Four games in five nights is never an easy chore and now the Victoria Royals have to pull it off twice. A three game home-stand quickly turns into a four game road trip for the Royals, who host the Tri-City Americans Tuesday and Wednesday and the Lethbridge Hurricanes Friday night. Then on Saturday, the Royals head south of the border to meet Seattle before heading for three games in Alberta against Edmonton, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.
It’s been a tough stretch for the Royals since the start of November, with losses in seven of their last eight games. Kamloops showed the Royals they are for real this season with four victories in eight nights over the Royals. Victoria did get a big victory, however, in Kelowna Friday, 2-1, with 20-year-old Robin Soudek the hero with a pair of goals.
Congrats to Ben Walker, who scored his first WHL goal and point in Kamloops Saturday, in a game that saw the Royals get a couple of goals from different sources. Zane Jones also found the back of the net that night. It is the second time this season that the Royals did not get a goal from one of their top five goals scorers this season: Kevin Sundher, Robin Soudek, Logan Nelson, Jamie Crooks and Steven Hodges. The only other time that happened, Lukas Kralik had the lone marker in a 5-1 loss in Vancouver on October 10.
The Americans have been consistently one of the best teams in the US division over the last five seasons, including this year. They won the division three straight seasons from 2007-10 and were third last year, but still had 44 wins. They were the Western Conference Champions in 2010, before they lost to eventual WHL Champion Calgary Hitmen in the finals. That was Jim Hiller’s first year behind the Americans’ bench after serving three seasons as the Head Coach of the Chilliwack Bruins bench boss from 2006-09. Hiller not only has roots with the Victoria Royals’ franchise, but with Vancouver Island as well. Hiller is originally from Port Alberni.
The WHL handed down its verdict on Kelowna Rockets forward Jessey Astles for his checking to the head major penalty and game misconduct against the Royals Friday night. Astles was handed a three game suspension for the hit on Royals’ defenceman Jesse Zgraggen. Fortunately for the Royals, Zgraggen wasn’t harmed from the incident, coming back with an assist the following night against the Blazers. Saskatoon’s Jake Trask got two games for checking to the head and game misconduct penalties against Edmonton Sunday.
Hardly a shock, but Emerson Etem was named to USA Hockey’s Preliminary World Junior roster. The Medicine Hat Tigers’ forward, and Anaheim Ducks’ 2010 first round pick, is tied with Portland’s Ty Rattie for the league lead in goals with 28. Last year, Etem had one goal in six games in Buffalo for the United States World Junior team. Etem and the rest of the preliminary roster will converge on Camrose, Alberta, for a camp that will determine Team USA’s final 22-man roster. Etem was the lone WHL player invited to the USA Hockey World Junior camp.
The Calgary Flames announced the signing of Brandon Wheat Kings’ forward Michael Ferland to an entry-level contract. Ferland, who has served two games of a three game suspension for a game misconduct against Vancouver last Wednesday, was a fifth round pick of the Flames in 2010 and has been invited to Canada’s World Junior Hockey Team selection camp that starts Saturday in Calgary. Ferland is ninth in league scoring with 42 points, 17 of which goals.
I’ll be headed for Moose Jaw Thursday for Shaw TV’s broadcast of the Regina Pats/Moose Jaw Warriors contest from Mosaic Place. Although the Warriors lost 3-1 in Prince Albert yesterday, they have reeled in Saskatoon for the East Division lead, both at 39 points with Moose Jaw holding a game in hand. The Pats have won their last two games and are tied with Calgary with 32 points for 7th and 8th in the Eastern Conference.
The Edmonton Oil Kings and Kamloops Blazers are the hottest teams right now in the WHL, both with six game win streaks. Edmonton has scored 36 goals in that streak, which started with a 10-3 win over Lethbridge on November 23. Since that loss, the Hurricanes, who went winless in October, have now won five of six, including the last four. The Oil Kings were able to get 20-year-old Tyler Maxwell in a trade with Everett, a 41-goal scorer last season with the Silvertips. He’s made an immediate impact with five goals and nine points in five games and helped line-mate Michael St. Croix win the WHL Player of the Week honors.
The Blazers, meanwhile, have averaged over five goals a game over their streak with 31 tallies. They enjoy a one point lead on Vancouver for first in the BC division and they hold three games in hand. A few folks in Kamloops are still wondering how their team didn’t make the CHL’s top 10 list last week. That shouldn’t be an issue this week. Where they end up will be interesting to see. Only Tri-City has a better win percentage in the league than Kamloops (.750 to .732). Portland is hot again, with four straight wins and has kept pace with the Americans. However, Tri-City holds two in hand with a two point lead.
On the other side of the coin, the Red Deer Rebels have lost nine straight games and are out of the playoff picture right now in the east. These losses, the last seven of which in regulation, are right on the heels of a six game win streak that had the Rebels at 14-4-0-1 to start the season. The Medicine Hat Tigers got a much needed win in Calgary yesterday by a 2-1 score. Prior to that win, the Tigers had dropped nine of 11. The Everett Silvertips have lost ground big-time in the Western Conference, with six straight losses. Last overall with 15 points. Star defenceman Ryan Murray, a suggested lock for Canada’s World Junior team and potential high first round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, has not played since October 19 with an ankle injury. The Silvertips are 3-12-0-3 since Murray last played.
Intrigued to see what the Prince George Cougars are going to do with Charles Inglis. Inglis was given a plane ticket back to Prince George Saturday for “breaking team rules”, as reported by Gregg Drinnan. Cougars General Manager Dallas Thompson told Drinnan that Inglis was sent back to await a trade. Inglis has been taken off the Cougars’ roster, as well. Inglis was the fourth overall pick in the 2007 WHL Bantam Draft by the Saskatoon Blades and last year had a career best 32 goals and 60 points in 69 games last season for the Cougars, after the team acquired him prior to the start of the season. Inglis has one of the quickest releases and best shots in the league and is a threat when he’s on the ice. You have to figure a team will want him for a playoff run, but his character and impact in the dressing room becomes a question mark. I know Charles from spending time with him last year in Prince George and he’s a good kid that wants to win badly. Unfortunately, he got a 10-game suspension for his elbow to the head of Royals’ defenceman Tyler Stahl that still has the Carolina Hurricanes prospect out of the line-up. Inglis also served a one-game suspension for a charging major against Everett. Now, he’s worn out his welcome in Prince George. Problem for the Cougars, they are fighting to get into the playoff picture and Inglis was going to be a big cog in that effort. Time will tell what the Cougars can get for a talented player that hasn’t been able to make it work in two WHL cities.