Just past the halfway point of the season, it’s safe to say the South Island Royals of the B.C. Major Midget League have settled into their new home with relative success.
The Royals (7-11-5) hosted and split the weekend’s two game set with the Greater Vancouver Canadians (11-8-2) at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, winning 5-1 on Saturday afternoon and losing 3-1 on Sunday morning.
The win is the Royals’ seventh, which is more than double last year’s three-win season.
“Compared to last year we’ve taken some strides, the guys are feeling good about what we’re doing,” head coach Geoff Grimwood said. “Saturday was a tremendous team effort from the goalie out. (Sunday) we had a tough time breaking through, we felt if we got the second one we would have broke it open.”
Goalie Jesse Jenks played both games for the Royals, getting his fifth win on Saturday. He was supported by goals from Brodie Smith, Ethan Waitzner, Jordan Martin, Cole Pickup and Brandon Tutte. Pickup scored the only goal in Sunday’s 3-1 loss.
“We ran into a hot goalie today,” said Smith, a 15-year-old who scored the first goal on Saturday, his first game back after three weeks off due to an infected foot.
“(Saturday) we got one first and got the momentum in our hand. (Sunday) everyone was pumped again, but they scored first and it just felt like we were playing from behind.”
Sunday also marked the last game for the Royals before the holiday break, though the group will practice all this week.
“We spent some time talking to the guys (Sunday) and let them know the improvement from four months ago is significant,” the coach said.
Grimwood’s first season heading the high performance program of 15 to 17 year olds (he served the last two seasons as an assistant coach with the Powell River Kings of the B.C. Hockey League) is also the first season of the new relationship between the Western Hockey League Victoria Royals, and the major midget Royals, previously known as the Thunderbirds.
Part of the relationship is Grimwood’s dual position, as both the head coach of the midget team and an assistant coach with the WHL Royals.
The biggest change within the partnership is the midget Royals access to Memorial Centre. Until this year, the Thunderbirds played and practised in arenas from North Saanich to Duncan.
Now the program is transitioning from a nomadic existence to a junior A mentality.
“The new partnership is a real advantage, it’s given us a team dressing room, a team gym facility and a chance to build a program in a home, which has been lacking in the past,” Grimwood said.
The South Island Royals season returns with a road trip against the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds in Chilliwack on Jan. 5 and Abbotsford on Jan. 6.
Pickup (13 goals, 28 points in 22 games) leads the team in scoring. He and Waitzner are property of the WHL Prince George Cougars. Smith and goalie Markus Daly, a fellow Racquet Club product, are both in the WHL Royals system, while Haydn Hopkins is a Saskatoon Blades draft pick.