Victoria Royals forward Dino Kambeitz (left) and Vancouver defenceman Darian Skeoch go toe to toe in a Western Hockey League game earlier this season at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre. The Royals and Giants play the first two games of their opening round playoff series here Friday and Saturday. Don Descoteau/Victoria News

Tight WHL playoff series expected between Royals and Giants

Regular season record belies the closeness of the games: Royals coach Dan Price

Don’t let the fact the Victoria Royals went 7-3 against the Vancouver Giants in the regular season fool you.

These Western Hockey League B.C. Division rivals are as closely matched as any teams, said Royals head coach Dan Price, whose team opens the playoffs at home this Friday and Saturday (7:05 p.m.) against the Giants.

“The games were all so close, so intense,” he said after practice Tuesday at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre. “Even the ones that we won; lot of last-minute plays or goals, overtime, shootouts, [it was] as close it could possibly be. I think it’s going to be a very intense, closely matched, tight checking, fast physical series.”

Where the Royals had a great start to the season, going 7-0-1 – the first two games were 7-1 and 6-1 wins over the Giants – Vancouver struggled to find their form and didn’t reach the .500 mark until mid-November. The Giants had a hot streak in December and January where they went 15-4-1-1, which allowed them to close the gap on Victoria, but lost steam down the stretch, much like the Royals.

“We know their organization, we know their players, we know Jason [Giants head coach McKee] and his staff are so well prepared,” Price said. “We knew for sure that they were going to be a very competitive team all year long.”

Veteran defenceman Chaz Reddekopp is excited about the chance to play Vancouver for the first time in a playoff series. His team’s regular season record against the Giants goes out the window come playoffs, he noted.

“It just depends on who wants it more, I think a lot of our games this year with them have been really tight and it’s going to lead to a great playoff series and a really exciting one,” he said.

Monitoring the likes of Ty Ronning and Tyler Benson, who scored 61 and 27 goals, respectively, and other speedy players up front will keep the Royals defensive corps busy, Reddekopp said.

“They’re really a talented team and they’ve got some offensive guys who can really do some damage out there … we just got to take away their time and space,” he said. “Come playoff time, if we’re really hard on them right from the get go it might influence the way they play.”

For the Royals there were many season highlights.

Team captain Matthew Phillips set a franchise record with 112 points (48 goals, 64 assists) and was quietly consistent every game, while No. 1 goaltender Griffen Outhouse posted the second-best save percentage in the WHL (.914), setting team records for wins in a season (35) and career (85) along the way.

Tyler Soy, whose 323 career regular season games with the club are the most ever, recorded his third straight season of more than a point per game (36-56–92) and has 327 as a Royal. He was twice named WHL player of the week.

RELATED: Victoria Royals player named WHL player of the week

While Outhouse is the clear choice of starter for Price and the Royals, the availability of Giants No. 1 goalie David Tendeck (3.02 goals again ave., .912 save pct.) was still questionable midweek.

McKee said they hoped to know more about Tendeck’s recovery from an upper body injury by Wednesday.

As for the Royals, McKee said their biggest strength is depth at all positions. “They have very good forwards who are older and very skilled, a good mix on their back end and a veteran goaltender,” he said. “We are going to have make sure from our group we are getting everyone’s best game.”

One player who will have a little more incentive when his team hits the road for games 3 and 4 next week is fourth-year Royals centre Dante Hannoun.

“I’m from there [Delta] so a lot of family and friends will be coming out, so that’s pretty exciting for me,” he said. “But we’re very familiar with them, so I think it should be a good series.”

GALLERY: Giants host Royals in WHL action

While securing home ice advantage for this series was nice, Price points out, “At the end of the day, you’ve got to win on the road in the playoffs, and the team that does the best job of winning on the road is going to have a big advantage in the series.”

Playing on the big stage … Game 4 of the series in Langley was rescheduled from March 28 to March 29 so the contest could be televised nationally by CTV Sportsnet. Game time is 7 p.m.

editor@vicnews.com

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