The capriciousness of injuries can wreck even the best-laid plans in sports.
Just ask Dan Price or John Herdman, each of whose seemingly bottomless senses of optimism must surely be being tested. It’s not to say the regular season in the Western Hockey League is even remotely comparable to the soccer World Cup, but you get the idea.
The Royals, missing nine regulars, went down 5-2 to the Prince George Cougars before 3,571 fans Saturday night at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. It follows Victoria’s 9-1 loss to the Cougars on Friday night.
The only way to prepare for injuries is to build in depth, something the lowly Royals clearly don’t have, not that many teams could cope with losing a third of the roster.
The game ended in a line brawl, which was about the only thing the Royals won on the night in what might be described as a split decision.
“It was gritty and sets the tone for this [B.C.] division rivalry,” said Royals forward Teague Patton, who played his 100th career WHL game.
“It lets them know we do not give up and we fight hard.”
The skilled Prince George power play, loaded with high-end talent, scored three goals to destroy any chance Victoria might have had on the night as the reeling Royals fell to 3-16-3-0, with their winless run extending to seven games at 0-6-1.
“We have to stick to our systems and do the little things well and stop the little mistakes and stay disciplined with the sticks and not take the high-sticking and slashing penalties [Victoria had nine penalties to Prince George’s two],” said Patton.
“Making the playoffs [is the goal] for us. We all want that in this locker room.”
The question is can Victoria stay afloat long enough to stay in touch with the pack until key players return?
Touted 15-year-old call-up Cole Reschny of the Saskatoon Blazers Under-18 triple-A team, selected by Victoria in the first round as the third overall pick in the 2022 WHL prospects draft, scored the first of what is hoped to be many more over his career in the Memorial Centre.
“It’s pretty exciting to get the first one,” he said.
As for the expectations for the future on his youthful shoulders, Reschny replied: “I put that stuff behind me and don’t worry about that.”
Royals GM and head coach Dan Price said of Reschny after the game: “Almost every time he’s on the ice he gets a scoring chance.”
Veteran centre Alex Thacker, 20, acquired Thursday from the Lethbridge Hurricanes in a trade for a draft pick, scored his first goal for the Royals, who were wearing throwback jerseys honouring the NHL-rostered 1942-43 CFB Esquimalt navy team.
Victoria was facing a tall task, literally and figuratively, against six-foot-four New Jersey Devils prospect Tyler Brennan in the Prince George net.
Brennan, who was in the Canada summer selection camp for the 2023 world junior championship, made 21 saves. Rookie Logan Cunningham started in goal for Victoria, with veteran Tyler Palmer away on personal leave, and made 25 saves.
Cole Dubinsky scored twice for the Cougars, a franchise that was located in Victoria from 1971-72 to 1993-94. Dubinsky has five goals and three assists in five games since joining the Cougars in a trade from the Regina Pats.
The crafty and quick Riley Heidt, ranked for the first round of the 2023 NHL draft, extended his points streak to seven games with a goal and assist. Six of those seven games have been multi-point games.
Cougars forward Koehn Ziemmer, ranked for the second to third rounds of the 2023 NHL draft, came into the game second in league scoring behind Regina Pats prodigy Connor Bedard, and had an assist to extend his points streak to 13 games.
Ondrej Becher and Chase Wheatcroft also scored the Cougars (12-9-0-0), who remained first in the B.C. Division and fourth in the Western Conference. Wheatcroft, an off-season trade acquisition from the Winnipeg ICE, now has 16 goals, tied for second in the WHL.
The Royals play the Pats and the generational talent Bedard, the consensus top pick for the 2023 NHL draft, next Saturday at the Memorial Centre in a game that is already sold out. Bedard and the Pats visit Prince George on Friday, Dec. 2.
Next up for the Cougars is a home date against the Moose Jaw Warriors Wednesday night at CN Centre.
- with files from the Prince George Citizen