Last season, if you don't count their two overtime losses and five shootout defeats, the Victoria Royals won five more games than they lost and posted a franchise-high 35 victories.
That led to a sixth-place finish and a spot in the playoffs, in which they were eliminated in six first-round games by the Kamloops Blazers.
The Royals have made the postseason in each of the two years they've been in Victoria but the franchise has had just two winning seasons, dating back to their first five years of existence as the Chilliwack Bruins.
This year, however, the Royals are showing signs they will be habitual winners. The early-season prognosticators peg the Royals and Kelowna Rockets as frontrunners of the B.C. Division and that means the Prince George Cougars are going to have their hands full the next two nights.
The Cougars will get their first look at the Royals tonight (7 p.m.) when they host Victoria in the first of a two-game set at CN Centre. The second game takes place Wednesday.
The Royals and Cougars are now tied for sixth in the WHL standings, each with 2-3-0-0 records.
Victoria scored a 4-3 shootout win over the Kelowna Rockets Saturday in Kelowna, where 18-year-old goalie Coleman Vollrath made 29 saves for his first win of the season. Vollrath is the backup to starting goalie Patrik Polivka, a 19-year-old import from the Czech Republic.
The Royals have three designated leaders on the blueline, including captain Jordan Fransoo and his assistants - Joe Hicketts, a slick puckhandler who played for Canada's under-18 team, and Keegan Kanzig, a six-foot-five, 242-pound goliath picked in the third round in 2013 by the Calgary Flames. Quesnel native Ryan Gagnon is back for a second season as a 17-year-old D-man.
C Logan Nelson, a fifth-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, has lived up to his billing so far as an offensive-minded playmaker, leading the Royals with a goal and four assists. C Ben Walker attended the Minnesota Wild training camp as a 20-year-old and he's due for a breakout game. Although he's been held off the scoresheet through five games, Walker ranked fourth in team scoring last year with 19 goals and 52 points.
The Royals are still without the services of F Steven Hodges, expected to miss several weeks while recovering from surgery. Hodges, a Florida Panthers third-rounder in 2012, collected 51 points for the Royals last season.
"They're a veteran squad, a lot of returning players who have put up some numbers in this league and they will be a team that will compete every night and they'll be a good challenge for us," said Cougars assistant coach Jason Becker.
The Royals also have strength behind the bench. Dave Lowry, a veteran of 1,084 NHL games as a forward with Vancouver, St. Louis, Florida, San Jose and Calgary, is back for his second season as head coach of the Royals. Lowry took the Calgary Hitmen to the WHL final in 2009 as head coach before he moved up to the NHL with the Flames for three seasons as an assistant coach. Enio Sacilotto, a former BCHL coach-of-the-year with the Penticton Vees, is Lowry's assistant.
The Cougars are coming off a 3-1 win Saturday over the visiting Kamloops Blazers. Rookie goalie Ty Edmonds, 17, made 26 saves that night and looked extremely comfortable in the process, making him the likely starter tonight.
"Ty made the saves he needed to make and there was obviously a lot of pressure on him coming in, kind of like the game he had the previous week, off a loss, and he did a good job of answering the bell," said Becker. "I can't speak for Mark [head coach Holick] right now but Ty's going to get my vote. He's done what he's needed to do here to get a second start."
The status of injured Cougar forwards Jari Erricson (lower-body) and David Soltes (lower-body) is day-to-day. Considering the Cougars have 25 players on the roster, Becker said they won't be rushed into the lineup.