Dan Price looked at the computer screen as his Victoria Royals players populated the lobby of the team’s March 2 Zoom call. With 20 minutes still to go until the meeting’s start time, it was an unfamiliar sight for the general manager and head coach.
“That’s the earliest that the entire team has logged on, probably in history,” he told Black Press Media, adding that players were “excited for what they anticipated to be the good news.”
The players had clearly caught wind of that afternoon’s news and sensed they were about to hear what they’d waited almost an entire year for – hockey was back.
The Western Hockey League announced on March 2 that the B.C. Division had been approved to play a 24-game season, based out of a Kamloops and Kelowna bubble.
“This is something that the players have been waiting and hoping for for a really long time,” Price said. “We knew that if we were given approval to play, that would be a real privilege.”
Beyond the “overwhelming excitement,” Price said the team feels a “strong sense of gratitude,” as they knew there was a real chance they may not see the ice this year.
The Royals will enter the Kelowna hub almost a year to the day after last season was shut down. When that happened, Price said the final-year players had no idea they wouldn’t be playing in the playoffs let alone never seeing their teammates again. They’re taking nothing for granted this year.
“That’s really resonated with our whole team, but especially this year’s 20 year olds, that you just never know that it could be taken away from you and it’s just really important to cherish every moment together.”
Price said the dense schedule against only B.C. teams will enhance the division’s great rivalries.
“I think the level of play is going to be absolutely outstanding,” he said.
Outside the games, bubble life will make for a “unique environment.”
“It’ll be beneficial in some ways because we get to spend the time together, bonding as a team,” Price said. “At the same time, being in either a hotel or an arena for a couple of months is going to take its toll.”
The club is currently planning how to bring enjoyment and variety into the bubble. There are plans for in-person or virtual COVID-19-safe team social events, mental health breaks, yoga, meditation and more.
The Royals will virtually meet at least once a day – staff and players started isolating March 6 – to talk about hub logistics and planning, game tactics, team building and fitness preparation.
Price said a lot of physical preparation for gameplay can be done in isolation with just body weight, by focusing on foot speed, agility, balance and durability. The first day of play is set for March 26.