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Royals in Kamloops for doubleheader

Play tonight and again New Year's Day
December 29, 2015 8:08 P.M.
Enio Sacilotto (left) will run the Victoria bench with head coach Dave Lowry (right) in Helsinki, Finland, with Canada's national junior team. (Photo: Keith Anderson, Kamloops Daily News)

The Victoria Royals will celebrate the New Year in Kamloops.
The Kamloops Blazers would like nothing better than to ruin their party.
The two WHL teams will meet tonight (Wednesday), 7 o’clock, and Friday afternoon at 2 at the Sandman Centre. Both teams are off on New Year’s Eve, but it’s doubtful that they will get together to bring in 2016.
They already have met four times this season, with the Royals winning three times, outscoring the Blazers 14-7 in the process. The good news for the Blazers is that they won the last meeting, 3-2, here on Oct. 21.
The Blazers (17-13-4) are coming off back-to-back one goal losses to the Kelowna Rockets, 2-1 here on Sunday and 3-2 in Kelowna on Monday. Kamloops remains in sixth place in the 10-team Western Conference.
The Royals, meanwhile, are 22-12-3, leaving them second in the conference. They are nine points ahead of the Blazers.
You have to think that Victoria is looking forward to playing Kamloops, if only because its last eight games have been against the Vancouver Giants and Prince George Cougars. The Royals went 1-3-0 against the Giants and 2-1-1 in the series with the Cougars.
Making matters difficult for the Blazers is that two of their key contributors are injured.
Centre Gage Quinney has missed the last two games after suffering an undisclosed injury during the first post-Christmas practice on Saturday. Besides being their second-leading scorer, Quinney is one of the top performers on the WHL’s No. 1 penalty-killing unit.
Defenceman Dallas Valentine suffered an undisclosed injury late in the first period of Sunday’s loss to the Rockets when he was checked from behind by Kelowna forward Justin Kirkland. Blazers head coach Don Hay has said that Valentine will be out for “weeks.” Kirkland, who didn’t play Monday, was suspended for three games by the WHL on Tuesday.
When Quinney and Valentine joined the Blazers in late October trades, the team was 1-6-0. They went into the Christmas break at 17-11-4, meaning they were 16-5-4 after bringing the pair into the fold.
With Quinney out, freshman centre Garrett Pilon has taken over between left-winger Collin Shirley, who leads the Blazers in goals (22) and points (41), and Matt Revel.
Replacing the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Valentine will be considerably more difficult, however, because his play in the defensive zone has been stellar.
At the same time, the Royals will be without defenceman Joe Hicketts, the Kamloops native who is with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland. Hicketts has six points, all assists, in the four games with the Blazers, making him Victoria’s leading scorer in the series. (By comparison, the Blazers don’t have anyone with more than two points.)
The Royals also are missing head coach Dave Lowry, who is Team Canada’s head coach. In his absence, veteran assistant coach Enio Sacilotto is in charge. He is in his fifth season with the Royals, after spending one season with the Chilliwack Bruins, who moved to Victoria over the summer of 2011. Sacilotto is a career coach whose resumes includes stops in the BCHL and Europe.
JUST NOTES: The Royals are the WHL’s second-best defensive team, allowing 2.24 goals per game, behind only the Everett Silvertips (2.18). The Blazers are at 3.03. . . . After finishing with the Royals, there won’t be any rest for the Blazers as they are scheduled to play host to the Silvertips on Saturday night. . . . Kelowna F Riley Stadel was suspended for one game for a hit on D Nolan Kneen on Monday. Kneen was helped from the ice but later returned to the game. . . . The Blazers also will be without D Patrik Maier, who is playing for Slovakia at the World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland. . . . Victoria has two freshman forwards having terrific seasons. Matthew Phillips, 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds, has 36 points, including 18 goals, while Dante Hannoun, 5-foot-5 and 155 pounds, has 31 points, 16 of them goals.
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