Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Top Ten - Part Two

Now its time to unveil the top five stories of 2012 ... this is where the discussions are sure to pick up as different people will be wondering how a story could rank higher than all the rest. The criteria that I have used is based on the Spruce Kings as a team, but as we have already seen, even in a team sport there will always be individual achievements and successes, but lets start with a trio of players in the number five slot.


Fitzgerald Triplets
The Fitzgerald Triplets could make things happen

It is safe to say that in the one season that Gerry, Leo and Myles Fitzgerald spent in Prince George they were fan favourites and rightfully so. Fans loved to see these three players hit the ice as a single line and start their magic. They played with a chemistry that defies explanation and executed plays as if they knew precisely where each other was.

That chemistry alone allowed the Fitzgerald triplets, despite their smaller stature, to cause untold hardship on the opposition. They could physically wear down the other team just by making them try to keep up, this in turn allowed other lines to jump over the boards and take advantage of the tired players on the ice. As we know from a previous entry in the Top Ten, at least one Spruce Kings player benefited by the play of the Fitzgerald triplets and went on to win the Brett Hull Leading Scorer Trophy.

In a story that has its beginnings in the summer of 2011, the Fitzgerald triplets were happy to come to Prince George. Playing together in Nanaimo the previous season, the triplets were told that they weren't the right fit for the new direction the Clippers were going to be taking under their new coach. Mike Hawes spent many hours on the phone trying to work out a deal that would bring the triplets to Prince George and was finally successful.

At first the triplets were seen as a novelty act - when was the last time that triplets had played hockey and had that ever been with the same team? These questions and so many more along the same theme turned the triplets into a bit of sideshow. It didn't take long for the three to show that they were much more than that on the ice.

In their first game with the Spruce Kings they combined for five points including three goals and helped Prince George to a 6-3 season opening win over the Merritt Centennials. But this is about the calendar year 2012 and what happened during those months. From January til March, the triplets played in a combined 72 games, scored 32 goals and registered 32 assists for a total of 64 points. But again their real strength was in wearing down the opposition which allowed the top line to go out their and get even more points (for comparison, De Jersey, Khaira and Colantone collected 91 points).

The reason this story enters the 2012 Top Ten list in the fifth spot is not because of what happened on the ice in 2012 but rather off the ice as the season came to an end. The Spruce Kings knew they were going to be in tough heading into the next season losing the likes of De Jersey, Khaira, Colantone and Jarryd Ten Vaanholt up front as well as a couple of big defencemen. The plan was to built around the Fitzgerald triplets and give them the support they would need so they could be the top line.

Those plans changed quickly when the triplets let the Spruce Kings organization know that, although they loved their time in Prince George, they were homesick and would like to play closer to their home of Port Alberni. This was a huge blow to the Spruce Kings as you can imagine just how difficult it was going to be to work a deal that would include the triplets. Mike Hawes had done it once before, but now he would have to do it again only the other way.

Discussions carried on for quite some time through the summer until almost by magic the key was unveiled in Victoria with the announcement that Bill Bestwich was returning to the BCHL as the head coach and general manager of the Grizzlies. Bestwick was the first to see the potential of the Fitzgerald triplets and had introduced the BCHL to them while in Nanaimo.

Bestwick made it clear that he was interested in getting the triplets back on his team and spent the next few weeks working out the details with Hawes. The deal was finally struck and the Prince George Spruce Kings were able to grant the triplets their wish of playing closer to home and would get some good talent back in return. The deal was Gerry, Leo and Myles Fitzgerald for Coltyn Hansen, Cameron Lawson and David London with London being a defenceman that would help fill one of those vacancies on the blue line.

As it turned out, London never got into a regular season game with the Spruce Kings after suffering a shoulder injury during the preseason. Interesting enough however David London ended up becoming Justin Rai and that in itself is an interesting twist on the whole triplet line. Playing with Jeremiah Luedtke and Chad Staley, Rai completes the Cascade Express line which many people have compared to the triplets in their ability to cycle the puck, create plays, wear down the opposition and of course score timely goals.

When looking at the whole triplet trade, it does appear that it became a win-win for everybody involved. The triplets are leading the Grizzlies in scoring, Coltyn Hansen and Cameron Lawson are doing the same in Prince George and both Spruce Kings forwards have picked up scholarships in 2012 and of course there is the creation of the Cascade Express line that many people see as being the future of the Spruce Kings.


Show Home
2012 Show Home Lottery House at 2668 Links Drive

Simply put, the Spruce Kings could not continue to play in the British Columbia Hockey League if not for the annual Spruce Kings Show Home Lottery. Every year the Prince George Spruce Kings put together the lottery to generate much needed revenues for the hockey club and give people a chance to win a gorgeous show home and many early bird prizes.

The Prince George Spruce Kings Show Home Lottery is the longest running house lottery in the Province of British Columbia and it is the work of the Spruce Kings lottery that has helped to establish the rules, regulations and policies for all other major lotteries in BC. The work that Jim Young does with all of the business supporters that step up every year to build and contribute prizes to the house itself and the lottery as a whole goes beyond words.

As 2012 started up the 32nd annual Spruce Kings Show Home Lottery was at the mid point of its run. Ticket sales had been brisk and there were a few prizes still to be awarded. Under the guidance of Jim Young the Lottery took off and it became apparent to everyone that the tickets would not last until the draw date of April 15th. In fact the tickets sold out almost a complete month ahead of schedule.

On April 15th it was announced that Justin Francoeur won the house. A young couple with a young boy that needed medical attention and another baby on the way, it just seemed perfect that this was who won the house. The couple was in disbelief when they received the call that evening and decided to check it out despite having to be at work early the next morning. The couple took possession of the house stating that this would help to alleviate some of the financial pressures they were facing with bills and medical expenses.

The Show Home Lottery typically runs through the winter months and this year is no different except that Jim Young and the Spruce Kings decided that it was in the best interests of the community to wait until the other house lottery had ran its course before starting up again. The current edition of the Spruce Kings Show Home Lottery is the 33rd annual and tickets first went on sale in mid November with a little twist added on.

This year marked the introduction of the Mega 50/50 Lottery, a chance to buy a single ticket for $20 and a chance to win $40,000 if all 4000 tickets were sold. Well sell they did and on December 24th all 4000 tickets were sold meaning that one ticket will win the cash jackpot of $40,000. The draw will be made on May 15, 2013 at the same time that the grand prize in the Show Home Lottery is made.

Be listening in early 2013 for the introduction of a second Mega 50/50 Lottery and a second chance to buy tickets to win a cash jackpot of $40,000. By the way, it should be mentioned that the Show Home Lottery tickets have also been selling very fast with 5000 tickets already purchased leaving only 3500 tickets as we turn the calendar to 2013.

In keeping with some of those rules that the Spruce Kings have helped to shape let me just take a moment to remind you that ticket purchasers must be 19 years of age or older. Know your limit, play within it.


Jujhar Khaira
From the Spruce Kings to the NHL

Every once in awhile a player comes along that has the ability to dictate a game and play beyond anybody's expectations. The Spruce Kings were fortunate to have just such a player in Jujhar Khaira. The story of Jujhar goes back to when he was 15 years old and was waiting to hear his name called at the Bantam Draft by a Western Hockey League team. It never did and it left this youngster heartbroken and questioning whether or not hockey was even a sport he wanted to play anymore.

Raised with an old world sense of loyalty and dedication, Khaira knew that he had to play out the rest of the season and would make a decision after that. Fortunately for the Prince George Spruce Kings, Khaira was spotted by a team scout. Kirk Starr looked over his notes and couldn't find anything about this tall kid that could make plays happen when there looked like there were no options.

Starr started talking to Khaira and his family and urged him to try out for this BCHL team that he was scouting for in Prince George. Khaira wasn't sure that was what he wanted to do but eventually gave in to the repeated demands to at least give it a try and see what might happen. Starr also had to convince the Spruce Kings coaching staff that this unknown player was the real deal and should be given an opportunity to skate in the team's main training camp in August.

In the 2010-11 season there was a BCHL rule that stated every team needed to have one sixteen year old player on the roster, so the door was open and the invite was granted and accepted. Jujhar Khaira showed up in Prince George and found comfort being back on the ice. The game seemed to come to him easy and he stood out among all the other sixteen year old players. Khaira was offered a spot on the team and accepted, he wanted to make the most of this opportunity and before the end of October hit he had already secured himself a scholarship to Michigan Tech University.

During his sixteen year old season, Jujhar Khaira was playing at a level that was seen in 18 and 19 year-old players. This trend continued onto the next season when he was selected to represent Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge. Khaira saw himself playing out another dream of his to wear the Canadian jersey and win gold doing so.

His play again stood out from amongst the crowd and Khaira found himself listed by NHL Central Scouting for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. As a 17 year old, Khaira was showing his sheer physical strength and precision passing setting up his team mates to the tune of 50 assists in the season. He also chipped in when he had the chance and registered 29 goals. As the season progressed, NHL scouts started arriving at the Prince George Coliseum to assess the play of this diamond in the rough.

It isn't unusual to see NHL scouts at the many BCHL rinks around the Province and its not unusual to see them in Prince George attending a game at the CN Centre. It was a little more rare to see them booking flights to Prince George specifically to see a Spruce Kings player in action. After a game the NHL scouts would wait until media members had finished their interviews and then sit in the Spruce Kings office talking about this 17 year old player that could very well become the first player since Brad Fast in 1999 to be drafted directly out of the Spruce Kings dressing room to the NHL.

In 2012, Jujhar was invited to the NHL Draft Combine where he took part in a series of physical and aptitude tests and placed in the top ten. There were a number of teams that showed serious interest in Khaira comparing him to Milan Lucic on the ice. Heading into the draft, Khaira was ranked 74th among North American skaters - that doesn't factor in the European draft selections or goaltenders.

As the names were called out from the stage, Jujhar Khaira's name rang out through the Consol Engery Centre in Pittsburg as the 63rd overall selection was made by the Edmonton Oilers. Khaira was the highest picked BCHL'er in 2012 and third pick of the Oilers behind 1st overall Nail Yakupov and Mitchell Moroz.

Not yet 18 years old, Khaira had gone from somebody left out to making it onto the biggest stage in the NHL in just two short years. The Spruce Kings still hold Khaira's Junior A playing rights but the Everett Silvertips made a bold move to acquire his major junior playing rights in the hopes that he might want to make the jump to the WHL. That wasn't a part of Jujhar's plans and he stayed the course heading to Michigan Tech to study and play there with the start of the 2012-13 season.

As he had done when he was 16 and then at 17, Jujhar Khaira has worked hard to be at the top of his game despite his younger age. Khaira is listed today as 6' 3" and 195 lbs and has been playing at a level that makes others see him as being over the age of 20. I first had some NCAA stats for Khaira in an earlier entry in this Top Ten list, but those numbers can now be updated to 19 games played, 4 goals and 11 assists after this weekend. Oh and you can add another championship to his resume as the Michigan Tech Huskies won the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament on Sunday night December 30th after posting a pair of 4-0 wins.


Streak Breaker
Celebrating the streak breaking goal

There are games that stand out above all other games for their significance to a player, to an organization and to the community as a whole. The Spruce Kings have had a few in recent memory including the one that needed six overtime periods to decide. In 2012 there was one game that may very well have eclipsed that semi-final game against the Camrose Kodiaks at the 2007 RBC Royal Bank Cup.

During the 2011-12 season the Penticton Vees ran roughshod over the rest of the league and seem to be unstoppable as the season progressed. Early on in the season the Spruce Kings had defeated the Vees 5-4 but that was when the season was just getting into double digit games. The win on October 8, 2011 was a big win coming at the 4:59 mark of double overtime on a buzzer beating shot from Michael Colantone who had been setup by Chase Golightly.

Now speaking of rivalries through the years, I can tell you without question that any win over the Penticton Vees is a big win and that one was no exception but it pales in comparison the the one on March 10, 2012. The game itself was the last game of the regular season and was also the back half of a double header played in the Coliseum. The night before Prince George had built up four separate leads only to see the number one team in the country come back every time and eventually take over in the third period to win 8-5.

The Vees had gone through the season watching the wins pile up to the improbable total of 42 consecutive wins. In fact prior to March 10th, the Vees had only 3 regulation losses and 2 overtime losses with the last one of those coming on Saturday November 5, 2011. To the rest of the League, the Vees were an unstoppable force and found ways to win as they showed in the third period the night before. Prince George was okay with their effort and told themselves they could do it on the last night of the regular season.

The Coliseum was packed to the rafters some believing they were going to see the seemingly impossible happen while others wanting to see history being written. Two minutes into the game and the home town fans were given something to cheer about when Jarryd Ten Vaanholt opened the scoring on a play set up by Paul De Jersey and Tyson Witala. The Penticton Vees stayed the course and as they had done the night before, answered back to tie the game 1-1 at 8:46. That's how the first period would end.

To start the second period the Penticton Vees came out strong and would get the go ahead goal from Bryce Gervais a little over 2 minutes in. Trailing the Vees at any point in a game is a difficult task to overcome and sometimes you need a little puck luck in times such as those. That puck luck would come in the 14 minute mark of the second period when Ben Woodley's screened shot found the back of the net and let the Spruce Kings fans erupt again. Paul De Jersey and Michael Colantone picked up the assists on the tying goal.

For the remainder of the second period both teams were denied the go ahead goal and as the buzzer sounded and the fans took a collective breath, the teams headed to the dressing room tied. The difference in the third period was simply a focused effort on the part of the Prince George Spruce Kings who capitalized on three of their eleven chances.

At the 7:16 mark of the third period, Myles Fitzgerald would score what turned out to be the eventual game winner. Two minutes later, Michael Colantone would add an insurance marker on the power play leaving everyone in the building asking the question “could this be happening?” The answer, was yes as Colantone would add an empty netter to seal the deal. After some rough stuff, including a tilt between Sean Landrey and Dexter Dancs, the buzzer sounded and the streak was officially broken.

That is something that can never be taken away from that group of players, fans or the team itself. Whenever anybody talks of the longest winning streak, it will always be heard that the Spruce Kings ended the Penticton Vees streak at 42 games and I hope it will also be said that you were there!


The Buzz
The Spruce Kings played in front of packed houses in 2012

This look back at 2012 started with "The People" in the Honourable Mentions section, but here the top story of 2012 is all about the fans and the buzz around town surrounding the Prince George Spruce Kings. A community owned team that has survived 40 years and is now into its 41st consecutive season in Prince George, the Spruce Kings have had some glorious seasons and a few we would rather not mention but through it all the fans have been there.

In 2012 the fans were there in numbers and have been very vocal in their support of the team, its players and those involved with the operations of the club. The buzz has included almost every player from the Fitzgerald triplets to the Cascade Express line this season, from Jujhar Khaira and Paul De Jersey to Kirk Thompson and Mitch Eden. Shayne Morrissey is another name that is generating some buzz as can be seen by the fan voting for the CNC Challenge Cup.

As well as the fans, businesses have stepped up and provided a level of support that hasn't been seen in quite some time rallying groups of people to help out in any means possible. In 2012 we have seen the unprecedent support shown by the four locations of Save On Foods as well as countless other community businesses including those that help out solely with the Show Home Lottery like the Northern Hardware and Brent Scheck.

Media attention around the team is there almost on a daily basis as everybody wants to know about the players and the makeup of the team. It seems that fans can't get enough about the Spruce Kings as can be seen by their Facebook page which averages a reach of 2000 people daily. The twitter account has in excess of 1000 followers and then there is this blog. The Spruce Kings Crusader has jumped dramatically over the course of 2012 to the point where there have been 100,000 views of the blogs posted during 2012.

Playing the game of hockey in the premier junior league of Canada isn't easy and it isn't cheap. The BCHL has become an elite league and that means that all of the teams must operate at an elite level in order to survive and maintain that status. In recent years we have seen the Williams Lake Timberwolves and the Quesnel Millionaires cease operating in the BCHL and that has put a tremendous strain on the Prince George Spruce Kings.

Throughout this past calendar year, the Spruce Kings have held their heads high in league meetings while other teams ask how we do it. The answer is simple, we are a community team and the community supports us. Prince George is a proud hockey community and their support of the Spruce Kings has pushed the players to work harder on the ice.

For the first time in many years, the Coliseum was not just packed, but it was sold out. On February 18, 2012 the Prince George Spruce Kings hosted the Nanaimo Clippers. All four Save On Foods locations got behind the game and brought out staff for an employee night. One employee and one fan each got to participate in a shoot to win a truck contest. The buzz in the building was unbelievable and carried over for the rest of the season with three consecutive sell outs.

There were fans lined up out the door and into the parking lot trying to get in but some had to be turned away. The City of Prince George was forced to find the occupancy load sign and dust it off to be displayed at the front entrance limiting the capacity to 2112 spectators. Attendance for the Prince George Spruce Kings in 2012 has been exceptional and we are now seeing other teams around the League trying to duplicate some of the efforts seen in Prince George.

The Spruce Kings game ticket is a hot commodity and the office receives requests almost daily for donations of tickets to various community groups. Not many are denied as the Spruce Kings have always shown their appreciation to supporters. This year the Prince George Minor Hockey Association has been welcomed into the games to put on a mini game of their own during the first intermission and meet the Spruce Kings players.

Part of the buzz is because of the community presence of the players who try and get out to as many events as possible around their busy hockey, school and work schedules. The players themselves are being recognized more and more while they are out in the public and it isn't just limited to within the city either. During the Christmas break, a few players have relayed stories of fans seeing them while they were making their way back home.

Whether it be of a goal, a game, a player, a line or something else with the team, one this is for certain and that is the pride we all have representing the Spruce Kings in Prince George and around the Province. We appreciate all the kind words and support being shown by you the fans. Thank you!


Well there you have it, the Top Ten stories of 2012. I hope you enjoyed the look back at the year and are looking forward to 2013. I know I am as there are so many more things on the horizon for the Prince George Spruce Kings and a few loose ends from 2012 to be tied up.

I'm not sure everyone can agree with my selection of the Top Ten stories, in fact I'm not sure I agree. Just minutes before posting, I rearranged two stories but I'm not going to tell you which ones. Please feel free to leave your thoughts as a comment on this blog or put them as a post on the Spruce Kings Facebook page. Keep that buzz going and show your support for the Prince George Spruce Kings any way you can - it's all appreciated.

I certainly can't wait to get back inside the Coliseum to see a Spruce Kings game; unfortunately that won't happen until January 18. There will be a few games before then on the road starting with the Battle of the Kings part two in Powell River on January 4th followed by a trip to Port Alberni to face the Alberni Valley Bulldogs on January 5th. On January 6th, the Spruce Kings will play their first game of the season against the Nanaimo Clippers.

All of those games will be available online with a free audio broadcast on the Spruce Kings MIXLR channel and also as a pay-per-view broadcast on FASTHOCKEY.com.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Top Ten - Part One

Nice to see that the Honourable Mentions list is already generating some discussion on twitter and Facebook. I suppose the increase in social media itself could have been an honourable mention ... this calendar year saw the Spruce Kings Facebook page increase from just over 100 followers to its current total of 745 and Twitter took the biggest leap gaining almost 1000 followers through 2012.

As you follow along with this list of the Spruce Kings Top Ten Stories of 2012, be sure to like, share, comment, tweet and retweet the results so that your friends and followers can enjoy and join in the discussions too. As mentioned at the start of the previous blog, this is an unscientific compilation of the events that unfolded around the Spruce Kings in 2012 as the team continued to make strides both on and off the ice.

In the calendar year of 2012, the Prince George Spruce Kings played a total of 58 games with 25 of those being played at the tail end of the 2011-12 season and of course 33 in the first half of the 2012-13 season. During those 58 games the Spruce Kings finished with a 33-18-1-6 record with twelve being decided in overtime. One of those games will show up on its own in the Top Ten list and a string of them garnered some national attention, as did one particular goal.


National Attention
The Azurdia goal generated National attention

Everybody wants to be recognized for the things they do, but sometimes all that attention just isn't worth it. Such was the case in 2012 when the Spruce Kings found themselves front and centre being shown over and over on everybody's television in both Canada and the United States.

After picking up their fifth win of the season in a 4-1 decision over the Surrey Eagles, the Spruce Kings headed to Langley for a double header to finish off a three game weekend in the Mainland Division. In the first game Prince George couldn't hold off the Rivermen who scored a pair late to take a 3-2 decision over the Spruce Kings. The following night the Langley Rivermen opened up a big 3-0 lead in the first period only to have the Spruce Kings chip away until the game was tied 3-3 with two minutes remaining in regulation time.

With time ticking down, it appeared that the game was destined for overtime and there was a sense that the urgency was gone in the game in the dying seconds. That urgency may have been missing in all but one player - Austin Azurdia picked up the puck through the middle with less than five seconds remaining. With speed, Azurdia zipped through the middle, gained the Spruce Kings zone and moved to the right faceoff circle where he was able to put the puck through a defender's legs before finding it on the other side to flip it into the top corner with .3 of a second remaining in regulation time.

The goal was an unbelievable tally and was quickly picked up by national television who was left struggling to find content to fill the airwaves with the absence of any NHL games. The highlight went viral leaving at least two Spruce Kings having vivid nightmares of the goal and what they could have done differently. The goal was played countless times on TSN and in the States on ESPN and as the year end shows played out so did that goal.

Perhaps that goal could have been added to the list of adversity that the Spruce Kings had to overcome in 2012 because that's exactly what they did. With an entire week of airplay, friends from near and far sent messages to the players that they had seen the goal providing a source of good-natured ribbing. The following weekend the Spruce Kings showed that the goal was just that - another goal - and nothing more as they added two more games to their win column.

First up was the battle of the kings in the castle as the Powell River Kings came to town for their one and only regular season visit. The guests scored the only goal in the first period before the Spruce Kings responded with two early in the second and then held off Powell River til the end to post the 2-1 win. The following night saw the Surrey Eagles come to town and this time the Spruce Kings with Kirk Thompson between the pipes shut down the visitors to post a 3-0 win.

The wins continued to pile up for Prince George including the next two games that were played on the same weekend after the team bus went off the road. The Spruce Kings went back to the scene of the crime where that buzzer beating highlight reel goal was scored. The Spruce Kings never led in the game until it matter when Mitch Eden redeemed himself with the overtime winner. The following night the Spruce Kings went into Coquitlam and knocked off the then Mainland Division leading Express 2-1.

It was here that the first thoughts that perhaps the Spruce Kings deserved to be recognized for wins started becoming a conversational item. As it turns out that would be one weekend too soon as the Spruce Kings were left off the weekly national rankings. The following weekend saw the Spruce Kings play two more games on home ice. The first one was against the hot and cold Alberni Valley Bulldogs with the Spruce Kings doubling up the 'dogs 6-3. The following night Prince George would play in their fifth overtime game of the season posting a 4-3 win over the West Kelowna Warriors.

A string of six wins against some of the top teams in the BCHL was enough to gain the Spruce Kings a spot on the weekly CJHL Top Twenty national rankings. As it turns out in hindsight, the Spruce Kings would rather not have been ranked if it would have led to a better month of November. One week after being ranked, the Spruce Kings name came off that list as the team fell upon some difficult times and struggled to get points.


NHL Lockout
Brad Thiessen is one alumni wondering about NHL hockey

The NHL Lockout has to be the biggest story of the year on a global scale and certainly it did affect the Spruce Kings in 2012. As mentioned with "the goal," the NHL labour dispute did have an impact on the Spruce Kings and indeed the BCHL as sports channels dug for content. The Spruce Kings highlight goal was only one such example of how the Junior A circuit was benefiting with national exposure of the great Canadian game.

Fans also found themselves gravitating to the game at the grass roots level and in Prince George we saw an increase in media attention and fan attendance that could in at least a small part be attributed to the lack of the game at the professional level on the TV. As I will show later on in the Top Ten list, there are certainly other factors for the increased attendance and media exposure.

The one area that concerns me with the NHL labour dispute is the longterm affect it could have on the game. Parents support their kids playing hockey and the players themselves develop a love of the sport and see the possibility of bright lights shining on them later in their hockey careers. With those lights turned off for now, the future is not as certain and the hope is that the two sides can figure this out and resume playing.

There are a few Spruce Kings alumni that have NHL games on their resumes but now wait like the rest of us to find out what will come of it all. Rod Pelley with 256 NHL games to his credit is playing out of the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals. Brad Thiessen who was given a year contract extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the summer is playing goal for their AHL farm team, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.

Brandon Manning after making it to the show through his own stubborn determination is also playing in the AHL this season with the Philadelphia Flyers farm team, the Adirondack Phantoms. Ryan Howse is another Spruce Kings alumni that finds himself on a NHL farm team playing for the Abbotsford Heat. To start the season, Howse suited up in sixteen games with the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL as well. Paul Dainton is another former player that wore the crown and now finds himself splitting this season between the AHL and ECHL with the Springfield Falcons and the Evansville Icemen.

There is a longer list of players that are finding other venues to play the game they love but one thing is for sure - options and availabilities have changed with the NHL labour dispute. Those players that should be playing in the show are taking up roster spots in other leagues throughout North America and Europe. This has forced some players into early retirement and has left a lot of fans hurt by the seemingly selfish posturing taking the joy out of the game.


Realignment
Its a new division with all new rivalries

Since joining the British Columbia Hockey League with the 1996-1997 season, the Spruce Kings have played out of the Interior Conference developing long standing rivalries with the likes of the Penticton Vees, Vernon Vipers, Salmon Arm Silverbacks and the Merritt Centennials. Of course the longer standing rivalry was with the Quesnel Millionaires who were welcomed into the BCHL as a package deal with the Spruce Kings. It made sense as it would give teams a couple of stops along the road when they headed north.

When the Millionaires franchise ceased to exist in Quesnel and essential relocated to Chilliwack, the BCHL landscape changed dramatically. During the 2011-12 season the Chiefs played out of the Interior Division but it was clear that would not be a long term solution to alignment of the League. Following that season the governors met in the summer of 2012 and developed a plan that would see the League realigned in to three divisions playing out of two conferences.

For fifteen of the sixteen teams, it seemed like the perfect plan. Six teams, basically located in the Okanagan, would make up the Interior Division and play out of the Interior Conference (Merritt Centennials, West Kelowna Warriors, Penticton Vees, Vernon Vipers, Salmon Arm Silverbacks and Trail Smoke Eaters). The other conference would be known as the Coastal Conference and would contain the Island Division and the Mainland Division.

The Island Division includes the four teams on Vancouver Island (Victoria Grizzlies, Cowichan Valley Capitals, Naniamo Clippers and the Alberni Valley Bulldogs) and the Powell River Kings which are a short ferry ride away from the Island. The Mainland Division would then become the division for the Langley Rivermen, Coquitlam Express, Surrey Eagles and Chilliwack Chiefs to play out of with Prince George thrown into that mix.

At first glance that generated a lot of quizzical looks and the ever asked question of why is Prince George in the Coastal Conference. From a logistics perspective it actual makes a lot of sense. Half of all games in a season are played on the road and the Spruce Kings are used to traveling all through the Province to get to their next game - its just a fact of life for those that play any sport in Prince George.

When hitting the road the Spruce Kings no longer turn left at Cache Creek but instead carry on through the Fraser Canyon emerging in the Fraser Valley and the Mainland Division and the four divisional opponents that are now less than two hours apart. Setting up camp in Langley or Chilliwack is the perfect scenario for Prince George who can then maintain one residency in one hotel for the duration of a road trip. There is also a bonus plan for a large number of Spruce Kings that now have the opportunity to play in front of family and friends more often.

Sure the rivalries are developing this year and there is a learning curve for the fans getting used to the new opponents, but as has already been seen this season that curve has been a short one and has already provided a lot of excitement. From just the sixteen games played against divisional opponents, the Spruce Kings have a record of 8-5-0-3 with five of those being decided in overtime and a total of eight games decided by one goal.

The head-to-head matchups aren't even with the Spruce Kings having played the Surrey Eagles six times, the Langley Rivermen five times, the Coquitlam Express three times and the Chilliwack Chiefs only twice. The 2013 portion of the season will be an interesting one as the Spruce Kings will see all four divisional rivals in the Castle at least once more.

The Spruce Kings have a winning record against the Surrey Eagles picking up at least a single point in every meeting so far and posting a pair of shutout victories against them. Prince George fans have yet to see the Langley Rivermen but that will happen four times in 2013. The Express and the Chiefs will also visit the Castle twice each before the end of the season. And for those fans that still want to see those old rivalries, both the Vernon Vipers and the Salmon Arm Silverbacks have yet to make their regular season stop in Prince George as does the Nanaimo Clippers.


Paul De Jersey
Paul De Jersey led the Spruce Kings and the BCHL in scoring

Every season there is a player that comes out of the shadows to become the player everybody is talking about. In the first part of 2012 that player was Paul De Jersey. The Spruce Kings acquired De Jersey in an off season deal that brought Paul back to the BCHL after being dealt by the Salmon Arm Silverbacks to the Drumheller Dragons. At the time he was no big deal with eleven goals in three seasons split between the Coquitlam Express and the Silverbacks.

Those numbers would change in a big way when De Jersey found himself on a line with Jujhar Khaira and Michael Colantone. Immediately the three found some chemistry that resulted in goals and lots of them. Through the first half of the season De Jersey maintained a strong presence in the elite group of point getters in the League but didn't really grab hold of that top spot until the first game after the Christmas break.

Prior to the Christmas break, De Jersey had 57 points (26G, 31A) in 32 games and in the December 28th game against the Chilliwack Chiefs, he added four more points and then two more on December 30th to head into 2012 with 63 points (28G, 35A). That point total gave the nineteen year old forward top spot in the League's scoring race. De Jersey did not relinquish that spot and added another 35 points (13G, 22A) in 2012 to finish with 98 points total. If it weren't for three helpers against the Penticton Vees in the last game of the season, De Jersey would have been caught by at least one member of the Vees, who finished with a sweep of the remaining spots in the top five.

Top spot in the League garnered De Jersey the Brett Hull Scoring Title and also resulted in the Spruce Kings forward being named the BCHL's Most Valuable Player for the Interior Conference. Along with all of the points that De Jersey finished with, some of the credit has to go his linemates who also had good totals - Michael Colantone finished the year with 72 points (33G, 39A) and Jujhar Khaira added another 79 points (29G, 50A).

This season Paul De Jersey is playing NCAA hockey with the Providence College Friars where he has picked up 8 points (2G, 6A) in 13 games. His linemates from last season are also faring just as well. Michael Colatone has 5 points (4G, 1A) in 9 games with the River Hawks and Jujhar Khaira is leading the alumni race with 12 points (3G, 9A) in 17 games playing for the Michigan Tech Huskies.


Kirk Thompson
Kirk Thompson may be the most under-rated goalie in the BCHL

Rounding out the first half of the Top Ten list for 2012 is a current member of the Prince George Spruce Kings that has been hard at work trying to make a name for himself. Into his third season with the Spruce Kings, Kirk Thompson started out as a wide-eyed rookie that found himself thrown into some tough situations as the team struggled during the 2010-11 season and failed to make it to the post season. The following year was when Thompson was able to turn things around especially for himself.

Maybe its because he's a goaltender and he just has to stop the puck or maybe it was because he was playing behind the likes of Paul De Jersey, Jujhar Khaira, Michael Colantone and the Fitzgerald triplets, but Thompson's play basically went unnoticed as the year 2012 started up. Looking back over his numbers from this calendar year, Thompson has shown himself to be an elite goaltender in the BCHL.

From January to March of 2012, Thompson played in 13 games with one of them generating a no decision. In the other twelve, he posted a record of 8 wins and 4 losses. Perhaps more impressive were his goals against average of 2.72 and a 90.41 save percentage during those games. In the off season, Thompson went home and worked hard to develop his game and be ready to take on the 2012-13 season as a twenty year old.

Thompson has posted more good numbers in this portion of 2012. In 30 games he has a record of 16 wins, 5 regulation time losses, 1 tie, 5 overtime losses and 3 no decisions. His save percentage has improved to 91.234 and his goals against average sits at 2.74 with two shutouts. In all the games played in 2012, Thompson finishes with these numbers: 43 games played, 2433 minutes played, 24 wins, 9 losses, 1 tie, 5 overtime losses and 4 no decisions. He has a 2.737 GAA and a 90.99 SV% as well as 2 shutouts and 3 assists.

As 2012 comes to an end, Kirk Thompson has already marked his 100th BCHL career game, taken over top spot in the Spruce Kings record book for career wins (38) and is now looking at taking over the Spruce Kings career record for minutes played. Currently sitting with 5557 minutes played, Thompson is less than eight games from passing the 6000 mark. Working at keeping his save percentage high and goals against average low, Thompson could also see his name rise in those categories among franchise goaltenders.

Perhaps surprisingly is the fact that Kirk Thompson is yet to secure a scholarship, something that weighs on the veteran goaltender's mind no doubt. Brad Thiessen reached out to Kirk earlier in the season and reminded him to just play his game and not to worry about what is or isn't happening. The good news is that some schools are asking about Kirk Thompson.


There is the first half of the 2012 Top Ten countdown, still to come are the top five stories from this past year. Share your thoughts and opinions by leaving a comment below. You can also add your thoughts on the Spruce Kings Facebook page or send a tweet using @SpruceKings.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Top Ten - Honourable Mentions

It's always fun to look back over the past year and reminisce of what has happened. 2012 was a year that the Prince George Spruce Kings can look back on with fond memories and see great achievements. From the excitement of the fans in the rink to the excitement of a single player who heard his name called out during the NHL Draft, there were many moments that have shaped the team as it enters into a new calendar year.

In 2012, the Spruce Kings were a streak breaker, gained national recognition and saw old records broken and new ones set. The team went from the familiar to the unfamiliar and showed great resiliency when dealing with adversity. The character of the team shone through all of it, attracting a new fan base while re-invigorating those that had stayed loyal to the team through some lean times.

Not all of the stories from 2012 will make a Top Ten list, but that is the fun of just such a list - reading and remembering those stories that took place from January through December of 2012. While you go through my list, I hope you will take the time to leave your comments where you agree or disagree with the selections made. The Top Ten itself will be broken down into two parts but before that, here is a list of five stories that just didn't make the cut - they are the Honourable Mentions of 2012.


The People
John Abbott has been with the Spruce Kings for 30 years

As is the case with every franchise, its the people that make the difference. The Spruce Kings are certainly no exception to this rule with a number of people that step up and get the job done. Some are very visible and some not so much. John Abbott is one person who has been around the team for thirty seasons and has been the team's volunteer coordinator for many of those. His work with the volunteer crew is instrumental in ensuring that the game on the ice can be enjoyed by the fans in the stands.

Other people that have made a big difference in 2012 haven't been around for nearly as long. Glen Scott, Ron Edgar and Ron St. Clair are just a few of those that have signed on with the Spruce King this season. With Jim Young focusing more of his attention and time on the Annual Spruce Kings Show Home Lottery, the team brought in Glen Scott and Ron Edgar to be the team's marketing consultants. The pair have scoured the city for businesses that can provide financial support for the team through marketing partnerships and sponsorships.

The work of Scott and Edgar along with Ron Gallo saw an improvement in the game broadcasts that led to the introduction of Ron St. Clair as the voice of the Spruce Kings for their home games. With the broadcasts available on pay-per-view through Fasthockey.com and also carried on the community radio station, St. Clair's experience and professional delivery adds an all new level to the fan enjoyment of the Spruce Kings.

Another new person added to the mix was Peter James who moved to Prince George in the late summer to take a position with the Prince George Citizen. James stepped into the Spruce Kings broadcasts as the utility player and has delivered some timely hits filling in for both Ron St. Clair and Todd Doherty. James primarily sets the stage with Ron Gallo in the pre-game shows and then wraps everything up with the post game show and post game blog on the Spruce Kings Crusader.


Brad Lazarowich
Four man officiating crew at a BCHL game

In a series of circumstances that includes the NHL labour dispute and a "brutal call" during a game, long-time NHL official, Brad Lazarowich came to Prince George to provide some guidance and share some real life experiences for the officials in our city. Lazarowich has been working as a mentor with the officials throughout the BCHL and has been trying to make his way around the Province to monitor officials as they carry out their roles on the ice in real game situations.

Lazarowich once lived in Prince George when he was growing up and upon returning to the Coliseum recounted memories of scoring his first goal and breaking his leg in the arena we now call the Castle. His life experiences include officiating in the NHL for the past couple of decades and as he put it, that's the only way he knows how to officiate a game. He provided those ways to local officials in a workshop that was attended by some familiar names that wear the stripes during Spruce Kings games as well as a couple that officiate in other leagues and rinks around Prince George.

During his three days in our city, Brad Lazarowich watched three games and provided officials with valuable feedback and then also had indepth conversations with the Spruce Kings coaching staff. All of which was designed to provide a never before seen level of accountability and understanding. It is my belief that having a person with the credentials of Lazarowich taking the time to come to Prince George, and work as closely as he did with all parties, will do wonders for the game we love to watch.


Dealing with Adversity
The Spruce Kings bus ended up off the road

There are always hurdles to be cleared in a season, it is how those moments are dealt with that shapes a team's character. In 2012, the Spruce Kings dealt with a bus crash, an earthquake and an onslaught of the flu all within a month of each other. Through it all the Spruce Kings found ways to win games and minimize the adversity they faced. Starting in chronological order the first character builder for the Spruce Kings was fortunately a minor incident and didn't make the cut for being a Top Ten story of 2012.

While on a road trip to the Lower Mainland, the Spruce Kings team bus full of players, coaches as well as a trainer and a broadcaster ended up off the road. It was a dark and rainy evening as the team rolled along the Fraser Highway on a particularly dark and narrow part of the road without any shoulder markings. The back tire caught a soft part of the shoulder and it was just enough to pull the bus off the road.

Fortunately nobody was hurt in the incident. The following day all of the players were ushered through the hospital to be checked out and everybody was given full clearance to play. The team continued on and didn't miss a beat after being picked up by a Lower Mainland charter bus company. The Spruce Kings squared off against the Langley Rivermen less than 24 hours after the bus incident and pulled out a 5-4 overtime victory. Then they followed that up with a 2-1 win in regulation time over the Coquitlam Express the next night.

Perhaps the fans in the Coliseum will see this one as being a bigger story than the players themselves. A week after the bus incident while hosting the West Kelowna Warriors, the Spruce Kings found themselves shaking in their skates when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake occurred just after 8pm off the coast of Haida Qwaii. The earthquake was felt in the Coliseum leaving fans feeling queasy as they were rocked back and forth in their seats. The lights in the Coliseum were seen swinging back and forth for another five minutes after the initial shock wave was felt.

With a shortened bench due to the flu,
the Spruce Kings found a way to win

When looking back over different things that happened to the team, the flu that struck the team mid way through a three game road trip probably had the biggest impact on the team. The flu itself descended on the team with little warning and flashed through the team leaving players feeling the effects for up to 48 hours afterwards.

The first sign that there were problems came with the captain who wasn't feeling very good during the first game of the weekend. Trevor Esau was the first to go down and was unable to join the rest of the team for breakfast the following morning. As the day progressed, Esau thought he was feeling better and appeared ready to go during the pregame meal.

That's when everything turned. With the team getting ready to load the bus it was quite apparent that Esau was not going to be able to make it as he was quite sick. Brad Ryan and Tyson Witala also fell victim to the flu and were unable to board the bus. The rest of the team headed to the rink and all got dressed to take the pregame skate.

Liam McLeod was given the start in net and was sensational in the opening period turning aside all eleven shots he faced. However during the intermission he was unable to return to the game suffering from the flu. Shayne Morrissey and Coltyn Hansen also found themselves unable to leave the dressing room and unable to resume playing as the puck hit the ice for the second period.

Somehow without seven players (Justin Rai wasn't on this road trip out with an unrelated injury), the remaining players found a way to do the impossible and defeat an otherwise healthy West Kelowna Warriors squad. There is a saying in all team sports that injuries allow other players to step up and get the job done.

The unlikely heroes on the night included Ryan Keis who scored his first BCHL goal, Skylar Pacheco who scored his first of the season, Sean Landrey with his third of the season and Jeremiah Luedtke who scored a highlight reel goal on a nice setup from Chad Staley. Kirk Thompson who had to come in to start the second period of a scoreless game had to be sharp especially in the late stages of the game when the Warriors were doing everything they could to even up the score.


Playoffs
The Spruce Kings were unable to shake
the Merritt Centennials in 2012

Team success is measured by how a team does in the regular season but also how they fare in the playoffs. That's the reason why attendances increase as the season plays out and the post season nears. In the two previous seasons the Spruce Kings missed out on the playoffs but made great strides from the 2011 off season all the way through the 2011-12 season to ensure that wasn't going to be repeated.

Even with fewer teams making the playoffs in the 2011-12 season (only the top four from the Interior Division), the Spruce Kings secured themselves a berth to the post season finishing third with 72 points. That was one point better than the Chilliwack Chiefs and gave Prince George a first round playoff date with the Merritt Centennials who finished with 76 points in second place.

The post season itself wasn't so kind to the Spruce Kings and they unfortunately didn't make it out of the first round losing in four games to the Centennials who were in turn swept by the Penticton Vees in the Conference final. Not making it through to the next round is probably the reason this story doesn't make it to the Top Ten, but in another way it does contribute to at least a few stories that are in the Top Ten as it led to some changes with player personnel and the development of a set of core values for future editions of the Spruce Kings.


Graduates
Chase Golightly was one of three players that left
the Spruce Kings early to play in the NCAA

Every season is highlighted by those players that graduate junior hockey either though age or through scholarships to NCAA schools. 2012 was no exception as the Spruce Kings wished seven players success with their future hockey careers including three players that still had eligible years of junior hockey remaining.

Jujhar Khaira, who had earned a scholarship to Michigan Tech when he was just 16 showed that he was ready to take on the next challenge in his hockey career at just the age of 18. Khaira was selected in the NHL Entry Draft and before that had his major junior rights secured by the Everett Silvertips. Khaira was able to stay his course and went to Michigan Tech - I'll have more on him later, but for this addition to the Top Ten the story that stands out is seeing three Spruce Kings graduates playing for the Huskies with Kevin Genoe in his senior year, Justin Fillion a sophomore and Khaira a freshman.

Paul de Jersey and Chase Golightly were also eligible to return to the Spruce Kings for this season but both secured NCAA scholarships. de Jersey, who led the Spruce Kings and the BCHL scoring race for much of the season secured a scholarship to Providence College in Rhode Island while Golightly headed to Pennsylvania to play for the Colonials at Robert Morris University.

Three other twenty year olds from last season were also fortunate enough to secure scholarships and continue their hockey career at the NCAA level. Michael Colantone went to University of Massachusetts Lowell to start play with the River Hawks mens hockey. Those previously mentioned scholarships were all earned prior to 2012 to start play with the 2012-13 season but the Spruce Kings also had a number of scholarships secured in 2012.

During the off season, Jarryd Ten Vaanholt picked up a scholarship to Elmira College while Ben Matthews secured a scholarship a little closer to his hometown with the Alaska Anchorage Seawolves. Another graduating player that was given an opportunity to see his hockey career carry on was Ben Woodley who actually finished out the 2011-12 season with the Evansville Icemen before ending up on the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears roster for the start of this season.

When it comes to scholarships, that is a driving force behind a lot of players ambitions and this season saw a number of players chose the Prince George Spruce Kings and the BCHL as an opportunity to get their scholarship. The first do so was Brad Ryan who packed up his bags and came out west to pursue his dreams. Ryan's scholarship is to the Unversity of Vermont with the start of the 2013-14 season.

Coltyn Hansen and Cameron Lawson also picked up NCAA scholarships before the end of the calendar year with Hansen securing his to Sacred Heart and Lawson to Holy Cross. In early December trades, the Spruce Kings picked up two more players with scholarships. At the age of seventeen, both Jace Hennig (Merrimack) and Kevin Guiltinan (Harvard) know that their future hockey careers will be heading down the educational path.

Althought that is it for scholarships in the calendar year of 2012, that certainly isn't the last of them for the Prince George Spruce Kings and the early part of 2013 should generate a few more. Names expected to be added to the list of scholared players include Mitch Eden, Kirk Thompson, Shayne Morrissey and Trevor Esau with a few more thrown in for good measure.


That concludes this look at the Honourable Mentions of 2012. The next blog post will start the countdown of the top stories of the year looking at number ten through six. Again feel free to leave your thoughts on this look back at the top Spruce Kings stories.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Another Record Falls to Thompson

Kirk Thompson was seeing and stopping everything
in his record setting 38th win

First it was the century mark for Kirk Thompson and now he's taken over as the Spruce Kings all-time winningest goaltender. After picking up a pair of wins in back-to-back games prior to the Christmas break, Kirk takes over top spot with 38 career wins wearing the Crown.

The previous title holder was Greg Goodwin who played in three seasons from 2000-2003 posting a combined total of 37 wins in his time with the team. Greg Goodwin was traded to the Salmon Arm Silverbacks early on in his third year with the Spruce Kings and later played CIS hockey at Grant MacEwan College.

Goodwin still has his name all over the Spruce Kings record book and holds the title of most minutes played at 6001 which is now in jeopardy of being topped. Currently Kirk Thompson has played 5557 minutes and is less than eight complete games from taking over that stat with 23 games remaining in the regular season.

Along with seeing improvements in his career numbers, Kirk has his eyes on climbing the ladder for single season stats as well. The single season record holder for wins is Tyler Euverman who had 23 in the 1998-99 season. Kevin Genoe holds the record of 2535 minutes played in a single season which is the equivalent of 42 games.

There are two other goaltenders that Kirk would love to catch and those would be two former Spruce Kings who went on to have their name added to two NHL teams. Brad Thiessen (Pittsburgh Penguins) posted five shutouts in 2005-06 with the Spruce Kings which stands as both the single season and career benchmark. In one season, Michael-Lee Teslak (Philadelphia Flyers) may have set a target that will be close to impossible to reach with his save percentage (93.10) and goals against average (2.47).

One thing is for sure, Kirk Thompson is determined to make a lasting name for himself and is well on his way having already marked his 100th game played and now taking over the lead in franchise wins. This has to make Kirk the most attractive goaltender eligible to secure a NCAA Division I scholarship; which surprisingly, Kirk is still without.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Kirk Thompson, Spruce Kings Shutout Surrey

Kirk Thompson (1) stops Brett Mulcahy on a breakaway in the 2nd

Turning aside 41 shots and quality shots at that, Kirk Thompson picks up his second shutout of the season and second shutout against the Surrey Eagles as the Spruce Kings close out their pre-Christmas schedule with a 2-0 win. Kirk Thompson was stopping them with his pads and even stopping them without pads as the twenty year old goaltender seemed possessed as he did his job to perfection in front of numerous family, friends and scouts at the South Surrey Arena.

The win also gives Kirk the most wins among franchise goaltenders with 38, one better than previous record holder Greg Goodwin who had 37 during his three seasons with the Spruce Kings from 2000-2003.

It started early for the netminder as he was put to the test countless times in the opening few minutes especially when the Spruce Kings were shorthanded two men for 1:40 in the early goings of the game. Thompson robbed Michael Stenerson who was standing on the doorstep and was sure he had slid the puck under the netminder. Brady Shaw and Brett Mulcahy were also robbed of sure goals in the opening minutes.

After taking three consecutive penalties, the Spruce Kings were able to mount a little pressure of their own and changed the shot clock from a 7-1 deficit to something a little more manageable finishing the period trailing 12-10. Of those shots a great majority of them from both sides were quality scoring chances as the goaltenders fed off each other and put together great games.

In the second period, the Surrey Eagles again carried the play and enjoyed three more powerplays but couldn't capitalize on any of them. Shots on goal in the second period were hugely in favour of the Eagles who counted 13 to the Spruce Kings 3 in the middle frame. After forty minutes it remained a scoreless game with the Eagles outshooting the Spruce Kings 25-13.

The third period seemed to be more of the same as the Eagles pressed hard for the game's first goal. On one shot in close, Demico Hanoun was looking top shelf and caught Kirk Thompson with the puck above the chest and shoulder pads and below the face mask hitting the goaltender in the neck. Thompson went down fast bringing a rush of concerned people to the crease but the veteran goaltender got up and shook it off and stayed in the net.

That scare must of been the spark that the Spruce Kings needed as they found themselves in the offensive zone with the Cascade Express Line cycling the puck down low. The puck would come out to Trevor Esau on the left point who took two strides to the net and let go a low wrist shot that squeezed through three sets of legs and then the five hole of Michael Santaquida who never saw the shot coming. The goal at 5:26 was the first for either team in the game and the second of the season for Esau.

After that goal the Eagles did nothing but swarm the net looking for the equalizer but there was nothing getting past Thompson on this night. In the late stages of the third period, the Spruce Kings were called for a penalty when Cameron Lawson tried to take the puck off an Eagles stick and was given a hooking call. The Eagles played the entire next minute in the Spruce Kings zone and got off a number of quality shots that were either blocked or turned aside by Thompson and one rang the iron behind the netminder.

With time running down in the game, the Eagles pulled their netminder to make it a 6-on-4 man advantage. The play went against the half wall where Trevor Esau was working at getting the puck out of his zone with his back to ice, Craig Wyszomirski came in with a blindside hit and was given a minor penalty for a check from behind that carries with it a game misconduct.

Now playing four on four, the Eagles again pulled their netminder to make it a 5-on-4. That turned into the opportunity Coltyn Hansen needed to provide the Spruce Kings with their insurance marker as he pocketed his tenth of the season into the empty net with 14 seconds remaining in the game. After the game there was a lot of disbelieve as the Surrey Eagles had more shots, more chances and carried a lot of the play but could do nothing to get the puck past Kirk Thompson.

The Spruce Kings never lost the belief in themselves this weekend even after suffering the same fate on Fridaythe night where the they had chance after chance but came up empty against the Victoria Grizzlies and the first period against the Cowichan Valley Capitals. As the weekend progressed they outscored their opposition 6-0 in the final five periods of their three game road trip.

The win puts the Spruce Kings firmly in second place in the Mainland Division with a three point cushion on the Surrey Eagles heading into the Christmas break. The Eagles do have three games in hand and will play those on December 28, 29 and 30. The Spruce Kings don't play again until January 4 when they visit the Powell River Kings followed by the Alberni Valley Bulldogs on January 5 and the Nanaimo Clippers on January 6. The next home games will be a double header against the Chilliwack Chiefs on January 18 & 19.

On behalf of all of the entire Spruce Kings organization, I would like to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas, a happy and safe holidays and a Happy New Year.

Game Preview: at Surrey Eagles

Spruce Kings are looking for their first win against
the Surrey Eagles since they added Brady Shaw

The Spruce Kings will head into the Christmas Break following their matinee game in Surrey against their Mainland Divisional rival the Eagles. Looking to build on last night's come-from-behind win over the Cowichan Valley Capitals, the Spruce Kings know they will have to remain focused on the game plan against a rested team that has found ways to win in extra time in the past three games against Prince George.

The Spruce Kings opened up a 2-0 season series lead on the Surrey Eagles with a 4-1 and 3-0 victory in early October. November was a different story as the Eagles picked up the extra point with overtime wins of 3-2, 2-1 and 3-2. The wins shifted the season series in favour of the Eagles as far as wins and losses go, but the Spruce Kings do maintain a 7-6 lead as far as points in those head-to-head games go.

When every point is important, those gained or lost in overtime become huge especially for two teams that have been battling each other the entire season for positioning in the standings. Currently the Spruce Kings have sole possession of second spot in the Mainland Division, one point ahead of the Eagles but Surrey does have three games in hand. A win today by Prince George will give the Spruce Kings some much needed breathing space in the standings before the team resumes play in early 2013.

The Surrey Eagles played one game this weekend back on Friday night scoring five goals in the second period against the Powell River Kings but couldn't that extra one even through ten minutes of overtime resulting in a 5-5 tie. The Spruce Kings were mauled in Victoria by the Grizzlies and looked to be suffering the same fate through the first twenty minutes in Duncan when the Capitals opened up a 3-0 lead. Things changed in the second period with the Cascade Express combining for three goals including the game winner with 2.3 seconds remaining in the middle frame (the third goal was scored by Skylar Pacheco to tie the game).

The Spruce Kings will be looking for offensive contributions from more than just the Cascade Express Line with the game being played on the Olympic sized rink in the South Surrey Arena. Along with offense, the Spruce Kings will need their defensive game to be just as strong and if they are to be successful - they will need to stay focused on the game plan for the full sixty minutes and possibly longer.

With this being the final game before the Christmas break, minds will start to wander as the players get ready to depart for their home towns and time with family and friends. Picking up two points will ensure that the holidays are enjoyed without leaving that lingering doubt that they let one slip through.

The game is a 4pm start time in Surrey and will be broadcast live; however it will not be on 93.1 CFIS-FM. A free online audio only broadcast will be available from the Spruce Kings MIXLR channel and the pay-per-view feed will be on FASTHOCKEY.com.

As mentioned, following the game the players and coaching staff will head off to their respective homes for the holidays and reconvene in Prince George on December 28th to prepare for the playoff push beginning with another Island and Coastal Conference roadtrip that will take the Spruce Kings to Powell River, Port Alberni and Nanaimo.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Cascade Express Line Gets the Spruce Kings Rolling Again

After allowing three goals in the first period, Kirk Thompson
and the Spruce Kings shut down the Capitals offence

The Spruce Kings were able to turn the tide in the second period and erase a three goal deficit to win Saturday night 4-3 over the Cowichan Valley Capitals. The game started out with a little more of the same from Friday night as the Capitals came out crashing and banging and opened the scoring 1:03 into the game. After adding two more in the opening period, the Capitals were the one that found themselves snake bitten as the Spruce Kings scored four unanswered goals in the second period to post the win.

From the very first shift and for about ten minutes afterwards, the Cowichan Valley Capitals carried the play and had their way with the Spruce Kings. Karan Toor was the first to feel the pressure as he was hammered into the back wall and went down heavy. On the next shift Steen Cooper worked the puck into the Spruce Kings zone and eventually onto the stick of Teal Burns who opened the scoring just 63 seconds into the contest and on the Capitals third shot on goal.

The physical play continued and the Capitals came at Prince George in waves creating another scoring chance that converted at the 4 minute mark. Kyle Horseman found himself in the slot and fired a quick shot some four inches off the ice that floated over the big stick of Kirk Thompson and found the five hole.

The Capitals weren't done there and the same line would provide the game's third goal on a play that started inside the Capitals zone. Horseman was again the work horse on this play as he got the puck up the ice and into the Spruce Kings zone leaving it for Dane Gibson whose shot was stopped but came right back to Hayden James Berra in the slot. The Prince George hockey product wasted no time teeing up a shot that found the corner low to the blocker side.

After the fact the Spruce Kings said they weren't nervous and believed that they could mount a comeback. I don't think they expected it come as quickly as it did. After giving up three goals to the Cowichan Valley Capitals in 14:16 of the first period, the Spruce Kings would respond with three of their own in the first 9:23 of the second period.

The first goal would come on the opening shift which Dave Dupas changed up prior to the puck drop. Originally going with Bryant Christian, Sean Landrey and Jake LeBrun, Dupas pulled that line in favour of the Cascade Express line who had created three chances in the first period for the Spruce Kings. In the second period the line would cash in as a result of some hard work by all three that resulted in Justin Rai picking up the puck in the short side face off circle and threading the needle low glove side for his 9th of the season 35 seconds into the period.

It would take a couple more shifts before the line would get another good scoring chance but again they would make it count off a strong solo effort by Chad Staley. After Jeremiah Luedtke forced the turnover just inside the blueline, Staley did the rest as he picked up the puck, eluded a couple of checks and forced his way through the top of the crease outwaiting the goaltender and then beating him to the far post.

The second goal provided even more spark for the Spruce Kings bench and when the line of Coltyn Hansen, Shayne Morrissey and Jace Hennig came over the boards they made a little more magic happen. With an offensive zone faceoff, Morrissey was able to win the draw back to Skylar Pacheco who walked into the top of the faceoff circle before letting go a shot that went into the corner. Hennig picked it up there and got back out to Morrissey who took another shot that was stopped with the rebound coming out to Pacheco in the slot. Pacheco fired the one timer after stepping around one defender and found the back of the net with his second of the season to tie the game 3-3.

With just under two minutes to go in the second period, the Spruce Kings were rewarded with their first powerplay of the game after Mitch Ball - an affiliate player call up for the Capitals - was called for a trip. The Spruce Kings worked the puck around but couldn't get anything going at first and the Capitals cleared the zone. On the ensuing rush Hayden James Berra caught Jeremiah Luedtke with a heavy hit drawing a boarding minor and giving the Spruce Kings a two man advantage with less than 30 seconds remaining in the middle frame.

In a play that we may have seen once or twice before this season, the Cascade Express line connected on a sweet powerplay move. Justin Rai fed the puck to Chad Staley and then headed to the far side of the net waiting for Staley to feed him from behind the net, but instead Staley flipped it back to Luedtke catching everybody else moving the wrong way opening the short side of the net wide for Luedtke who potted his fifth of the season with 2.3 seconds remaining.

The second period ended with the Spruce Kings leading on the scoreboard 4-3 and tied in shots with the Cowichan Valley Capitals 20-20. The third period saw the Capitals come out strong once again but without an answer for Kirk Thompson who turned aside all 12 shots he faced in the final frame. The Spruce Kings meanwhile had a hard time convincing the shot counter that their shots were on target and finished with only two shots in the third period. That stat didn't matter as the Spruce Kings kept the Capitals off the scoreboard in the final forty minutes to post the 4-3 come-from-behind win.

Certainly the coaching staff had to be a little concerned after the opening twenty minutes with the Spruce Kings unable to find a goal through 80 minutes of play in their weekend road trip. The Spruce Kings will wrap up their pre-Christmas schedule with a matinee affair in the Eagle Nest against the Surrey Eagles at 4pm Sunday. It will be the team's final game of the 2012 calendar year and afterwards the players will go their separate ways to spend the Christmas break with their family and friends.

Just a reminder for fans looking to tune into the game on Sunday, the game will not be broadcast on 93.1 CFIS-FM but will be available on the Spruce Kings MIXLR channel and on FASTHOCKEY.com.

Game Preview: at Cowichan Valley Capitals

The Spruce Kings will be looking to the Capitals
to get themselves back in the win column tonight

Last night the Spruce Kings were mauled by the Grizzlies in a game that ended with a score that wasn't indicative of the play or chances - especially through the first two periods of play. But that is nothing more than a consolation prize today as the team finds themselves one point back of the Surrey Eagles and second place in the Mainland Division.

The Spruce Kings manufactured a number of good scoring chances and found the iron no less than five times including three times in the first period and a couple of breakaway chances as well. Offensively the team came up empty on the score sheet and will need to recalibrate their sticks when they head under the big stick tonight to take on the Cowichan Valley Capitals.

The host team tonight knows all to well the feeling of coming up empty on the wrong side of a good effort. A week ago in Prince George these two teams met in a tightly contested game that the Spruce Kings won 3-1 with an empty net goal late to give the Prince George fans relief from sitting on the edge of their seats all night.

In that previous meeting the teams split twenty shots each in a scoreless opening period. Jeremiah Luedtke opened the scoring early in the second and Tanner Fjellstrom added another before the midway mark on the powerplay. The Capitals had their chances and cut the lead in half before the end of the second period setting up a nerve wracking finale that ended with Coltyn Hansen scoring into the empty net.

The Capitals were the road weary team on that night and will be the well rested team tonight after having the night off to scout and prepare for the Prince George Spruce Kings. This one is a tough one to call because certainly both teams will want to be making a statement. The Capitals will be looking to even the season series and provide a win for the home fans before the Christmas break while the Spruce Kings will be looking for an answer from the night before and a chance to head back to the mainland with momentum before playing the Surrey Eagles.

The Capitals have played the least amount of games in the League and had all week off to prepare for their rematch with the Spruce Kings. They will have a few more holes filled in their lineup with the biggest addition being Keyler Bruce who has now served his two game suspension for a major blow to the head penalty. Bruce's physical presence will be interesting to watch as it could turn into an adrenaline rush or nervous trepidation to avoid further discipline issues.

One week ago the Capitals were also without the services of Ryan Coghlan and their leading scorer Mikael Jung who is still not ready to go. The Spruce Kings have a decision to make as far who they will scratch tonight. Lyndon Martell is the only for sure scratch as he is at home recovering but after that the team is basically healthy. Spencer Schoech is expected to get his first game in as a regular rostered player leaving head coach Dave Dupas to make the tough decision of who to sit tonight as a healthy scratch.

The game tonight is a 7pm start from the Island Savings Centre in Duncan and will be broadcast live on 93.1 CFIS-FM. There will also be a free online audio only broadcast of the game from the Spruce Kings MIXLR channel and the pay-per-view feed from FASTHOCKEY.com.

Finding Positives

Coltyn Hansen (10) had a number of excellent chance
in Friday's game including two breakaways and two goal posts

The three game weekend didn't get started on the right foot for the Prince George Spruce Kings, in fact it didn't get started at all. The Spruce Kings couldn't find a way to beat the opposition goaltender or the red iron suffering a 7-0 loss to the Victoria Grizzlies on Friday night.

The Spruce Kings started out strong but couldn't find a way to beat Michael Stiliadis and when they did, they couldn't beat the iron. One of the first shots on goal was a Coltyn Hansen dinger that rang off the cross bar. Shortly after that Shayne Morrissey grazed the outside of the far post, not once but twice.

Meanwhile the Victoria Grizzlies found a way to create a bounce that worked to their favour to open the scoring. Off a faceoff win in the Spruce Kings end, Nolan DeJong's point shot got tipped on its way to Liam McLeod who made the save but left a loose puck sitting just out of his reach in the blue paint. David Mazurek was able to pounce on the loose puck beyond an outstretched McLeod and put the puck into the back of the net.

The Grizzlies would add another before the end of the first period while enjoying a man advantage. Zach Urban started the play from the high slot feeding the puck over to the right point to Jaden Schmeisser who looked off the defenders and spotted Mazurek standing all alone in the far faceoff circle. Mazurek had no problems with the perfect pass and the wide open net on the far side making it a 2-0 game. The unfortunate part of that goal was that it came just seconds after Coltyn Hansen had a short handed breakaway chance that was swept off the goal line by the trailing Victoria defenceman.

The Spruce Kings didn't fare much better in the second period despite starting with two early powerplays. On the second man advantage, Skylar Pacheco stepped into a shot on the top of the right faceoff circle and rang a shot off the far goal post. The Victoria Grizzlies then started to put the game out of reach when Zach Urban broke up a Spruce Kings rush and was able to spring Gerry Fitzgerald on a breakaway of his own who scored high glove side to make the game 3-0.

It was 4-0 shortly after another faceoff in the Spruce Kings end. Myles Fitzgerald was able to get the puck onto the stick of Gerry who was given too much time in front of the net. Gerry walked through the blue paint before squeezing the puck between the goal post and McLeod. The Spruce Kings didn't go away and continued to mount chances but still nothing to show for their effort.

The third period started with a forgettable first half marked by a trio of Victoria goals. The first one came after a huge open ice hit at centre ice that saw Mark McLellan hit the deck. The play continued down the ice and resulted in a couple of chances that McLeod turned aside until McLellan came back into the play and was able to drop in a wrap around to give Victoria a 5-0 lead.

Three minutes later with the Spruce Kings pressing with another man advantage opportunity, the Victoria Grizzlies jumped on a shorthanded chance of their own. Chase Kaiser was able to get the puck through the middle and into the Spruce Kings end, letting go a shot that McLeod turned aside. The rebound was picked up by DJ Jones who rung one of the iron himself. The puck came out to Stefan Nicholishen who was trailing the play and able to bury his shot.

Not done just yet, the Victoria Grizzlies had one more goal in them and it would be the Fitzgerald triplets adding the insult to injury. Gerry Fitzgerald picked up his hat trick goal at 6:37 of the third after being set up by Myles. The Spruce Kings would again get a couple more chances with the best going to Coltyn Hansen who was sprung on a breakaway down the left side only to be turned aside by the toe of Stiliadis.

The common consensus after the game, especially after the second period, was that this game appeared to be more lopsided on the scoresheet then it should have been given the quality of chances. No less than four goal posts, two breakaways and a handful of excellent scoring chances but still that is all that the Spruce Kings will have heading into their second game of the weekend.

The Spruce Kings will be looking to rebound as they head up the Island Highway to Duncan and the Cowichan Valley Capitals. Game time is 7pm from the Island Savings Centre and broadcast on 93.1 CFIS-FM and Fasthockey.com.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Game Preview: at Victoria Grizzlies

Spruce Kings will be in the Bear Den tonight

The Prince George Spruce Kings start their final weekend before the Christmas break tonight versus the Victoria Grizzlies in the Bear Mountain Arena. Earlier today the team took a little while to take in the Provincial Capital and do a little sight seeing.

Despite being this far away from the Prince George and all that snow with the green grass and fall like temperatures, the boys are ready for their winter sport and looking to hit the ice tonight. The month of December has been kind to the Spruce Kings so far with the team going 3 and 0 last weekend and now looking to duplicate that effort starting tonight.

Picking up a win against the Victoria Grizzlies will not be an easy task as the team knows all so well from their first meeting in Prince George on November 10th. At the time there was a lot of excitement to see the Fitzgerald triplets back in the Coliseum. In that game Myles, Leo and Gerry did not become as big a factor in the game as many had expected.

Other Grizzlies did step up and impacted that game as Victoria skated away with a 7-3 win handing Prince George their first regulation time loss on home ice. It was a bit of a shock at the time, but now it has to serve as motivation with the Spruce Kings now having a chance at redemption.

On paper these two teams are very close to each other with the Grizzlies having four more points than the Spruce Kings (40-36). The strength of those numbers comes from three more overtime wins than Prince George has been able to muster up. The Spruce Kings have played in 9 overtime games picking up 12 points with 3 wins, 1 tie and 5 losses. The Grizzlies have won 5 overtime games giving them 10 points (5-0-2) in seven overtime games.

Interestingly the players involved in the summer blockbuster trade all sit in the top three of scoring on their respective teams. The Fitzgerald triplets sit 1-2-3 with Myles leading the way with 29 points followed by Gerry with 26 points and Leo with 25 points. Coltyn Hansen and Cameron Lawson sit in second and third respectfully with 24 and 20 points and both with college commitments.

The Spruce Kings leading scorer continues to be the now 18 year old defenceman, Mitch Eden with a total of 26 points. Tyson Witala is the goal scoring leader notching his 13th of the season last weekend followed by Lawson and his 12 goals. Shayne Morrissey has been steadily climbing the ladder and his 11 goals has him sitting in the team's top five point getters.

Other notable Spruce Kings include Bryant Christian, Chad Staley and Skylar Pacheco who all have 16 points. All three will have family and friends in the Spruce Kings entourage this weekend. It is always an interesting aspect of the road games to see alumni, family, friends and fans come out in force showing their support for the road team.

The Spruce Kings will need to stay focused on the task at hand especially tonight with the Victoria Grizzlies climbing back up the national rankings. Last week the Grizzlies climbed four spots to be ranked 11th in the nation and the second highest BCHL team. The Grizzlies were ranked as high as 8th early in the season and have been on the list for all except for one week of the season.

After the Fitzgerald triplets, DJ Jones is the fourth most productive player on the Victoria roster contributing 4 goals and 18 assists from the blue line. Myles Powell rounds out the top five with twenty points (13G, 7A) followed by a pair of players with 14 points (Mark McLellan and Blake Thompson). Nolan DeJong has 13 points while both Chase Kaiser and David Mazurek with identical tallies (3G, 8A) and 11 points.

Between the pipes, the Spruce Kings are expected to start the youngster tonight giving Liam McLeod his seventh BCHL start. Kirk Thompson, who hit the 100 games played mark this past weekend, will sit and watch and provide a level of mentorship for the young protege. At the other end, it shouldn't be a surprise to see Brady Rouleau in net as he did pick up the win against the Spruce Kings in their first meeting of the season.

Game time is 7:15pm from the Bear Mountain Arena and will be broadcast live on 93.1 CFIS-FM as well as a free online audio only broadcast of the game on the Spruce Kings MIXLR channel and the pay per view feed on FASTHOCKEY.com. Ron Gallo will provide the call of the game beginning with the pregame show at 6:45pm.