Noah Gregor will be the focus, as will Captain Matthew Phillips, of the Tri-City Americans checking. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

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The Victoria Royals start anew tonight as they face the Tri-City Americans in Game 1 of the second round of the 2018 Western Hockey League Playoffs. Game 2 takes place Saturday. Puck drop for both games is scheduled for 7:05 pm at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

The Americans, a fast, big and talented team, surprisingly dispatched the BC Division Champion Kelowna Rockets in a four-game sweep during Round 1. The injury-riddled Royals took a come-from-behind heroic seven-game effort to get past the Vancouver Giants.

The Americans are well-rested, the Royals are not.

Missing recently have been four key players for the Royals in defenceman Scott Walford and forwards Tanner Kaspick, Dino Kambeitz and Tyler Soy.

Kaspick, a power forward, may be the hardest working player from the Royals, while Tyler Soy is the all-time franchise leader in points. Because it is playoff time, the Royals are not saying much about the nature of the injuries or of their return to the lineup.

The Royals will need a whole new level of offensive contribution from Detroit Red Wings-drafted forward Lane Zablocki. The six-foot, 182-pound, Wetaskiwin, AB native will need to be a big part of the effort to spell off the top line of Matthew Phillips, Noah Gregor and Dante Hannoun, who will be the focus of a tight-checking effort by the Americans.

The Americans know to defeat Victoria, will require shutting down the Royals’ top line and they have said as much. Shutting down Kelowna’s top line is how they managed to sweep the Rockets.

Centre, Jeff de Wit at 6’3” and 210-pounds, has an opportunity starting Friday night to be a difference maker. With the focus on the top line, de Wit has the ability to move bodies and place fear and doubt into opposing defence. The Red Deer native may need to do what hulking defenceman Chaz Reddekopp did in Game 7, park himself in front of the opposing team’s net on occasion. Reddekopp scored the opening goal in Game 7, redirecting a Gregor point shot.

Tarun Fizer appears to be seizing the opportunity with all of the Royals injuries. The rookie began to shine during the latter stages of the first round.  He appeared to have gained great confidence, during the final three games. The Chestermere, AB native scored a goal during Game 7. The Royals had won the game by the score of 4-3.

Lane Zablocki will need to player like the first-liner he is capable of being. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

Dylan Coghlan, Jordan Topping, Michael Rasmussen and Morgan Geekie, will likewise need to be shut down by the Royals, all BC products except for Geekie, who hails from Strathclair, MB.

Geekie is a Carolina Hurricanes-drafted player, while Rasmussen was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings.

Over the past two regular seasons, Geekie has scored 35 and 30 goals respectively.

Topping from Salt Spring Island has scored, 33, 28 and 38 over the past three years. Las Vegas-signed Coghlan of Nanaimo is dangerous scoring 15 and 17 goals over the previous two seasons. He picked up a whopping 46 assists in 2017-2018.

The 6’6” Rasmussen from Surrey will be a handful, having scored 31 goals this year. At 221 pounds he will be difficult to move off of the puck.

The Royals will need to use their speed, chemistry and their unique brand of mind-bending passing skills to capitalize on the Americans – an early goal will change the dynamics of a game in the Royals favour.

The Royals take the edge in goaltending, with Griffen Outhouse owning ever-so-slightly better stats. He will need to continue to be the magician that he can often be; providing a last line of defence that is often the show.

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