The Victoria Royals are certainly still a young franchise in the Western Hockey League, having relocated from Chilliwack, B.C. less than a decade ago. Still, they have built a strong history of players and coaches who have represented their respective countries at the World Junior Championship.
In their first nine seasons in B.C.’s capital city, the Royals have sent three players as well as a head coach and an assistant to the World Juniors. They also inherited a player with World Juniors experience when the club relocated to Victoria for the 2011-12 season and finally, a new player could be added to the list at the 2021 tournament.
Here is a closer look at all of the Royals who have represented their countries at past World Juniors as well as their 2021 hopeful.
Danish centerman Phillip Schultz was selected by the Royals in the 2018 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft and has played the past two seasons (2018-20) in Victoria. In 106 games, he has registered 35 goals and 62 points and was named the team’s captain for the 2019-20 season. Before bestowing the captaincy on Schultz, the Royals played the 2018-19 season without a captain, after former 50-goal man and 100-point scorer Matthew Phillips turned professional with the Calgary Flames organization.
Though he hasn’t produced at a top-line rate offensively, Schultz’s ability to play in all situations and his leadership abilities have endeared him to his team and to the Royals’ fans.
Schultz has made playing for his country a regular occurrence. His first appearance at the World Juniors for Denmark was in 2018, the season before he entered the WHL. He represented his country again in 2019 during his first season in Victoria and finally, captained Denmark at the Division I A tournament in 2020 after the Danes had been relegated in 2019 in Vancouver, B.C. and Victoria.
If the WHL is able to play its 2020-21 season with import players, Schultz will be a ‘two-spot’ player, meaning that he will occupy two coveted categories as an overage import player. The fact that he is the Royals’ captain should work in his favor when head coach and general manager Dan Price makes the difficult decisions on which overage and import players to keep and move on from.
Schultz has skated in 23 games this season on loan with his hometown Rodovre Mighty Bulls in the Danish Metal Ligaen.
Winger Igor Martynov was selected by the Royals out of Belarus in the 2017 CHL Import Draft. He went on to play two seasons (2017-19) in Victoria and put together consecutive 40-plus point seasons, totaling 29 goals and 85 points in 124 games.
In the middle of his rookie season in the WHL where he scored 18 times, Martynov added two goals and three points for Belarus at the 2018 World Juniors in Buffalo, NY. He played for his country again in 2019 at the Division I A tournament where he tallied a goal and three points in five games. Previously, Martynov had been an alternate captain for Belarus at the 2017 Hlinka Gretzky Cup where he scored three goals and seven points in seven games.
Martynov has played the past two seasons (2019-21) primarily with Dinamo Minsk in the KHL. He has played 10 games in the Belarusian Extraleague this season, scoring five goals and nine points.
Likely the most widely recognizable Royal to play in the World Juniors to date was defenseman Joe Hicketts. The Detroit Red Wings defenseman wore the maple leaf twice at the 2015 and 2016 World Juniors.
The Kamloops, B.C. native manned the Royals’ blue line for four seasons (2012-16) and developed into one of the league’s premiere defenders during the back half of his WHL career. He was not selected in the NHL Draft but signed with the Detroit Red Wings in 2014. To that point, Hicketts had already captained Team Pacific at the 2013 World U17 Hockey Challenge and won a bronze medal at the 2014 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
In 224 WHL games, all in Victoria, Hicketts collected 32 goals and 173 points. After signing with the Red Wings, he served as captain of the Royals for his final two seasons (2014-16) and produced back-to-back seasons of better than 60 points.
Hicketts played at the World Juniors each of those seasons, winning gold with the undefeated 2015 team and then was named one of Canada’s top three players when he captained the 2016 squad. He turned professional in 2016-17, winning a Calder Cup title with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the American Hockey League. Hicketts has played the last four seasons (2016-20) primarily in the AHL and has appeared in 22 NHL games to date.
The final Royals player with World Juniors experience was Czech winger Robin Soudek, who played at the 2011 tournament in Buffalo, NY. At the time, he was playing for the franchise during its final season with the Chilliwack Bruins.
The Bruins relocated to Victoria the ensuing offseason and became the Royals in 2011-12. In the franchise’s inaugural season on Vancouver Island, which was his final WHL campaign, Soudek was the Royals’ second-leading goal-scorer (27) and was fourth in points (57).
In 250 WHL games across four seasons (2008-12), Soudek totalled 70 goals and 151 points. He first played two seasons with the Edmonton Oil Kings (2008-10) before playing the final season in Chilliwack (2010-11) and the first in Victoria. Soudek has gone on to play nine professional seasons split between five European leagues and three different leagues in North America.
Long-time NHL player Dave Lowry was the first head coach hired by Cam Hope, who served as Royals’ general manager for eight seasons (2012-20). Lowry took over for Marc Habscheid, who coached the team in its final two seasons in Chilliwack (2009-11) and their first campaign in Victoria.
The Royals’ win total increased from 24 to 35 in their first season under Lowry, and rose again to 48 the following campaign. During his five seasons (2012-17) as bench boss, the Royals won 209 games and participated in the WHL playoffs every season. The Royals’ best season in the Lowry era was 2015-16, when they won 50 games and won the WHL’s Scotty Munro Trophy as regular-season champions with 106 points.
The tenured WHL and NHL coach, who had already guided the 2008-09 Calgary Hitmen to 59 wins and an appearance in the Ed Chynoweth Cup Final, was squarely in Hockey Canada’s sights when he was in Victoria. They first named him an assistant coach under Benoit Groulx for the 2015 World Juniors in Toronto, ON and Montreal, QC with a team that was loaded with future NHL talent.
Connor McDavid, Nic Petan and Sam Reinhart all had 11 points, while Reinhart, Max Domi and Curtis Lazar scored five times each as the Canadians ran the table, going 7-0 in the 2015 tournament. It was all capped by a 5-4 win over Russia for the gold medal.
During the Royals franchise-best 2015-16 campaign, Lowry returned to the World Juniors, now Canada’s head coach in Helsinki, Finland. Unfortunately, things didn’t go nearly as well in Lowry’s turn running the bench as Canada won just once in five games and had their tournament end on a 6-5 quarterfinal loss to the host team. Mitch Marner and Dylan Strome led the team with four goals and six points apiece.
Hicketts joined Lowry on both squads, combining for a goal and six points in 12 games.
Lowry departed Victoria when he was hired as an assistant coach with the L.A. Kings for the 2017-18 season. He returned to the WHL in 2019-20 and recorded 35 wins in 63 games as head coach of the Brandon Wheat Kings, before going back to the NHL as an assistant with the Winnipeg Jets where he will coach his son Adam.
J.F. Best was hired by the Royals as an assistant coach for Price’s first season as head coach in 2017-18 following the departure of Lowry.
The product of Ottawa, ON joined the Danish Ice Hockey Federation as a performance analysis consultant in 2015 and served as a performance analyst for three World Juniors (2017-19). He stepped onto the bench as an assistant to head coach Olaf Eller at the 2020 Div. 1A tournament while Schultz captained the squad.
Best has previously held performance analysis positions with the Ottawa 67’s (2015-16) of the Ontario Hockey League, and with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans (2013-14), where he was also a hockey operations assistant.
Currently in selection camp with Team Switzerland is 18-year old winger Keanu Derungs.
Derungs was the Royals’ Rookie of the Year in 2019-20 after scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 57 games. He played top-six minutes on occasion for a Royals squad that finished the pandemic-shortened season in second place in the B.C. Division.
Though he was not selected in 2020, Derungs draws favourable reviews from Dobber Prospects and figures to be a draft prospect in his second season of eligibility in 2021.
Derungs skated in 16 games earlier this season on loan to the EVZ Academy in the Swiss League, registering three assists. He is one of three import players who are currently property of the Royals, along with Schultz and 2020 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft selection, winger Marcus Almquist.
Developing a Tradition
A franchise cannot establish a tradition overnight, but players like these have helped the Royals dig a firm foothold in Victoria.
With the help of their World Junior players in addition to stars like Calgary Flames prospect Matthew Phillips, the Royals made the playoffs in their first eight seasons and were headed back when the 2019-20 season was halted.
If the next generation keeps building on those who have come before them, there will assuredly be plenty more Royals’ talent on display at the World Juniors, and for the fans of Victoria, hopefully a deep playoff run comes with it.