Opening day: Preview of the Victoria Royals and WHL’s B.C. Division-rivals

Black Press sports reporters preview the B.C. Division for the 2012-13 season

Victoria Royals defenceman Jesse Zgraggen battles with Vancouver Giants forward Carter Popoff in front of goalie Patrik Polivka during preseason play at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre on Saturday. The Royals won 4-2. Don Denton/News staff

Victoria Royals

Last season: 24-41-3-4, seventh in Western Conference, fourth in B.C. Division. Swept by Kamloops in opening round of playoffs.

Head coach: Dave Lowry (first season, 2nd as WHL head coach).

Assistants: Enio Sacilotto (third season), Ben Cooper, (second season), Geoff Grimwood (first season).

General Manager: Cam Hope (first season).

Key losses: After guiding the Royals through the transition from Chilliwack to Victoria, coach-GM Marc Habscheid took an advisory role within RG Properties, the hockey related company that owns the Royals.

Key player losses: F Kevin Sundher, D Hayden Rintoul and F Robin Soudek all graduated. Twenty-year-olds F Mike Forsyth and G Keith Hamilton were released during the preseason. Returning 18-year-olds F Zane Jones and D Kade Pilton were traded. D Zach Habscheid is playing for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the U.S. Hockey League (Jr. A).

The 20-year-olds: D Tyler Stahl, F Jamie Crooks, F Alex Gogolev.

The imports: F Alex Gogolev, Russia and G Patrik Polivka, Czech Republic.

Key returnees: D Tyler Stahl, D Keegan Kanzig, D Jordan Fransoo, F Steven Hodges, F Brandon Magee, F Logan Nelson, F Jamie Crooks, F Ben Walker.

New faces: Lots of them. Hope and Lowry inherit a team of full of assets, but one that’s been missing that winning feeling. Already they’ve pared the team down to its core, while adding Russian import Gogolev, a premier left-winger in the WHL, and goalie Polivka.

Watch for: Left wingers Gogolev and Crooks to lead a high-powered Royals offence, a solid top six that includes Nelson, Magee, Hodges and a beefed-up Ben Walker. Rookie netminder Polivka has been lights out in the preseason.

Just notes: Carolina Hurricanes’ prospect Tyler Stahl missed most of last season due to a concussion suffered in the fourth game. It hasn’t softened Stahl, who starts the season on a six-game suspension for a check to the head against Kelowna on Sept. 7.

Prognosis: It will take Lowry at least this season to build the type of team chemistry that “takes care of itself,” but it will happen.

Prediction: Forty wins and a first round playoff exit in seven games.

– Travis Paterson, Victoria News

Vancouver Giants

Last season: 40-26-2-4, second in B.C. Division, fourth in the Western conference, lost in six games to Spokane in first round of playoffs.

Head coach: Don Hay (eighth season, 14th in WHL).

The 20-year-olds: D Wes Vannieuwenhuizen, F Taylor Makin, D Joel Neibrandt.

Key returnees: Besides the 20-year-olds, Cain Franson, D David Musil, F Marek Tvrdon, F Dalton Sward.

Key losses: F Brendan Gallagher, F Jordan Martinook, F James Henry, G Adam Morrison, D Neil Manning.

New faces: D Joel Neibrandt, G Liam Liston, G Tyler Fuhr.

Up front: The Giants lose three of their top five point-getters from last season, including 40-goal men Brendan Gallagher and Jordan Martinook. Returning to carry the offensive load are 19-year-olds Tvrdon and Franson.

On the blue line: Led by newly-appointed captain Vannieuwenhuizen, the Giants have five rearguards back from last season, including NHL prospects Musil and Brett Kulak. Neibrandt won a WHL championship in 2011 with the Kootenay Ice.

In net: Giants acquired 19-year-old Liston from Lethbridge to assume the starting goaltending duties from Morrison, who won 35 games last year.

Prognosis: A dip in production without Gallagher, who was a game-breaker last year. Look for the defence to drag the team into one of the last playoff spots in the Western conference.

– WHL files/Travis Paterson

Prince George Cougars

Last season: 24-46-0-2, 10th in Western Conference, fifth in B.C. Division, missed for the third time in five years.

Head coach: Dean Clark (fourth season, 16th overall)

Key losses: G Drew Owsley, team MVP of 2011-12. Owsley played 64 games. D Jesse Forsberg played with an edge. He was dealt to the Seattle Thunderbirds.

The 20-year-olds: F Brock Hirsche, D Dan Gibb and D Dallas Ehrhardt.

The imports: 1994-born Latvian defenceman Rinalds Rosinskis.

Key returnees: G Fordyce, D Gibb, F Troy Bourke, F Alex Forsberg, F Daulton Siwak, F Chase Witala, F Jordan Tkatch and F Hirsche.

New faces: Colin Jacobs (from Seattle) and Jari Erricson (from the Everett Silvertips).

Watch for: Alex Forsberg, the first overall 2010 bantam pick, who is eligible for selection in the 2013 NHL draft. He recorded 40 points (15 goals and 25 assists) in 51 games as a rookie last year.

Prognosis: Still a young team, mistakes are going to happen as players learn the game.

– Alistair McInnis, Prince George Free Press

Kelowna Rockets

Last season: 31-31-4-6, sixth in Western Conference, third  in B.C. Division. Swept by Portland in the opening round of the playoffs.

Head coach: Ryan Huska (sixth season, 11th on staff).

Key losses: F Brett Bulmer (turning pro), G Adam Brown (graduated), and C Spencer Main (retired, injury).

The 20-year-olds: D Mitchell Chapman, F Dylen McKinley and F T.J. Barnett.

The imports: F Filip Vasko, 18 (Slovakia), and Henrik Nyberg, 18, (Sweden).

Key returnees: F Colton Sissons, F Zach Franko, D Damon Severson, D Myles Bell, D Madison  Bowey and G Jordon Cooke.

New faces: F Ryan Olsen, G Jackson Whistle, D Mitchell Wheaton, C Rourke Chartier, 15th overall pick in 1996 Bantam Draft.

Did you know: Bowey won a gold medal with Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial U18 world championship in Slovakia.

The prognosis: If Kelowna can score on a nightly basis, then 35 to 40 wins and a second-place finish in the B.C. Division shouldn’t be out of the question.

– Warren Henderson, Kelowna Capital News

Kamloops Blazers

Last season: 47-20-2-3, second in Western Conference, first in B.C. Division. Lost in Game 7, second round of playoffs to Portland.

Head coach: Guy Charron (third season).

Key losses: F Chase Schaber, D Bronson Maschmeyer, F Brandon Herrod, all graduated.

The 20-year-olds: D Madaisky, F Dylan Willick, F Brendan Ranford and F Jordan DePape.

The imports: F Tim Bozon, Switzerland; D Marek Hrbas, Czech Republic.

Key returnees: F Ranford, F Bozon, F Willick, D Hrbas, D Tyler Hansen, D Tyler Bell, D Madaisky (if he is back), G Cole Cheveldave, F JC Lipon and F Colin Smith.

New faces: D Jordan Thomson, F Rob Trzonkowski.

The prognosis: Expectations in Kamloops are higher than they have been in more than a decade. The Blazers have the necessary tools this season to make a run at the Western Conference championship and Ed Chynoweth Cup.

– Marty Hastings, Kamloops This Week

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