Victoria Times Colonist article (Plenty of storylines as Royals head to P.G.)October 2 2011 at 5:55 PM
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Response to Vancouver Sun article (Roloson, Lightning blank Habs)
Plenty of storylines as Royals head to P.G
By Cleve Dheensaw, Times Colonist
September 30, 2011
GAME DAY: VICTORIA AT PRINCE GEORGE 7 p.m. at the CN Centre
Radio: The Zone 91.3 FM / TV: None
Victoria Royals players were just glimmers in their hockey parents' eyes when the now Prince George Cougars growled on Blanshard Street as the Victoria Cougars.
Most were only in diapers when the franchise was moved in 1994 from the capital to this Northern city. So this weekend's big Western Hockey League plotline of the Royals-Cougars backto-back set today and Saturday is ancient history to both the Royals and Cougars players.
"It's a big storyline down in Victoria, but I don't know how big it is in Prince George," said Royals GM and head coach Marc Habscheid, before this team embarked Thursday on the marathon ferry-bus journey to get here.
"It's more of an attention-getter in Victoria. But that said, there is probably already a built-in rivalry between these two organizations."
Habscheid himself was part of a Victoria move going the other way 17 years after 1994 as the Chilliwack Bruins became the Royals this off-season.
"Now that the hoopla of opening weekend is over, we can just play," he said.
But as the special historical nature of tonight's and Saturday's Cougars-Royals match-up attests, it may be awhile until the many "firsts" subside for the Royals and any semblance of normalcy sets in this season.
But the Royals still need to focus on on-ice matters, so the long bus trip north was maybe good for the players to get some time for contemplation after a 1-1 start during the hectic hullabaloo last Friday and Saturday of opening weekend.
"An early trip like this gives the players an opportunity to get to know each other away from the rink," said Habscheid.
And maybe discuss issues like cutting down on the whopping 51 shots allowed in the 5-3 home opener victory against the Vancouver Giants last Saturday.
For the casual observer not familiar with the technicalities of hockey, it might surprise to hear that Habscheid says cutting down on that many shots on goal starts not on defence but on offence.
"Too many times we were one-shot-and-out on offence Saturday," he noted.
"We want to change that around. Defence starts by applying pressure in the offensive zone. We need to spend more time in the offensive zone this weekend [during a three-game road swing that also includes a game Sunday in Kamloops against the Blazers on the way down]."
Jamie Crooks, who scored the first home goal in Royals history Saturday at the jammed Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, said he and his fellow forwards have heard the message.
"We have to work harder in the other team's zone and spend more time there," concurred Crooks.
"And zone protection needs to be better and that will help us clean up those shots against us."
With that shots total against, goaltender Keith Hamilton was the hero last Saturday as the Royals recorded their first win after opening the new Victoria WHL era the night before with a jittery 5-2 loss to the Giants at the Pacific Coliseum.
But as of Thursday, Habscheid had not named his starting goaltenders for the Prince George series.
Whoever is between the pipes draws a break because impact Cougars forward Brett Connolly, who spent the first 12 years of his life in Port McNeill, is still with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the club which selected him sixth overall in the 2010 NHL draft.
But the going just got tougher for the Royals moving the other way down the ice this weekend in Prince George with the return to the Cougars of six-foot-four defenceman Martin Marincin, 19, from the NHL camp of the Edmonton Oilers. The Slovakian rearguard is no slouch on offence, either, with 56 points last season in 67 games with the Cougars.
"He [Marincin] is a big return for them," noted Habscheid. "And they are probably already feeling confident and good about themselves after opening the season with a win [1-0 over the Blazers in Kamloops]."
It'll be up to the Royals to wipe that smile off the Cougars' faces. But that may be easier said than done with goaltender Drew Owsley in the nets for Prince George.
He got off to a blazing start with a 32-save shutout in the Cougars' opening win against Kamloops and will be looking to stymie the Royals, as well.
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