Roy­als, Giants set to bat­tle for best in B.C.

Times Colonist - - Sports - CLEVE DHEENSAW cd­heen­saw@times­

GAME DAY: VAN­COU­VER AT VIC­TO­RIA 7 p.m. at Save-on-Foods Me­mo­rial Cen­tre TV: None / Ra­dio: The Zone 91.3 FM

The term mar­quee matchup is not usu­ally heard so early in a sport­ing sea­son.

But that’s what the Western Hockey League has on tap tonight and Sun­day af­ter­noon at Save-onFoods Me­mo­rial Cen­tre when the Vic­to­ria Roy­als, 6-0 and No. 4 in the Cana­dian Hockey League top-10 rank­ings, take on the No. 7 Van­cou­ver Giants (6-1 head­ing into Fri­day night’s game against Kam­loops).

It is a reprise of last spring’s first-round play­off se­ries in which the Giants, mak­ing their first post-sea­son ap­pear­ance in four years, took the Roy­als to seven games be­fore a slid­ing puck block from for­mer Vic­to­ria cap­tain Matthew Phillips sealed the deal in a rau­cous Me­mo­rial Cen­tre.

“This game is easy to get up for,” said vet­eran Roy­als for­ward Dante Han­noun. On sev­eral lev­els. Fac­ing the Roy­als will be Giants cap­tain Jared Dmytriw, who be­gan his ca­reer with the Roy­als in 2014-15, just as Han­noun did. The fifth-sea­son WHL for­wards played to­gether for three sea­sons on Blan­shard Street be­fore Dmytriw was shipped out.

“We al­ways talk at the face­off dot. Some­times we make each other laugh, with a com­ment about the old days,” said Han­noun.

“I am happy for him that he is wear­ing the ‘C’ in Van­cou­ver. Jared is all about speed and is one of the fastest play­ers in the league.”

The Giants are round­ing into ma­tu­rity, which is why no one is sur­prised to see them in the na­tional top-10, de­spite los­ing con­sid­er­able tal­ent from 2017-18 to the pros in Tyler Ben­son [Bak­ers­field Con­dors of the AHL] and Ty Ron­ning [Hart­ford Wolf Pack of the AHL].

The Roy­als, mean­while, were loaded with 19-year-olds last sea­son and were con­sid­ered to be in re­build mode. But fast starts are noth­ing new for this or­ga­ni­za­tion. The Roy­als were ranked No. 1 in the CHL at this point last year when they got off to a 7-0 start. They won their first four games and were 7-1 in 2015-16, when they were also thought to be in a re­build sea­son, be­fore go­ing on to win the Scotty Munro Tro­phy as WHL reg­u­lar-sea­son cham­pi­ons.

“It’s spe­cial to be in the CHL top-10 but we’re not fo­cused on that,” said Han­noun, who has four goals and seven points to lead Vic­to­ria in scor­ing. “We’re just fo­cused on play­ing our game.”

That seems to be a com­mon re­frain in the Roy­als’ dress­ing room as they head into tonight’s game as the only re­main­ing un­beaten team among the 60 in the CHL: En­joy the mo­ment but don’t dwell on it.

“We don’t look at the rank­ings and stats at all,” said im­port Roy­als for­ward Phillip Schultz, who has two goals, and will rep­re­sent Den­mark in the 2019 world ju­nior cham­pi­onship this win­ter in Vic­to­ria and Van­cou­ver.

“We view ev­ery pe­riod like it’s 0-0.”

When asked about the keys to keep­ing the win­ning ways go­ing, Schultz said it’s a sim­ple for­mula.

“We have quick guys and we have played to that strength, and need to con­tinue to play to that strength,” he said.

“We are very high-paced as a team and we fight for each other.”

The Giants fea­ture Bowen Byram on de­fence, pro­jected as a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL draft.

“The Giants, on pa­per, are the best team in the B.C. Di­vi­sion,” ac­knowl­edged Roy­als gen­eral man­ager Cam Hope.

“They have elite tal­ent and can beat any­body in the WHL. This week­end is go­ing to be a great mea­sur­ing stick for us.”

Mean­while, in good news for the Roy­als, 20-year-old de­fence­man Ralph Jar­ratt skated in prac­tice Fri­day and is ex­pected in the lineup this week­end af­ter miss­ing the last two games due to an undis­closed in­jury.

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