Hicketts always has plenty of support wherever he plays

J

oe Hicketts, a rookie defenceman for the Victoria Royals, has seen a lot of places in his hockey career.

The same can be said for his parents.

Lee-Gaye and Mike Hicketts are getting ready for the opening round of the WHL playoffs, in which Joe's Royals will play the Kamloops Blazers in a best-of-seven series. The fun starts Friday, 7 p.m., at Interior Savings Centre, with Game 2 scheduled for Saturday night.

If you can count on one thing in this world, it's that the Hicketts family will be at ISC for those games. It will be loud and proud - and handing out noisemakers to its fellow Royals fans.

It's nothing new for the Kamloops family, which has travelled across Western Canada to take in as much of Joe's first season with the Royals as it can. There was a trip to Alberta for three games, another to the U.S., and constant trips to Vancouver and Victoria.

They packed a lot of kilometres onto their two vehicles - Mike and Lee-Gaye aren't even sure how many.

"I don't want to know," says Mike, with a chuckle.

There was one journey, where Mike followed the Royals on a three-games-in-three-nights trip to Spokane, Kennewick and Vancouver, that had the odometer rolling.

"That was probably 3,000 kilometres alone," he says.

The road got a little bumpy on a recent trip to Alberta - Mike's car stopped working near Salmon Arm, so his father picked it up for him and towed it back to Kamloops. Mike simply rented another vehicle and continued on.

Mike figured that he had been to 20 of the Royals' 72 games this season, about the same number as Lee-Gaye - although they didn't always go to the same games.

Often, they would go from one town to the next, coming home in time to work for a few days, and get back out on the road to watch hockey.

"Sometimes we wouldn't even open our suitcases when we got home," Lee-Gaye says. "(We would) just leave it on the floor where we came in."

Joe, a 5-foot-8, 174-pounder, had an excellent first season with the Royals, and was named their rookie of the year and was co-winner of their scholastic player award at a weekend banquet. He played in 67 games, and had 24 points, including six goals, and 45 penalty minutes.

His strong play has made the heaps of travel worth it for his parents, who don't often see their boy until after a game.

"We usually wait around after a game," Mike says, "just to say hi . . ."

After years of playing on provincial teams, Joe knows a lot of players on other teams. Because of that - and the occasional relative in a WHL city - Lee-Gaye and Mike don't usually have to stay in a hotel.

"Through hockey, we've gotten to know parents on some of the other teams," Lee-Gaye says. "We usually stay with them. I would say we know kids in every town."

Games 3 and 4 are scheduled for Tuesday and March 28 in Victoria, but not at the Royals' home arena. The Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre will be taken over so crews can prepare for the Ford world men's curling championship, which runs March 30 to April 7.

The Blazers-Royals games will instead be played at Bear Mountain Arena, whose capacity (2,781) is nowhere near that of the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre (7,006).

Because of work, the Hicketts family won't be making that trip to Victoria, but will look to follow the Royals wherever the playoffs take them. And although it was a whirlwind rookie season, Mike and Lee-Gaye are planning to keep going next season.

"It could be even more (in 2013-14)," Lee-Gaye says. "I told Mike that we don't have to see every city in the first year. But I want to go to Portland . . . I've never been to Portland.

"(The Royals) go to Brandon next season . . . maybe we'll end up going there."

JUST NOTES: The WHL announced its Eastern Conference all-star teams and award finalists on Wednesday. A complete list is in Scoreboard. . . . The league also held its bantam draft lottery, and the Regina Pats were the big winners. Regina, which finished with the league's fourth-worst record, had its ball selected, so has moved up two spots in May's draft. The Vancouver Giants, who finished with the league's worst record, will choose first, with Regina second and the Prince George Cougars third. The Brandon Wheat Kings, Moose Jaw Warriors and Lethbridge Hurricanes also were in the lottery, and round out the top-six. F Ty Benson of Edmonton and D Kale Clague of Lloydminster are considered two of the top prospects in the west.

mhunter@kamloopsnews.ca

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