 2021-2022 season manning the posts for the Victoria Grizzlies. He has stood out as one of the top goaltenders in the WHL this season, holding a perfect 8-0-0-0 record while posting a 1.87 GAA and a .936 SV%.
Should the Rebels choose to sit Kelsey, starting duties would fall to backup Rhett Stasser, who has earned a record of 2-0-0-0 with a 1.50 GAA and a .938 SV% over two appearances this year.
Puck drop for the game is set for 6 pm PT on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at the Peavey Mart Centrium in Red Deer, AB.
Impact players to watch:
#11 Matthew Hodson (F) – 9 GP, 7 PTS (5 G, 2 A)
#29 Teague Patton (F) – 12 GP, 10 PTS (3 G, 7 A)
# 24 Luke Shipley (F) – 11 GP, 7 PTS (2 G, 5 A)
#9 Jayden Grubbe (F) – 8 GP, 13 PTS (4 G, 9 A)
#23 Jhett Larson (F) – 10 GP, 11 PTS (7 G, 4 A)
The next set of Royals home games will be on Nov. 11 and 12 against the Portland Winterhawks.