The Victoria Royals make their first appearance in Portland since the Winterhawks ousted them in the 2nd round of the WHL playoffs last season, ending their season. Portland is coming into the game having won 2 games in a row over the team with the best record in all of the WHL, while Victoria shut down both the Everett Silvertips and Regina Pats over the weekend at home.
When these two teams faced each other last this season, Portland was 1-5-0-1 and Victoria was 1-4-1-0. Both teams were not playing anywhere near expected to this season because of various reasons. Both teams have now finally gotten things going and are once again looking like top 4 teams in the Western Conference.
The Royals and the Hawks both play 3 games in 5 nights starting tonight in important stretches as we approach the 30 game mark and inch closer to the trade deadline. All 3 of Victoria's games this week are on the road, while 2 of Portland's 3 are at home in Veteran's Memorial Coliseum. Both the Royals and the Hawks are itching to start rolling here at this point and tonight is big for both squads.
-Monday 10/6/14: Victoria 6 vs. Portland 2
Portland had just gotten most of their core pieces back in the lineup and was coming off of their first win of the season. Victoria, however, rode a passionate crowd inspired by what they view as a huge rivalry and jumped out to a 5-0 two period lead behind 1 goal and 2 assists from Austin Carroll (as well as an un-penalized head shot on Alex Schoenborn), before coasting to a 6-2 victory and in some way exercising some personal demons.
-Missing from the lineup are 16 year old forward Dante Hannoun (upper body; 1 week) and 17 year old Goalie Evan Smith, as well as, over-age RW Brandon Magee who is serving the 3rd game of a 5 game suspension for a spearing major against Kelowna last week. Magee was sure to receive his fair share of boos in Portland tonight, had he played, as he is is the player who cross checked Nic Petan in the throat near the end of the final game of the playoff series. Recently traded away from the Royals is big 19 year old D-man Keegan Kanzig and 17 year old depth forward Matthew Campese.
-Alas the nameless Portland injury list only lasted one week as Paul Bittner is listed out with a lower body injury. The time table is listed on the WHL website as "TBD," so my guess is they are waiting for some sort of doctor diagnosis.
Players to Watch:
-#17 Tyler Soy:
Soy was listed as a "C" skater by Central Scouting for the 2015 NHL draft and has shown potential this season, but sadly it has been up and down as far as factoring on the score sheet. Soy, recently has been centering the Royal's top line with over-age power forward Austin Carroll and 18 year old, former D-man Jack Walker to great success. In the last 4 games, the trio has combined for 12 points and has seemingly found some chemistry. The 3 are very different players form one another and compliment each other in a lot of ways. In my opinion, if Victoria is to go far this season, they need Soy and #2 Center (17 year old) Regan Nagy to take large strides forwards in their games.
-#15 Greg Chase:
Chase was coming off of a season, where he had 85 points in in 70 games, was signed by the team that drafted him (Edmonton Oilers) and seemed like a surefire pick for Team Canada for the World Juniors. Somewhere along the way, he became displeased with the Calgary Hitmen (or the Oilers didn't want him playing Calgary if you believe some conspiracy theorists) and he ended up demanding a trade. Royal's General Manager Cam Hope was obviously very interested in adding some more offense to his team in hopes to keep up with the explosive Kelowna Rockets and he pulled the trigger, bringing in the 19 year old, very talented Chase. So far, Chase has played with Nagy and, fellow NHL signed Axel Blomqvist and has 1 assist in 2 games this weekend. If he wants Team Canada to ignore the drama and add him to the team, he needs to get his season on track. With someone as talented as Chase, it's only a matter of time.
-#30 Jayden Sittler:
With 6'6" backup Goalie Evan Smith going out with an injury, the Royals made an under the radar move a few weeks ago and added an 18 year old Goalie that was toiling in the AJHL for the Ft. McMurray Oil Barons, buried on the Kootenay Ice's depth chart. Sittler served as a backup for Coleman Vollrath for the first couple weeks, before his 2nd start of the season last Friday vs. Everett, when he stopped 24 of 25 shots en route to his 2nd career WHL win. He followed that up with a 33 save shut out (his first in the WHL) in a 5-0 win over Regina the next night. Sittler, most likely will get the start tongith as the Royals hope to ride the hot goaltender.
-#12 Miles Koules:
The over-age winger had the timeliest of goals last Saturday when it seemed inevitable that Kelowna was going to come back from a 3-0 deficit and tie the game. Koules is fantastic at creating himself enough space and finding a shooting lane. He has seemingly found magic with Dominic Turgeon and Ethan Price after struggling with his "demotion" down the 3rd line in previous games. Though the Hawks have a lot of playoff experience, his play out there seems to calm them down when they most need it.
-#44 Keoni Texeira:
Texeira has not moved up in the CSS 2015 NHL draft rankings, like a lot of fans have expected him to yet, though he has found great chemistry with 19 year old Blake Heinrich and has even matched his goal output his 2013/14 goal output these past couple of weeks. The confidence is starting to shine through and has learns how to pick his spots to rush up the ice and when to pinch, he has the makings to fully realize the talent that he has shown flashes of. There are times this season, when Texeira has been completely out of place or not played a 2 on 1 well and I think this has caused him to play more conservatively. Now that the defensive side seems to start getting into shape, I think the offense will start o come.
-#13 Keegan IversonSome consistency offensively is needed in Iverson's game as he only has 9 points on the season so far. He has played on countless different lines, but has yet to really get it going point-wise. If he is to play on the second line with Chase De Leo and the suddenly offensively explosive Alex Schoenborn, he needs to do more then throw his body around start to put the puck on net. Iverson has a great wrist shot and moves faster then he is given credit for on the ice, but the points need to start coming more often.
-The last game before the Thanksgiving break is usually a pretty good marker for whether or not to start becoming a buyer or a seller at the trade deadline. While, neither of theses team looks like they are going to be sellers, neither has consistently shown that they belong to be considered Western Conference Title contenders along with Kelowna. If you're the Hawks, you need to take advantage of the Royals being without their best scorer and play the type of game that you played last Friday in Kelowna. That is, winning the board battles and controlling the puck in the other team's zone long enough to create scoring chances and the other team to exhausted to get mcuh going the other way. Defensively, the Royals are missing a very big piece in Kanzig and the Hawks should heave more time and space in scoring areas. For Victoria, Ryan Gagnon, Joe Hicketts and Travis Brown will be relied upon heavily against the like sof Oliver Bjorkstrand, Nic Petan and Chae De Leo. Whether or not they are able to step up defensively against the Hawks players, willprobably spell who wins this game.
Adin Hill gets the start in net for Portland. He earned it after a great weekend in the Okanogan against a very offensively gifted team. This is only Hill's 3rd start of the season as he has battled injury problems. His hot play is probably just an excuse for the Hawks to get him some more games to make up for those he missed starting due to injuries.