Friday, April 4, 2014

Second Round Playoff Preview: An In Depth Look at the Victoria Royals.

Victoria Royals 48-20-0-1-3, 100 pts, 2nd B.C. Division, 3rd Western Conference:
Record Setting Season:
-The Victoria Royals, whose franchise dates back to 2006, with their first seasons as the Chilliwack Bruins, had by far their best season to date. They had never garnered more than 77 points in a season, prior to the 100 they accrued this season. This was a huge jump forward, for a franchise, that despite one season, was not terrible, just not good enough to take that next step.

This season appears to be different for the Royals. They are loaded with depth, sporting 6 players that scored 20 goals or more and they performed well against the top teams in the league, going 5-3 vs. Kelowna and 3-1 vs. Portland for a combined 8-4 vs the top 2 teams in the WHL.

They continued to play within themselves in doing so as well, riding an experienced blue line and stellar goal tending, to allowing the second fewest goals in the WHL (behind Edmonton). They also won the 3rd most away games (26). Theses were all things that the Victoria Royals of the previous seasons struggled with leading to early exits, every time they did manage to make the playoffs.

This season they finally took that next step, using 2 over time wins to oust the over matched Spokane Chiefs in 4 straight, notching their first sweep and more importantly, first playoff series win in the existence of their franchise.

All of these records are sure to have warm feelings going all around the Save on Foods Memorial Arena. When the second round starts though, they must be prepared to take on the former WHL champions and a team that has not made a habit of losing over the last 2 months in the Portland Winterhawks.

Good news for the Royals is this record setting season was done in much the same way that they feel they can beat the Winterhawks: stellar goal tending and converting on the chances that they are able to create.
Logan Nelson

Scoring Depth:
-Defense is great and all, but when the Royals were nearing the trade deadline near the top of the conference, they decided to start dealing for able bodied scorers that could help their top five of Brandon Magee, Austin Carroll, Ben Walker, Logan Nelson and Steven Hodges a quintet that has played together since the Royals moved to Victoria in 2011. Hodges and Magee actually go as far back together as 2010, when the team was still in Chilliwack.

The Royals General Manager Cameron Hope had to know that the best way he was going to contend with teams with high powered offenses like Portland and Kelowna was to add good two way players that buy into the physical system and can pot a goal or two on the way.

No one was a bigger addition up front then Swedish import Axel Blomqvist. Victoria traded 4th and 8th round Bantam picks to Lethbridge for the 6'6" 212 lb Right Winger. Blomqvist is a guy that has never completely learned how to play with that hulking frame, but is still difficult to play against because of his reach. Blomqvist went from a 33 point season that did not warrant him getting drafted in the 2013 NHL draft, to 56 points combined between Lethbridge and the island.
Blomqvist Celebrating with Walker and Magee

He really seemed to start to figure out how to score a timely goal as he ended up on a line with top scorer Magee and over age Ben Walker, giving them a solid unit that is also difficult to beat in the corners.

Trading 3 Bantam picks and a 15 year old prospect in Noah Gregor to Moose Jaw for a 19 year old D-man in Travis Brown, may seem like a lot, but at the trade deadline, the market can stick it to teams that are desperate. Players like Brown that can provide scoring from the blue line and play both sides of special teams are rare in the WHL and he proved it with 15 points in 28 games and being a point per game player in the playoffs. Victoria knew they could not rely upon Joe Hicketts and Brett Cote to quarterback the power play, so they truly were desperate for someone like Brown.


The Royals also added 17 year olds Mitch Skapski and Jack Palmer, in hopes that they could help take over some of the scoring that will be leaving the team after this year and a goal or two in the playoffs this season.

Now or Never:
-For a team like Victoria, making it's first semi-deep playoff run, it may seem like they are building towards something, better, but unfortunately a lot of their best players may be gone next season:
  • Brown is assuredly playing in the AHL, as a Chicago Blackhawks 20 year old prospect.
  • Ben Walker will be gone as he is an over-ager this season.
  • Logan Nelson will be 20 and is a Buffalo Sabres pick.
  • Steven Hodges will be 20 and is a Florida Panthers draftee.
  • Jordan Fransoo will age out as a 20 this season.
  • The Royals will have to choose between three over-agers in: Brandon Magee, Austin Carroll, Brett Cote and Patrik Polivka; all very integral to this years team.
This means that of the top 8 scorers in the first round series for Victoria, 5 will assuredly be gone, with the strong chance that one more will or they will have to trade their starting Goalie.

Sure they have solid pieces to build from in ('97) Tyler Soy, ('96) Joe Hicketts and ('95) Coleman Vollrath, but I think it would be fair to say that their best chance to make a WHL title run is probably now.

-Dave Lowry himself is calling his team big under dogs. I would have to think that if they can drag out this series to 7 games, by getting fantastic goal-tending and timely goals from some of their big guns, they can win it. It's just really hard to pick a team to beat the Hawks, when they struggle so much with scoring goals. Portland should be able to take them in 5 or 6 games.

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