Sunday, September 30, 2012

Too Little Too Late

Studio Cuts Crowning Moment of the Game
was this non-goal call

It will be a split in the season series after the Spruce Kings came up just short in a 4-3 decision to the Penticton Vees on Sunday evening. Playing the third game in as many days, the Spruce Kings made it interesting late with a pair of goals 30 seconds apart. Unfortunatley that just wasn't enough to erase a three goal deficit that the Vees built up with a powerplay goal, lucky bounce, disallowed goal and penalty shot.

The Penticton Vees were coming off a 4-0 shutout win in their home opener. Despite the Vees win, it was obvious to see that Penticton came to the arena with a measure of respect for the Spruce Kings who were responsible for the only blemish on thier otherwise perfect record. During the pregame interviews, Vees head coach and general manager, Fred Harbinson drew attention to the fact that Prince George was well on their way to building up a winning hockey program and were responsible for Penticton's last two regular season losses.

The Spruce Kings came out with some jump in the pregame skate and to start the first period. Unfortunately the penalty problems that had plaqued them the night before showed up just 15 seconds into the game. Lyndon Martell found himself in the penalty box on a slashing call.

The Vees went to work early with the man advantage and started firing pucks on Liam McLeod as the 16 year old rookie got his second BCHL start of the season. One thing the Spruce Kings are starting to be known for is their fearless approach to blocking shots and keeping opposition to the outside. The Vees would get some shots through but could not open the scoring with their first man advantage.

Responding to their successful penalty kill, the Spruce Kings started mounting their own offensive and were rewarded with the game's first goal. On his second shift of the game Liam Board carried the puck in on the Penticton Vees goaltender and fired a hard shot that found the goal post. The puck bounced out to an open Cam Lawson who thought he was staring at a sure goal himself that bounced off the shaft of a defender's stick in front of an open net.

From there the puck went into the corner where Board picked it up. The Ontario player acquired in the off season from the Oakville Blades, came in on Chad Katunar again but this time picked off the top corner over the should of the netminder who committed early to a low shot. The goal at 3:43 of the first period was only the second shot on goal for Prince George and Board's third of the season.

The goal gave the Spruce Kings a sense of relief after having killed off that penalty to Martell but perhaps that sigh gave the wind to the Penticton Vees as they started applying pressure looking for the tying goal. That would come at 7:20 when James De Haas, the Detroit Red Wings draft pick from this past summer, stepped off the point and found a path to the far side goal post past a screen and McLeod`s glove.

The Vees would get seven more shots over the next ten minutes including a couple on a second powerplay with Chad Staley in the penalty box for tripping. The Spruce Kings killed off that one too and as the time started ticking down on the opening period, Tyson Witala found himself cruising through the left point. With a shot labelled for the top shelf again Witala rang one of the cross bar. The period would end in a 1-1 tie with the Vees leading 14-3 on the shot clock.

The second period started almost the exact same as the first with Lyndon Martell getting called for the trip just 13 seconds in. This time the Vees would not be denied on a nice setup that started from the half way. Michael Rebry spotted Scott Mellor in the slot, McLeod came out to challenge the shooter but got caught up in traffic on the top of the crease as the puck found the back of the net 18 seconds into the powerplay.

After Bryant Christian was put in the penalty box on a hooking call, the Spruce Kings seemed to settle down and after killing off the penalty started applying pressure of their own. Getting a couple shots through on Katunar, the Spruce Kings seemed to be working at getting the momentum to swing their way when the unluckiest goal I have seen rolled into the Spruce Kings net.

With the new no-change icing calls players will work a little harder to get to the red line before sending the puck down the ice. Just past the mid-way mark of the second period with Prince George applying the pressure, Wade Murphy came up with the puck and was able to skate out to the middle getting to within inches of the Spruce Kings blue line before dumping it in for a line change.

It seemed harmless enough and McLeod came out of the net to play it off the back wall. The problem was the puck fell awkwardly into the apex of the boards and the ice and bounced right to the net hitting McLeod in the back of the legs and falling to the ice in his feet. In an effort to recover from the awkward bounce, the momentum of the goaltender allowed the puck to roll over the goal line putting the Spruce Kings in a 3-1 hole at 10:36 of the second period.

An unbelievable goal to be sure, the Spruce Kings took a little while to recover from the shock of that one and it didn't help that a few minutes later Coltyn Hansen was called for a slashing minor putting the Spruce Kings down a man for a fifth time in the game. The penalty was a weak one but the call was made and the Spruce Kings responded with another successful penalty kill.

On Hansen's next shift he found himself busting in wide on the Vees defenceman and driving hard to the net. Hansen was caught and ridden into the back wall with a play that could have and maybe should have resulted in an interference call or boarding minor. When there was no reaction from the official, Hansen questioned the non-call and was immediately ejected from the game.

The Spruce Kings would finally get a powerplay after Louie Nanne was caught for a slash. While still playing under the delayed penalty call, Mitch Eden was able to turn an offensive rush and put the puck down the ice looking for Alec Butcher. Lawson was tagged from behind on what looked like a hit from behind. Tyson Witala didn't like what he saw and went after Rob Mann who initiated the hit.

When the dust settled, three players were sent to the penalty box - Witala for roughing after the whistle, Mann for interference and Nanne for the initial call of slashing. The Spruce Kings were unable to cash in on their first powerplay chance that was split between the end of the second period and the start of the third.

They continued to build up momentum but nothing seemed to be working for the Spruce Kings with yet another cross bar picked off leaving the visitors on the wrong side of the 3-1 score. A break would finally come mid-way through the third period when Wade Murphy was penalized on an interference call giving the Spruce Kings their second powerplay chance.

Dave Dupas decided to go with the young guns as the first unit powerplay and it would pay off with a two man advantage 30 seconds later. The penalty was a result of the hard work of Chad Staley who had two good chances with puck and was denied both times including a sharp angle shot that went between the goalie and the net across the open mouth of the goal.

Staley went hard for the puck on the opposite wall and checked hard from behind into the glass. The referee immediately signaled a penalty calling a boarding minor on Travis Blanleil giving the Spruce Kings a two man advantage to work with for 90 seconds at 10:26 of the third period. As the first penalty was coming to an end, Liam Board found the puck in his feet and kicked it up to his stick before slipping it under Katunar.

The referee immediately waved off the puck indicating that he believed the puck had been kicked in intentionally. Although video review is not part of the BCHL, the replay video at centre ice in the South Okanagan Events Centre showed that the puck was directed by a stick and appeared to go off the toe of a defender's skate with intentional kicking motion seen.

That would have made it a 3-2 game and changed everything with the Spruce Kings almost completely in control of the game's momentum. Instead it set up the next unfortunate circumstance when the puck got behind Cam Lawson and set Michael Rebry up with a short handed chance on a partial breakaway. In a panic, Lawson reached out and got a piece of the Vees jersey.

As the puck slid harmlessly into the corner, the referee signaled to centre ice giving the Penticton Vees a penalty shot. Rebry would take it coming out to the rightside before cutting back to the middle. With a little flip towards McLeod the youngster got a piece but not enough of the shot as it trickled in extending the Vees lead to 4-1 at 12:12 of the third period.

The Spruce Kings would not go away, but as the saying goes, it would be too little too late even with a pair of goals late in the period. The first would come off the stick of Chad Staley as he got his second of the season with assists going to Justin Rai and Skylar Pacheco at 17:19 of the third period.

The nicest goal of the night would come 30 seconds later setting up a frantic finish. The goal scoring play started with Liam Board leading the offensive rush over the blue line along the left side wall. As he put on the brakes at the half wall, he spotted Tyson Witala coming down the middle and put it in the slot. Katunar expected a shot and came out to challenge the shooter but instead Witala dished off to the right and Lynden Martell who had the whole open net behind Katunar and made no mistake picking up his fourth of the season.

The Spruce Kings would continue to apply the pressure and were able to get Liam McLeod out of the net and onto the bench for the extra attacker. With time ticking down the Spruce Kings went with Witala, Board, Staley, Martell, Eden and Pacheco. The five would fight for the puck and would get only one more shot on goal coming almost at the same time that the final buzzer sounded.

The 4-3 loss leaves the Prince George Spruce Kings with 10 points and holding onto second spot in the Mainland Division after a night when four of the five teams in that division played. The Coquitlam Express took over sole possession of top spot with 12 points after a 5-2 win over the Nanaimo Clippers. In a 4-3 overtime final, the Chilliwack Chiefs picked up two points while the Surrey Eagles collected one giving both 9 points on the season.

Next up for the Spruce Kings is another three game road trip through the Mainland Division with games against the Surrey Eagles Friday night and a pair against the Langley Rivermen on Saturday and Sunday. The three games in three days will be the first real test for Prince George against teams in their own division being proverbial four point games.

Game Preview: at Penticton Vees

The Spruce Kings woke up to some gorgeous sunshine in Penticton and the prospect of a new day in the BCHL against the number one ranked team in the country. This evening at 5pm the Spruce Kings will finish their three games in three days Interior Division road trip in the South Okanagan Events Centre - the home of the Penticton Vees.

This is a game that the Spruce Kings have been looking forward to playing all week. It comes a day after a bitter loss to the Merritt Centennials where penalties got the best of the Spruce Kings giving up three powerplay goals on seven opportunities to the League's best special teams squad.

"There's no time to mourn this loss," said Spruce Kings head coach Dave Dupas after the team suffered their first regulation time defeat of the season. Dupas has been a model of moderation both in defeat and in victory as was the case some two weeks ago when the Spruce Kings beat the Penticton Vees 4-2 in Prince George.

It is that sense of calmness that the Spruce Kings will have to take with them to the game this evening as they face a squad playing their second game of their home opening weekend. Last night the Vees had the other BCHL royalty in town, disposing the Powell River Kings with a 4-0 shutout win.

The Vees, who were ranked last week as the number one Junior 'A' team in the nation, have only one blemish on their seven game record - the 4-2 loss to Prince George. Certainly they don't want to end the weekend with a second loss and will be ready for the Spruce Kings this time.

That 4-2 win from two weeks ago will go a long way to providing motivation for the Spruce Kings as well. I know for one, I was a little surprised to see an undefeated team that had knocked off the defending champions and had no less than three players in the top twenty among league scoring left off the rankings sheet. There is a sense that another win over the same team would justify inclusion in the rankings, but I suggest to you the notion of being ranked is a lower priority than showing resiliency and bouncing back with a solid effort against a very good team in the BCHL.

Last night the line of Sean Landrey, Jake LeBrun and Bryant Christian were arguably the best line in the smaller confines of the Centennials arena scoring both of Prince George's goals. Friday night the Spruce Kings defense shone and allowed the faster wheeling forwards opportunities to open the game up. Playing in a larger arena - the South Okanagan Events Centre - should allow for more of the same as we saw on Friday night.

The game tonight is 5pm faceoff with the game being broadcast on 93.1 CFIS-FM community radio and their website - cfisfm.com. The pay-per-view video broadcast will be available on fasthockey.com with Ron Gallo's call via the "away" link for the game.

Following the game, the team will head back home for a day of rest on Monday, a short week of practice with ice times on Tuesday and Wednesday before boarding the bus for another three game Mainland Division road trip next weekend. Enjoy the game tonight and Go Spruce Kings Go!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

First Regluation Time Loss

Dave Dupas pleads the Spruce Kings case to the officials
after a missed blow to the head on Cam Lawson

The Prince George Spruce Kings suffered their first regulation time loss of the season Saturday night, 6-2 to the Merritt Centennials. The loss for Prince George was almost the exact opposite of the win for the Spruce Kings just one night prior with powerplays being the difference.

After trading goals with the Merritt Centennials and even building up a 2-1 lead early in the second period, the Spruce Kings were given a series of consecutive penalties that resulted in three straight man advantage goals for the Centennials in the middle frame. The Cents would add one more late to seal the deal and improve their record to 4-1-1-0.

The Centennials opened the scoring in the first period with a point shot that appeared to be tipped in front. John Saunders started the play on the left point getting the puck deep only to have it come back to him. With a pair of players (Lamont for the Centennials and Butcher for the Spruce Kings) battling for position and moving through the left faceoff circle to the slot, Saunders stepped into a shot that whistled past Thompson at 8:04.

The lead was short lived with the Spruce Kings line of Sean Landrey, Bryant Christian and Jake LeBrun getting the puck deep into the Centennials zone. With puck possession in the corner, Landrey was able to dish off to Christian while heading to the net. The puck came out to Landrey who was able to sneak it past Tyler Steel for his second in as many games and second of the season.

That's how the first period would end with both teams scoring once on their ten credited shots on goal. In the second period, Jake LeBrun pounced on a loose puck in front on a play that was setup in the neutral zone by Karan Toor. Although he won't get any credit on the scoresheet, the play started with Toor blocking a clearing attempt with the inside of his left ankle.

With a grimace on his face, Toor got the puck up to Christian and then hobbled to the bench. Christian stepped over the blue line and left the puck for Trevor Esau who took a shot that bounced around in the top of the crease with LeBrun standing on the doorstep to bury for his first of the season and second in the BCHL (he scored his first as an AP with the Spruce Kings last season).

Unfortunately for Prince George, that lead would be short lived as well with the Centennials answering back 58 seconds later. With the puck deep in the Spruce Kings zone it looked like it was coming out when Brent Fletcher got his stick on it and spotted Jeff Wight all alone in the high slot. Wight wasted no time with a quick wrister that beat Thompson tying the game up 2-2.

Things started going from bad to worse on the next play for the Spruce Kings when Kirk Thompson was charged with a delay of game penalty at 4:54 of the second period. Although the Spruce Kings would kill off that man advantage, they wouldn't have the same luck on the next three penalty calls.

Brent Fletcher found himself in behind the Spruce Kings D and going in on a bit of breakaway. Trevor Esau was able to close the gap and catch Fletcher before he got a shot away knocking the puck off his stick and bringing the Centennials player down in the process. After some discussion, the referee assessed an interference penalty to Esau giving Merritt their fourth straight power play opportunity.

The Spruce Kings were only seconds away from going 4-0 on the penalty kill when Sebastian Pare spotted Derek Huisman in front. With five seconds remaining in the penalty to Esau, Huisman fought off a check and slipped his third of the season past Thompson.

Minutes later the referee's arm was back up in the arm on a questionable slash charged to Tyson Witala. Nick Swaine used an animated two handed swing motion to indicate what he saw as a axe style chop by the Spruce Kings forward. With Witala in the penalty box the top ranked powerplay unit in the BCHL went back to work and made short order of the man advantage with a goal mouth scramble. Sylvan Harper was able to slide one past the maze of bodies in the crease.

Less than a minute later the Spruce Kings were back on the penalty kill this time with Lyndon Martell getting the call for slashing. Huisman would be the trigger man 27 seconds into the man advantage with a perfect shot to the top corner over the shoulder of Thompson on the short side. The goal would spell the end of the starter in net for Prince George and bring out Liam Mcleod to finish the final five minutes of the second period and all of the third.

In the third period, Prince George just couldn't get anything to go their way despite being credited with 19 shots on goal. The Centennials final goal was a solo effort by Sebastian Pare that started from deep inside the Merritt zone. Pare took the puck off a Spruce Kings stick and started heading up ice picking up speed as he went. By the time Pare crossed the blueline he had only one player left to beat that he did with a quick inside outside move sliding the puck under McLeod.

With seven power plays in succession, the Merritt Centennials did to the Spruce Kings what Prince George did to the Vernon Vipers just a night ago bringing the Spruce Kings undefeated streak to an abrupt end. The Spruce Kings record is still tops in the Mainland Division with four wins, a tie and an overtime loss good for ten points.

For Prince George they will now have to turn their focus to the Penticton Vees who won their home opener on Saturday night with a 4-0 shutout win over the Powell River Kings. It will be the second and final meeting this season between these two with Prince George leading the season series 1-0 after posting a 4-2 victory over the Vees on September 15th back in Prince George.

Game Preview: at Merritt Centennials

For the third Saturday in four weeks, the Prince George Spruce Kings will play the Merritt Centennials in a BCHL regular season matchup. The first was the season opener for both teams on September 8th at the BCHL Showcase weekend in Chilliwack.

In that game the Spruce Kings opened a 1-0 lead in the first period with the Centennials answering back in the second period on the powerplay. Three unanswered goals gave Prince a 4-1 win. Two weekends later in Prince George it was the Merritt Centennials that spotted themselves a 2-0 lead in the first period forcing the Spruce Kings to answer back which they did leading to a 2-2 tie that overtime could not solve.

A week later the two teams are set to renew an interesting rivalry that will be shelved after tonight's game - the third and final time these two teams will see each other in this BCHL regular season. These two have formed an unique bond this season and over the past couple of seasons with post season meetings along with some interesting battles during the regular season.

Both teams are coming off Friday night wins - the Merritt Centennials defeated the Langley Rivermen 2-1 in the Nicola Valley Arena while the Spruce Kings built momentum off a strong defensive effort to defeat the Vernon Vipers 5-2 in Vernon. Both games were high shooting matches with the Merritt Centennials firing 42 shots at the Rivermen goaltender and the Spruce Kings getting 46 shots on the Vipers netminder.

The open ice on Friday night seemed to favour the Prince George Spruce Kings, but that will be a luxury they won't have tonight in the less than friendly confines of the Nicola Valley Arena. With an ice surface just smaller than the Coliseum, expect to see a physical affair designed to wear players down.

Look for the Merritt Centennials to try and use the smaller arena to their advantage who are known to use stretch passes to find a forward streaking through the middle. That however could become a quick negative for the Cents if the passes aren't on the mark with the new no-change icing rule in the BCHL.

The Spruce Kings defence, who shone last night, will have to be aware of those fast moving forwards looking for the break away passes. Mitch Eden and Brad Ryan played a ton last night and were rewarded with some hefty offensive numbers (Ryan - 1G, 3A and Eden - 3A). That places the pair in the League's top ten scoring race with nine points each and just three points shy of the Brett Hull Trophy leader, Evan Tironese (4G, 8A) of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs.

After their wins on Friday night, both teams will be carrying a little momentum with them into the game tonight. Puck drop is at 7:30pm with the Spruce Kings broadcast starting up at 7:10pm on 93.1 CFIS-FM Community Radio. The audio feed can also be found online at cfisfm.com and the pay-per-view video broadcast of the game is available from the Fasthockey.com website.

Following the game, the Spruce Kings will head to Penticton to prepare for their third and final road game of the weekend against the Vees beginning at 5pm in the South Okanagan Events Centre. Look to the Spruce Kings Twitter feed and Facebook page for updates from tonight's game and post game thoughts.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Weekend Starts With A Win

Spruce Kings celebrate a 5-2 win over the Vernon Vipers

The Prince George Spruce Kings started their three game roadtrip on the right foot with a big 5-2 win over the Vernon Vipers on Friday night. A pair of goals from Cam Lawson and singles from Sean Landrey, Brad Ryan and Lyndon Martell weren't even the story in this one as the defence shone and the powerplay came to life.

Before the game coach Dave Dupas said that his squad would have to find a way of containing the Vipers speed and take away their chances. The players got that message loud and clear and delivered with a solid effort that was put to the test early in the first period when the Spruce Kings ran into penalty trouble.

The first of three consecutive powerplays for Vernon came after Colton Sparrow just missed Skylar Pacheco with a hit. Latrell Charleson didn't like the intent he saw in the missed hit and immediately dropped the gloves to go with Sparrow. Charleson drew a two minute minor for being the instigator, five minutes for fighting and another ten minute misconduct for his efforts.

The Spruce Kings didn't let the Vipers set up in their zone and held the home team to a single shot on goal. The Vipers didn't go away and kept pressing, looking for any chance to opening the scoring including a few bank shot attempts from behind the net. Kirk Thompson had to be sharp to find loose pucks in the crease and keep the game scoreless robbing Adam Tambellini a couple of times in the opening period.

The Vipers would get a second powerplay chance when Brad Ryan was called for a high stick. Again the Vipers had some trouble setting up as the Spruce Kings blocked a number of shots. This would continue into a third powerplay opportunity with Tyson Witala called for a slash.

After killing off three consecutive penalties, the Spruce Kings seemed to settle down and started getting chances of their own. The best chance to open the scoring had to come off the Coltyn Hansen breakaway through the middle. As he went in on the goaltender he was caught from behind and brought down by Brett Corkey resulting in a penalty shot for Hansen.

The penalty shot didn't go well for Hansen who had the puck bobble on him just as he was about to pull it to his backhand. The fluttering puck forced Hansen to take the shot from an awkward angle and also gave Austin Smith enough time to get his left leg down to make the save and preserve the scoreless tie. Although the Spruce Kings were able to get back on even terms on the shot clock (11-11), the first period ended with goose eggs on the board.

To start the second period the Vernon Vipers came at the Spruce Kings hard and after about forty seconds of sustained pressure and a few shots the Spruce Kings were able to clear the zone. The problem being that the puck didn't go deep allowing Ryan Renz to feed TJ Dumonceaux who went in the offensive zone and let a hard shot go that beat Thompson low to the blocker side.

The Spruce Kings didn't give up the game plan and stuck with it getting a few chances of their own and finally a powerplay to work with at 4:59 of the second period. On the powerplay Brad Ryan and Mitch Eden worked the points for over 1:40 each and were able to keep the puck in the attacking zone almost that whole time for Liam Board, Coltyn Hansen and Cam Lawson to work with. After getting the puck in the slot from Board, Lawson eyed the top corner and sniped the tying goal one second after the penalty expired.

The Studio Cuts Crowning Moment of the Game would come a little over seven minutes later when Brad Ryan was able to keep the puck in the Vipers zone. Spotting a defender without his stick, Ryan got the puck to Sean Landrey who was able to walk into the danger zone and beat Smith for his first of the season. This goal just seemed to turn the tides and spelled the end of the Vipers as they started losing their composure and started taking penalties.

Including the initial penalty at 4:59, the Vipers took a total of six straight penalties. At 18:12 Michael Roberts was called for a high stick and 43 seconds later the puck was being fished out of the back of the net following another laser beam shot from Brad Ryan just above the left side faceoff circle. To make matters worse for the Vipers, the goal came with another penalty in the works for the home team leaving the Spruce Kings on the powerplay to end the second period and start the third with.

The Spruce Kings did cash in on this one but just as it was expiring the Vipers Kevin Guiltinan was called for a blow to the head. Cam Lawson came back out on the powerplay and a minute later had his second of the game and fourth of the season with a helper to Mitch Eden and Brad Ryan.

The Vernon Vipers parade to the penalty box wasn't done there as they would take back to back penalties giving the Spruce Kings a 1:40 to work with on a two man advantage. This time it would Lyndon Martell finding the twine in the top corner on a sharp angle shot that was in and out quickly. The referee was in the right place at the right time to see Martell's third of the season and the Spruce Kings found themselves up 5-1 at this point.

They seemed to roll after that and still managed to get 19 shots in the third period on Smith to finish the game with 46 in total. The Vipers managed eight shots in the final period and were able to beat Thompson on one at 16:39 but that was as close as they would come on this night. Defensively the team was sound blocking shots, taking away chances, clearing loose pucks and keeping the top guys off the scoresheet.

Brad Ryan (1G, 3A) was named the game's first star with his biggest night since coming west to play for the Spruce Kings. Cam Lawson's two goal performance earned him second star honours while the defensive presence coupled with three assists earned Mitch Eden the nod for third star and DQ Player of the Game. Kirk Thompson was named the FortisBC Energy Player of the Game on the broadcast with his strong performance especially early on when the game was up for grabs

The Spruce Kings won't see the Vernon Vipers again now until March 1st when they come to the Castle for their one and only time this season. The win along with a Coquitlam Express loss on Friday night sees the Spruce Kings take over sole possession of top spot in the Mainland Division with a record of 4-0-1-1. The Spruce Kings next game is Saturday night at 7:30pm against the Merritt Centennials in the Nicola Valley Arena. On Friday night, the Centennials defeated the Langley Rivermen 2-1.

The game Saturday night will mark the final time this season that the Spruce Kings and the Centennials will see each other. In the season opener for both teams, the Spruce Kings defeated Merritt 4-1 and one week ago in Prince George, the Spruce Kings had to come from behind to force overtime in a game that finished in a 2-2 tie.

Game Preview: at Vernon Vipers

It is the first time and only time this season that the Spruce Kings will be in the Wesbild Centre or as some will have you call it - the snake pit - for being the home of the Vernon Vipers. I'm still getting used to the idea that the Spruce Kings don't play in the Interior Division with all the usual rivals like the Penticton Vees, the Merritt Centennials and the Vernon Vipers. Oh wait ... isn't that who they are playing this weekend?

I know I've covered this before, but just to do it again for the benefit of understanding it myself ... the Spruce Kings were moved to the Mainland Division of the Coastal Conference where they will play the Surrey Eagles, Langley Rivermen, Coquitlam Express and Chilliwack Chiefs a total of eight times each. They will play all remaining teams twice throughout the season with one small exception. The BCHL Showcase against the Merritt Centennials and Mainland Division rival Langley Rivermen were randomly selected games to make up the regular season total of 56 games.

As we close out the first month of the 2012-13 season, the Spruce Kings are yet to see a team from the Coastal Conference with the exception of Langley at the BCHL Showcase. So what does this mean to the Prince George Spruce Kings? I think it means a lot in the way of preparing for their early season games.

There is familiarity for the coaching staff especially with the opponents and their facilities. That familiarity can be passed down to the players ahead of the game so that the rookies and those that may not have played in the Wesbild Centre, Nicola Valley Arena or the South Okanagan Events Centre can be a little more prepared.

Yes the Spruce Kings traveled to Chilliwack for a pair of games in the BCHL Showcase but this is the first real roadtrip of the regular season for the Spruce Kings. Starting on the road with some familiarity in tow should take away from too many early game jitters and nerves, allowing both teams to play the type of game we've come to expect from these BCHL rivals.

First up is the Vernon Vipers Friday night at 7pm. The Spruce Kings rolled into the North Okanagan city Thursday night and almost immediately took up residency in their hotel rooms and even in their dressing room at the Wesbild Centre. Game preparation included getting enough sleep the night before and then taking a look at game video.

The focus for Dave Dupas and his coaching staff is more on his own team and improving on some key areas. Safe to say one of those areas is the powerplay which currently sits 12th in the league with a 14.29% success rate. This past week the coaching staff started seeing a few more bodies return to the practice ice from some nagging injuries. Which allows the team to work a little more indepth on their systems.

Earlier in the week the Spruce Kings signed Justin Rai and were able to get Sean Landrey back in the lineup. Tanner Fjellstrom is still out but is considered day-to-day now while David London is still on the long term injured reserve list but is expected to join the team as they play these three games near his home in Kelowna.

The opposition is a bit of wild card to start the season. The Vernon Vipers currently sit second in the Interior Division with six points in five games. Those five games have featured a pair of overtime losses and two regulation time wins with only one regulation time loss. Like the Spruce Kings, the Vipers have scored on average one more goal then they have allowed in their five games.

Leading the way for the Vipers is 18 year old second year forward Adam Tambellini with 7 points (3G, 4A) good for a share of 8th spot in the League. Tambellini (son of Steve and brother of Jeff) is committed to the University of North Dakota for the 2012-14 season. Also in the League's Top Twenty is Vipers' third year veteran Aaron Hadley with 4 goals and 2 assists.

The Spruce Kings top trio of Coltyn Hansen, Cam Lawson and Lyndon Martell as well as offensive defenceman Mitch Eden are all within striking distance of the League's Top Twenty. Also playing at or just under a point a game average are Brad Ryan, Jeremiah Luedtke, Chad Staley, Liam Board and Tyson Witala. Another player that will be looking to add to his numbers will be Justin Rai after becoming a carded player with the Spruce Kings.

The Vernon Vipers have been relying heavily on import goaltender Austin Smith who comes with major junior experience having played 31 games over two seasons with the Swift Current Broncos. Last season in 20 games, Smith finished with a record of 3 wins, 7 losses and 1 shootout loss. So far this season, Smith has earned both of the Vipers' wins and has a 2.03 goals against average to go along with his 91.3 save percentage.

Look for Kirk Thompson to get his third straight start for the Spruce Kings and fourth of the regular season. Thompson is off to a good start with three wins, 2.36 goals against average and 92.2 save percentage. To go along with those numbers, Thompson has also picked up back-to-back first star honours after stopping 66 of 70 shots he faced through 130 minutes of play.

The Vernon Vipers and the Prince George Spruce Kings have always had entertaining games and tonight's should be no exception to the norm as both teams will be looking to continue padding their points. Game time is 7:00pm with the game being broadcast on 93.1 CFIS-FM. Free audio will be available online as well from www.cfisfm.com and the pay-per-view broadcast on www.fasthockey.com with Ron Gallo providing the call of the game.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Community Service Award Finalist

The Prince George Spruce Kings know first hand how committed to the community that the four Save On Foods stores in Prince George are. Now the whole country is starting to know it too after the Canadian Grocer announced their finalists in the annual Community Service Awards.

I recently worked with the Canadian Grocer to help with recognizing the Save On Foods stores in Prince George for their contributions to the community. This is just the first step as I think they should become one of the four winners. Please read my edited transcription of the article in the Canadian Grocer that highlights Prince George and the work of four stores.

Canadian Grocer has announced the 10 finalists for this year’s Community Service Awards.

The 10 stand-out stores cover the country, including the Save-on Foods in Prince George, B.C., which helped those in need when an explosion ripped through a local sawmill.

Save-on Foods, Prince George, B.C.

When an explosion ripped through the Lakeland Mills sawmill in April, the blast was felt throughout Prince George. That night, Save-on employees handed out supplies to those who rushed to help co-workers and friends at the mill. In-store initiatives also raised more than $27,000 for the foundation to support the Lakeland Mill’s fire relief fund.

The stores also look for ways to support the community year-round. Take manager Brian Gandy’s staff, who rallied all four stores to help the Spruce Kings, a local hockey team with three events to fill the arena and raise money for charity.

The awards were launched three years ago by Canadian Grocer to recognize retailers who support causes such as kid’s charities, raise money for local hospitals and food banks or lend a helping hand in some other way.

This year’s winners show just how far grocery store managers and owners across the country are willing to go to aid a good cause, said Rob Gerlsbeck, editor of Canadian Grocer magazine. “We started the Community Service Awards because we knew the commitment grocers have to the people surrounding their stores and the unique ways they come up with to raise money for charity.”

Canadian Grocer received a record number of entries from grocers across the country this year for the awards sponsored by Campbell’s and Chatelaine magazine.

The finalists were chosen by a judging panel comprised of: George Condon, Canadian Grocer’s consulting editor; James Fraser, partner at retail branding agency Hunter Straker; Agnieszka Rum of Canadian Business for Social Responsibility; Alicia Androich, senior staff writer at Marketing magazine; and David Soberman, marketing professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

These same judges will now choose the four winners, who will be announced in the December issue of Canadian Grocer and also a featured in Chatelaine. For a complete read of the original article with all ten finalists and their stories, visit the Canadian Grocer website or look in the September issue of Canadian Grocer, out now.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Weekly Rankings

Every week the Canadian Junior Hockey League releases their list of ranked teams. The top twenty list is a collaborative effort between the CJHL and NHL Central Scouting.

The rankings are based upon a variety of factors which includes the league in which the teams belong to, this season's results in regular season, last season's playoffs, as well as initial recruiting efforts for the upcoming season. Last year's final rankings and the leagues in which the teams belong to are in parenthesis.

Here is the inaugural rankings for the 2012-13 season released Monday September 24, 2012.

  1. (1) Penticton Vees (BCHL)
  2. (11) Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
  3. (HM) Yarmouth Jr. A Mariners (MHL)
  4. (3) Humboldt Broncos (SJHL)
  5. (12) Newmarket Hurricanes (OJHL)
  6. (NR) Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL)
  7. (9) Portage Terriers (MJHL)
  8. (NR) Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL)
  9. (NR) Sudbury Nickel Barons (NOJHL)
  10. (NR) Flin Flon Bombers (SJHL)
  11. (NR) Coquitlam Express (BCHL)
  12. (NR) Bonnyville Pontiacs (AJHL)
  13. (NR) Dryden Ice Dogs (SIJHL)
  14. (NR) Pembroke Lumber Kings (CCHL)
  15. (NR) Winnipeg Blues (MJHL)
  16. (NR) Truro Bearcats (MHL)
  17. (NR) College Francais de Longueuil (LHJAAAQ)
  18. (NR) Carlton Place Canadians (CCHL)
  19. (NR) Oakville Blades (OJHL)

Honourable mention goes to the Canmore Eagles (AJHL), Notre Dame Hounds (SJHL), OCN Blizzard (MJHL), North Bay Trappers (NOJHL) Toronto Lakeshore Patriots (OJHL).

I'm not entirely sure why they only have 19 teams in the top twenty list so I offer up the Prince George Spruce Kings (BCHL) in that available slot after starting the season with a record of 3-0-1-1 to sit in top spot in the Mainland Division and tied for third in the British Columbia Hockey League. Undefeated through regulation time, the Spruce Kings also picked up a big win over the Penticton Vees ... number one ranked team ... and that's good for some bonus points.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Spruce Kings, Centennials Fit To Be Tied

Tyson Witala (9) with the Spruce Kings best chance
to win the game in the second overtime

The Prince George Spruce Kings must love to play hockey, because they've sure done a lot of it early in this BCHL season.

For the third time in five starts the Spruce Kings went to overtime on Saturday night, this time settling for a 2-2 tie with the Merritt Centennials at the Coliseum.

Kirk Thompson was brilliant in net for Prince George, garnering his second straight first star honour, making 34 saves — including eight in extra time. A shoulder save off Regan Soquila in the dying minutes of the second overtime period was key as was a stop in the first OT when Soquila was on the doorstep.

The Spruce Kings had their own chances to get the winner in OT and collect the extra point. Chad Staley had the best opportunity in the first overtime, but Centennials goaltender Russell Sanderson was able to get a pad on his deflected shot.

Staley and Tyson Witala both had glorious scoring opportunities in the second overtime — Witala even had a breakaway — but neither could find the back of the net.

Special teams continued to play a big role for the Spruce Kings as they finished the night 1-for-7 on the power play and failed to capitalize on a two-man advantage for 1:15 in the third period.

The Centennials, who came into the game with the best power play in the league, showed why just 4:36 into the game when Brandon Bruce put a rebound past Thompson to open the scoring on the man advantage.

Prince George was slow out of the gate. It took the Spruce Kings just under seven minutes to register a shot on rookie Sanderson and the Centennials took an early 9-0 shot advantage.

Jeremiah Luedtke, who was in the penalty box when Bruce scored, got Prince George on the board at 13:19 coming up with the loose puck in the slot to bury it into a wide open cage. Justin Rai and Staley picked up the assists.

The Centennials restored their advantage just over a minute later when Jeff Wight took a feed from Brendan Lamont and beat Thompson at 14:41.

The Spruce Kings finally tied it up for good in the second period when Cameron Lawson scored on the power play. Lawson, who rung one off the cross bar moments earlier, took a pass from Lyndon Martell and buried the equalizer at 7:09. Coltyn Hansen also picked up an assist.

The Centennials outshot the Spruce Kings in each period and finished with a 36-26 advantage overall.

The Spruce Kings, now 3-0-1-1 on the year, wrapped up their first homestand of the season with a win, a tie and an overtime loss. They now head out on the road for six straight, first with visits to Vernon, Merritt and Penticton next weekend and then a trip to the Lower Mainland to play Surrey once and Langley twice.

The next home game isn't until Oct. 12 when Powell River comes to the Castle.

Game Preview: vs Merritt Centennials

photo courtesy Garrett James from BCHL Showcase

The last time these two teams met in the Castle the Merritt Centennials abruptly ended the Spruce Kings season. Only six players were on that Prince George squad while the Merritt Centennials bring back eight players hoping to relive that moment in time.

Both teams are riding a bit of a high to start the season. The Spruce Kings have picked up seven of a possible eight points in their first four games. The Centennials have won two of their first three games after losing their season opener to Prince George.

That first game for both teams was played on September 8th at the BCHL Showcase in Chilliwack. The Spruce Kings opened the scoring when Coltyn Hansen drove hard to the net getting underneath the defenceman before sailing through the top of the crease and outwaiting the goaltender.

The Centennials answered that goal back with a powerplay tally in the second period. The third belonged to the Spruce Kings who scored three times en route to a 4-1 final. The Centennials successfully shelved that loss to be revisited at another time and that time has come tonight. They will be looking to even the season series with their former Interior Division rivals.

Although the Spruce Kings are playing out of the Mainland Division of the Coastal Conference, their opponents have been from the Interior Division as if to be a way of transitioning from the known to the unknown. Tonight marks the second of three meetings between these two teams in the month of September with the final meeting taking place in one week’s time in Merritt.

The Spruce Kings have been preparing all week for this lone matchup of the weekend which should bode well for the home team after being able to work through some early season systems. The same could be said for the Merritt Centennials who have only played one game since the Showcase and that was a 6-2 win over the Trail Smoke Eaters on home ice.

The Spruce Kings still have three players on the shelf with Tanner Fjellstrom and Sean Landrey now considered day to day while the prognosis is not so kind for David London who is out for a few more weeks still. The Centennials have a few bumps and bruises as well with the noteable player being the goaltender, Tyler Steel.

Both teams will dress an AP (affiliate player tonight) with Justin Rai (rye) finding some time on the Spruce Kings “buzz line” with Jeremiah Luedtke and Chad Staley. Rai has been a factor in both of his previous games and is excited to be with the Spruce Kings looking to make a lasting impression with the team.

It won’t be a surprise to see some excitement come in to play in this game with the history these two teams share. Ron St. Clair will have the complete call of the game available for free on 93.1 CFIS-FM and online at www.cfisfm.com. Out of town fans also have a chance to watch the game on pay-per-view through fasthockey.com.

Enjoy the game tonight and look for a post game recap here afterwards.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hard Work and Determination

Brandon Manning paved his
own way to the NHL

Hard Work and Determination - they are cliche terms in the game of hockey, everybody uses them but few will realize what they will actually do for a player. One player that has reaped his own rewards through hard work, determination and add in perseverance is Brandon Manning.

A local hockey product that learned the game while skating his way through the Prince George Minor Hockey system. His level of play earned him a spot on the Cariboo Cougars BC Major Midget squad in 2006-07 playing alongside a few other future Spruce Kings alumni.

That major midget squad in 2006-07 went to the finals with the likes of Damien Ketlo (G), Alex Wright (G), Joe Morgan (F), Ryan Howse (F), RJay Berra (F), Sam Muchalla (F), Nic DeSousa (F), Tyson Hall (F), Stewart Lambert (F), Geoff Morgan (D), Justin Fillion (D) and of course Brandon Manning (D). In the following season six of those players suited for the Spruce Kings including Brandon Manning who finished his rookie season in the BCHL with 7 goals and 19 assists.

As the Spruce Kings season wound down a year after hosting the RBC Royal Bank Cup Tournament, Manning was called upon by the Chilliwack Bruins to play out the remainder of their regular season and post season. He was able to get into ten games total and impressed enough to have the Bruins keep him in the lineup for the next three seasons including two as team captain.

Despite his presence on the ice, Manning went undrafted to the WHL and undrafted to the NHL. That didn't stop him and in fact drove him to compete harder and show up at the Toronto Maple Leafs training camp in 2009. Manning returned to the Bruins for his 19 year old season and a year later was back at a NHL training camp this time with the New York Rangers.

After playing for a couple of weeks with the Rangers, Manning again headed back to the WHL Bruins to start his 20 year old season. Two months into the season the Philadelphia Flyers decided they had seen enough of Manning and signed him to an NHL entry level contract opting to leave him play out his last year of junior in Chilliwack.

With a spot secured in the AHL, Manning headed to Adirondack for the 2011-12 season where he played in 46 games putting up similar numbers that he did when he played for the Spruce Kings as a 17 year old. As the season wore on, injuries on the Philadelphia Flyers blue line started adding up and Manning was given his shot with a callup on March 8, 2012 for a home game against the Florida Panthers.

Manning finished a plus 2 with three shots on goal while logging 15 minutes of ice time in his NHL debut. He would play in three more games over the next two weeks logging close to 14 minutes in ice time in each game and a plus 1 in his four NHL games.

An example of hard work and determination, Manning continues to exemplify those qualities and the current situation in the NHL hasn't stopped him either. On Saturday night Brandon Manning was recognized at the Spruce Kings game against the Penticton Vees dropping the puck during the ceremonial faceoff. The Spruce Kings went on to win that game 4-2 and during the second intermission, Manning joined Todd Doherty on the team's broadcast.

download audio file

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Spruce Kings Double Up Vees

Kirk Thompson making one of his 32 saves on the night

The Prince George Spruce Kings knocked off the defending RBC Cup champions Saturday night, defeating the Penticton Vees 4-2 at the Coliseum.

The Spruce Kings, who have secured points in each of their first four games, now sit a top the Mainland Division standings with a 3-0-0-1 record.

Prince George came out like gangbusters early on and had the Vees on their heels for most of the first period, but Penticton battled back as the game went on. Kirk Thompson had a great night between the pipes, making 32 saves — including 16 in the third period alone — to secure his third straight win.

The Spruce Kings opened the scoring in the first as Liam Board's centering attempt when off a skate and past Vees starter Nic Renyard at 14:02. The goal came at the tail end of a four-minute high sticking penalty to Vees forward Wade Murphy.

Chad Staley doubled the advantage with a goal late in the first period set up by Jeremiah Luedtke and just like in Friday's game against Trail the Spruce Kings led 2-0 after 20 minutes.

The Vees started to find their legs in the second period, which is when Thompson also began to steal the show. The Prince George goalie only faced five shots in the first period but saw a lot more rubber as the game went on. He was called upon to make a number of big saves to keep the Spruce Kings ahead and managed to hold the Vees off the scoreboard until the third period.

Penticton did finally solve Thompson at 10:48 of the final stanza. The Vees executed a three-on-two break to perfection as Brad McClure buried the rebound off a Cody DePourcq shot to cut the lead to one.

The Spruce Kings re-gained the two-goal lead with another power-play marker. Brad Ryan ripped a shot from the point past Renyard as Prince George finished the night two-for-six with the man advantage. Renyard made 21 saves in his first start of the season.

Penticton wouldn't go away easily as Murphy picked up the puck in the high slot off a broken play with just over four minutes to play and wired a shot off the cross bar and in past Thompson.

The Vees had a chance to tie the game when Coltyn Hansen was whistled for roughing with under two minutes to play. Not only did the Spruce Kings kill off their fifth penalty of the game, Tyson Witala iced the game with an empty-net goal. He lofted the puck from around the face-off dot in his own end and got nothing but net.

With seven points the Spruce Kings jumped over idle Coquitlam (3-0-0-0) for first in the Mainland division. Chilliwack is third (2-1-0-1) followed by Surrey (2-2-0-0) and Langley (1-1-0-1).

The Spruce Kings are back on home ice on Saturday night when the Merritt Centennials visit the Castle. Puck drop is 7:30 p.m.

A Familiar Foe

Spruce Kings looking to rebound against the Vees
like they did the last time

Over the years there have been many rivalries developed especially with teams that play out of the Interior Division. Tonight`s opposition is one of those teams in the Penticton Vees who come in as the defending national champions after winning the 2012 RBC Royal Bank Cup Championship in May.

Prior to that run to the national crown, the Vees had established themselves as one of the elite teams of the 2011-12 season in all of Canada if not North America. That status was build up with an improbable run of the table through the regular season that saw the Vees carry out a winning streak to 42 games.

It may have been one game longer if not for the Prince George Spruce Kings on March 10, 2012. In the final regular season game of the year the Spruce Kings found themselves on the back end of a double header with the Vees. The night before the Spruce Kings had leads of 3-2, 4-3 and even 5-4 but could not hold on through the third period.

On Saturday night the Prince George hockey faithful filled the Coliseum to capacity for a third consecutive night and came prepared to cheer on a home team victory. After scoring first at the two minute mark, the Spruce Kings found themselves trailing the Vees 2-1 early in the second period but weren’t prepared to let this one slip through the fingers.

After tying the game just past the mid-way mark of the second period, the Spruce Kings were able to take over in the third period. An even strength goal, a power play tally and finally an empty netter sealed the deal and gave the Spruce Kings arguably their biggest BCHL regular season victory.

To start the season the two teams have strung together points in each of their first three games with the Vees doing one better with three wins while the Spruce Kings suffered an overtime loss last night. The Vees went into double overtime against the West Kelowna Warriors last night finally winning the game at the 68:30 mark.

The Spruce Kings meanwhile picked up a single point in an overtime loss to the Trail Smoke Eaters. Prince George started out on the right note in their home opener scoring twice in the opening period including a buzzer beater that stopped the clock with a fraction of a second remaining. The second period saw the two teams trade goals and in the third period two screened shots led to the extra time and the unfortunate loss.

The Spruce Kings will look to rebound tonight against a strong opponent in the Vees.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Smoke Eaters hand Spruce Kings first loss

Spruce Kings came that close a number of times,
but close didn't count on this night

The Prince George Spruce Kings were unable to make a two-goal lead after 40 minutes stick on Friday night at the Coliseum, dropping a 4-3 overtime decision to the Trail Smoke Eaters.

Trail captain Garrett McMullen scored the winner 3:56 into the first overtime period, his bouncing shot from the high slot beating Prince George rookie goaltender Liam McLeod. McMullen, who also opened the scoring for Trail, knocked down a clearing attempt by Bryant Christian at the blue-line and bounced one through traffic and into the back of the next as the Smoke Eaters snapped a two-game season-opening losing streak.

The Spruce Kings led 3-1 after two periods and had a great chance to put Trail away with a series of power plays late in the second and early in the third. Despite having a two-man advantage for over two minutes, the Spruce Kings were unable to solve Trail goalie Lyndon Stanwood and the Smoke Eaters made them pay.

Tanner Clarkson was johnny on the spot when a puck took an odd bounce in the Spruce Kings' end and fired the puck into an open net at 2:35 of the third to make it a one-goal game. Shane Poulson's seeing-eye shot from the blue-line evened the score at 12:03.

The Spruce Kings had a glorious chance to take the lead back late in the third when Trail was whistled for too many men with less than three minutes to play, but the Prince George power play came up empty for the eighth time in as many attempts.

Prince George did strike first as Christian opened the scoring at 15:25 of the first period, banging a wrap-around past Stanwood. The Spruce Kings extended their lead with a buzzer-beater at the very end of the first period. Cam Lawson converted a pass from Coltyn Hansen at 19:59 of the first, beating the horn by a fraction of a second.

The Spruce Kings were unable to carry that momentum into the second as Trail came out strong and McMullen cut into the lead with his first of the game at 6:49. Exactly one minute later rookie Justin Rai, who was called up due to some injuries the Spruce Kings were suffering, scored his first BCHL goal to restore the two-goal advantage.

Rai was one of the better players for the Spruce Kings and didn't look out of place in his debut.

Stanwood made 25 saves to notch his first win of the year, while McLeod made 20 stops.

McLeod left the game briefly with an injury in the third period — Kirk Thompson relieved him for all of 39 seconds, but did not face a shot.

Prince George got a point for the overtime loss and sit in second place in the BCHL's Mainland Division with five points (2-0-0-1), one behind division-leading Coquitlam. Surrey has four points and Langley and Chilliwack have three apiece. All the teams have played three games.

The Spruce Kings are back on home ice again on Saturday night when they host Penticton (3-0-0-0) at the Castle.

Home Opener

Tonight marks the start of the 41st season for the Spruce Kings in Prince George and the 17th season in the British Columbia Hockey League. The season itself has already started with a pair of wins in the two games played at the BCHL Showcase in Chilliwack.

In their first game, played against the Merritt Centennials, the Spruce Kings got goals from Coltyn Hansen, Cam Lawson, Lyndon Martell and Tyson Witala while getting timely stops from Kirk Thompson to post a 4-1 win. The second game was a little more tense but showed off the Spruce Kings will to win as they erased a 3-0 deficit and a 5-3 deficit to force overtime before Martell scored his second of the season in the extra frame.

Tonight playing on their home ice, the Spruce Kings will be looking to go 3-0 to start the season against a familiar rival in the Trail Smoke Eaters. The Smokies have had a tough start to their season and have already made some player moves to try and bolster their offense.

The Spruce Kings have had to bring a player in for tonight's game too but due to a different reason. Injuries have thinned out the Spruce Kings roster sidelining a total of four players including two local players in Tanner Fjellstrom and Sean Landrey. Also out of the lineup tonight will be Latrell Charleson and David London both blueliners.

The absence of Charleson and London will have the biggest effect on the Spruce Kings remaining defencemen as only five will suit up for the game tonight. Trevor Esau, Brad Ryan, Skylar Pacheco, Mitch Eden and Karan Toor will have to be on their game tasked with the assignment of making it difficult on the Smokies offense to allow Liam McLeod to do his job as he makes his BCHL debut in goal tonight.

Up front the Spruce Kings were able to bring in Justin Rai from the Richmond Sockeyes to keep all four lines topped up. Rai is expected to play with the young dynamos from Washington state in Jeremiah Luedtke and Chad Staley.

With eleven points to their credit in two games, the top line of Lyndon Martell, Cam Lawson and Coltyn Hansen will stay together with Liam Board, Tyson Witala and Alec Butcher making up the second line leaving Ryan Keis, Bryant Christian and Jake LeBrun to round out the forwards for the game tonight.

The evening will get underway with a tailgate party dubbed a Shaker and put on by the four Save On Foods stores in Prince George. There will be a hot dog bar-b-que with chips and drinks available for $3.00 with 100% of the proceeds going to the Big Brothers Big Sisters in Prince George.

As well as the bar-b-que, fans are being encouraged to purchase a box of Western Family Mac & Cheese to use as noisemakers at the game. Following the game the boxes will be collected for the Salvation Army to be distributed here in Prince George. It doesn't stop there either with a $10,000 Shoot-Out happening in the first intermission.

The Save On Foods group in Prince George will be awarding two eligible fans a chance to shoot for $10,000 in Save On Foods Gift Cards with each shooter guaranteed a prize. There are a few rules to be eligible to be a shooter with the biggest being in attendance early as the names will be drawn before the five minute mark of the first period. Eligible shooters can't be registered or recent hockey players also one other thing to note is that you have to take the shot without any aids.

In the second intermission there will be a $200 prize of Save On Foods Gift Cards for the first night of the Frisbee Fling and somebody will also win a pair of tickets to go see the Stone Temple Pilots in concert Saturday night in Prince George. All that and the game as well!

It is sure to be an exciting and entertaining game with the Spruce Kings debuting their 41st edition of the team and the young men that have come from near and far to wear the Crown and play hockey in the great city of Prince George.

Hawes Keeps Spruce Kings Worthy

The following article was written by Jason Peters and appeared in the Prince George Citizen on Friday September 14, 2012. Please note that anything appearing in brackets has been added by Ron Gallo and does not appear in the Citizen article.

It's time to throw a little praise at Mike Hawes, general manager of the Prince George Spruce Kings. The (Spruce) Kings are off to a 2-0 start in the B.C. Hockey League and will look to go 3-0 when they play their home-opening game tonight at the Coliseum against the Trail Smoke Eaters. Hawes appears to have assembled a club that will score a pile of goals and win a lot of games this season, impressive considering that the team's top 10 point-getters from last season are gone.

That's right, the top ten from 2011-12 are no longer with the club.

Paul De Jersey, Jujhar Khaira and Michael Colantone - No. 1, 2 and 3 in team scoring last season - are all playing NCAA Division I hockey this year. Jarryd Ten Vaanholt, fourth on the points list in 2011-12, is skating in Division III of the NCAA and, like Colantone, would have been too old for the junior game this year. Defenceman Ben Woodley, fifth in (Spruce) Kings point production last season, has also aged out of junior hockey. Another blueliner, Chase Golightly, had one more year of junior eligibility left but has also moved on to the NCAA Division I level.

Then there are the triplets - Myles, Gerry and Leo Fitzgerald. They could have been in Spruce Kings colours as 20-year-olds this season but asked for a trade so they could be closer to their hometown of Port Alberni. The Fitzgeralds, who formed a dynamic second line for the (Spruce) Kings last year, are now doing their damage for the Victoria Grizzlies.

The 10th man on last season's scoring list, defenceman and captain Ben Matthews, is now a 21-year-old playing for the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves. With the mass exodus, Hawes had to do a complete rebuild on the (Spruce) Kings.

Specifically with the Fitzgeralds - knowing how many players he was already going to lose - Hawes must have had a minor panic attack when they approached him with their trade request. But the GM managed to engineer a deal that benefited the triplets and the team.

In the transaction with the Grizzlies, Hawes brought 19-year-olds Coltyn Hansen and Cam Lawson north and they have meshed beautifully with P.G. minor hockey product and former WHLer Lyndon Martell on the top line. Through two games - a 4-1 win against Merritt and a 6-5 overtime decision against Langley - Hansen , Lawson and Martell have combined for 11 points.

Defenceman David London was also part of the (Spruce) Kings-Grizzlies trade but is recovering from a broken collarbone and is still waiting to make his regular-season debut.

Other impact newcomers added by Hawes include (20-year-old defenceman Brad Ryan,) 19-year-old forward Liam Board and 17-year-old blueliner Mitch Eden, (all three) from Ontario. Gone, it seems, are the days when players didn't want to skate for the (Spruce) Kings and that say a lot about the new and positive culture that has been fostered by Hawes and head coach Dave Dupas.

Hawes also hasn't been shy about dipping into the local talent pool. Along with Martell, he has P.G. minor hockey products Tyson Witala, Sean Landrey, Jake LeBrun and Tanner Fjellstrom in uniform, not to mention Quesnel boy Ryan Keis. In past years, junior hockey teams in this town were often guilty of overlooking local players because, well, somebody from outside city limits had to be better. Credit to Hawes for getting out of that mindset and utilizing homegrown skill, much of which has come through the Cariboo Cougars major midget program.

fans of the (Spruce) Kings have reason to be excited. They may need some time to figure out who's who in the home jerseys, but they'll have an entertaining and highly-skilled club to watch.

If they see Hawes wandering around the building between periods, they should give him a pat on the back.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Character Win

Spruce Kings celebrate an overtime win Sunday night

The Prince George Spruce Kings came out of the BCHL Showcase with the full allotment of their four points after posting a 6-5 come-from-behind overtime victory on Sunday evening against the Langley Rivermen. The win capped off a big weekend in Chilliwack for the Spruce Kings who opened with a 4-1 victory over the Merritt Centennials Saturday afternoon.

Although the Spruce Kings ended up with two wins and four points in their two games, it certainly wasn't looking that way through much of the game Sunday. Against the Langley Rivermen, the Prince George squad never led the game and twice had to erase multiple goal deficits to get the game to overtime.

As the game started out the two teams traded chances with neither team able to capitalize on their limited chances. At the BCHL timeout midway through the first period the two teams had three shots each in a scoreless tie. After the time out, the Rivermen came out with a physical game and started creating chances for themselves that included a power play opportunity that produced seven shots on goal.

On the first goal a collision in front of the net that should have at least led to a stoppage in play if not an interference call against the Rivermen, was allowed to continue. Kirk Thompson was sent sprawling into the net with players laying on top of him as the puck came out to the point for Tyler Vanscourt to find the top half of the net and the game's opening goal at 15:12 of the 1st period.

The unfortunate circumstances continued for Prince George a couple of minutes later when Latrell Charleson was given a minor for boarding. The call was made by the back official even though the referee that was right beside the play saw it and looked away without raising his arm. The powerplay for the Langley Rivermen was potent early for them.

The Rivermen poured on the pressure with Charleson sitting in the penalty box and were able to double their lead at 18:48 of the first period. The teams headed to the dressing rooms with Prince George down 2-0 on the scoreboard and trailing 14-3 on the shot clock. To make matters seemingly worse, the second period would start the way the first ended.

Forty seconds into the middle frame, Brad Ryan was given a two minute minor for tripping and the Rivermen went to work on their third powerplay. Again pressure was applied but it would be a lucky bounce for the Rivermen this time when Vanscourt's shot from under the blueline went off Karan Toor's stick. The deflected puck took the flight of a three point basketball shot as it lobed up and over four players including Thompson and fell into the back of the net. Vanscourt's second of the game gave Langley a 3-0 cushion 1:47 into the second period.

Cue the first comeback for the Spruce Kings as they started getting small little doses of momentum-building plays. It started defensively with a couple of timely saves and blocks before the top line started getting some chances. Coltyn Hansen was the first Spruce Kings to get a shot on goal in almost 15 minutes of play and although it was stopped it was still something.

On the same shift Hansen found himself with another opportunity to take a shot and this time made no mistake taking a hard shot that took flight about five inches off the ice beating James Barr to the far side. It was just the fifth shot on goal but it put the Spruce Kings on the board and gave Hansen his second goal of the season at 4:12 of the second period.

Just four minutes later on the most unselfish play I have ever seen, the Spruce Kings got to within a goal. The play started on an offensive opportunity for the Rivermen, Thompson stacked the pads to keep the puck out. A redeeming heads up play from Toor saw the defenceman feed the puck up to Liam Board at centre and behind the five Rivermen who were all playing far too up the ice. Board headed straight down the middle on a clear breakaway with Tyson Witala trailing.

Board made only one move after getting to the deep slot and that was to give the puck to Witala. The play surprised everybody in the building and allowed Witala to walk around Barr and give the Prince George forward his second goal of the season. More importantly that put the Spruce Kings within a goal of the Langley Rivermen trailing 3-2.

The Spruce Kings continued to apply the pressure with their next best scoring chance coming just before the second period BCHL time out when Coltyn Hansen and Cameron Lawson found themselves on a two-on-one down low. Hansen fed the puck through to Lawson who was streaking to the net only to have Barr come up with his best save of the night slamming the door shut on the far side.

With momentum on their side the Spruce Kings continued looking for the even up marker which would come at 17:20 on a two man powerplay. The goal itself was a result of a series of related events that started with a huge hit by new Spruce Kings forward Alec Butcher on Bo Pellah. The hit left Pellah groggy and drew an immediate reaction from the referee and Pellah's team mate, Mario Puskarich who dropped his gloves and immediately went after Butcher.

Surprisingly it was the Spruce Kings that came out shorthanded as a result of the original call on Butcher's hit and the lack of an instigator penalty and the Rivermen forward. The Spruce Kings killed that off successfully and shortly after Pellah was seen back on the ice taking his frustrations out on Brad Ryan, two handing the 6' 5" defenceman across the side of the shin. The referee saw the infraction and assessed a two minute minor for the slash.

Twenty seconds later with the Spruce Kings on the powerplay and applying pressure, Trevor Cope was caught for closing his hand on the puck in the crease resulting in another penalty to Langley. With the Spruce Kings on the two man advantage, they worked the puck around the zone until finally Mitch Eden was able to step into a shot in the very high slot. The bullet shot went through everybody and found the back of the net pulling the Spruce Kings even with the Rivermen with a 3-3 score at 17:20 of the second period.

The Langley Rivermen were able to settle down after the tying goal and went back on the attack. Into the final minute of the second period, Cameron Lawson was cross checked into Kirk Thompson sending both Spruce Kings onto the ice and into the back of the net leaving the top open for Trevor Cope to restore a lead for the Rivermen. The period would end with Langley leading 4-3 and enjoying a 21-12 shots on goal lead, although the Spruce Kings outshot the Rivermen 9-7 in that middle frame.

The Rivermen would build up their lead to 5-3 with an early third period powerplay goal scored by Cope at 2:23. Again the Spruce Kings found themselves back in a hole and needing a bailout. That would come with a heads up play while shorthanded. Coltyn Hansen found himself looking to get around a defender on the left side, put on the brakes and fed the puck across the ice to Brad Ryan. Ryan walked in and fired a shot hard along the ice that was kicked out by Barr coming right out to Liam Board who just flipped an easy one up and over the goaltender for his first in the BCHL.

On their next shift the pair that played together last season with the Oakville Blades would setup the Spruce Kings second tying goal. Tyson Witala was the recipient of more hard work and determination getting the puck from Board and Ryan in the corner and coming out front to slip his second of the game past Barr. With 10:08 remaining in regulation time, the teams were tied 5-5.

The remaining time in regulation would end with both Thompson and Barr forced to keep their teams alive. Shots on goal in the third ended even at 7 giving the Rivermen 28 through sixty minutes to the Spruce Kings 19. In overtime the Langley Rivermen had the better of the chances and directed four more shots on Thompson but in the end it was the hockey gods that showed they had been watching the entire game and corrected all of the inconsistencies from earlier on.

With just the Spruce Kings second shot in the extra period, Lyndon Martell came in from the half wall on his backhand. With a simple and harmless looking half flip, Martell's shot fluttered up and over the glove hand of Barr and into the back of the net. The Spruce Kings bench erupted and the players poured over the boards to celebrate the completed comeback and a four point weekend at the BCHL Showcase.

The team's focus will now shift to the Trail Smoke Eaters and the Spruce Kings home opener on Friday night September 14th in the Coliseum. As Brad Rihela (Spruce Kings Assistant Coach) said in the post game show, "I want to see the fans come out, fill the rink and see these guys play!" The Spruce King ended last season with three consecutive sell outs and are hoping to see the same to start the 2012-13 season.

Advance tickets, punch cards and season tickets will be available prior to the game at the Season Opening Tailgate Party sponsored by Save On Foods beginning at 5pm Friday evening. Along with a hot dog bar-b-que, chips and drinks for $3 with proceeds going to Big Brothers Big Sisters, there will also be ticket give-aways for the Stone Temple Pilots concert and Charlie Daniels Band later in the month. A $10,000 "Shoot To Win" will also take place in the first intermission.

Conversation with NHL Central Scouting

During Saturday's Spruce Kings game I was fortunate enough to talk with and interview Scott McWilliam of NHL Central Scouting. The BCHL Showcase was billed as a hotbed for scouts from NCAA schools as well as the NHL and it certainly has shown to be that. Conservative estimates put the number of scouts in attendance at close to 200 and one of those in the building for the Spruce Kings vs Centennials game was Scott McWilliam.

Before working primarily with the NHL Central Scouting Services, McWilliam has an extensive hockey resume that includes being one of the driving forces behind the Abbotsford Head AHL franchise and has been working at promoting the game, teams and players for many years prior to that. Scott took the time out of a busy weekend schedule that included sizing up all the players in the BCHL both with weights and heights and also skills and abilities on the ice to talk to me.

The evolution of the game of hockey has made something like the BCHL Showcase and important component of the game. Scouts want to take a look at players earlier and more often than ever before and it is the job of Scott McWilliam and NHL Central Scouting to start referencing all of those players. Although his work is not designed to address the needs of individual NHL teams, the work of NHL Central Scouting is valuable at assessing players for the annual NHL Entry Draft.

This past Draft, the Spruce Kings were very proud to hear Jujhar Khaira's name called out by the Edmonton Oilers and I had a chance to talk to Scott about Jujhar and the process that all players can expect to go through. I also was able to get Scott to drop a couple of names from this year's roster, you'll hear who those players are and learn a little bit more in this interview. I started out by asking Scott about the importance of the BCHL Showcase event itself.

download audio file

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Game Day - Langley Rivermen

Spruce Kings defeat the Merritt Centennials 4-1
in a game that featured some physical play from both teams

The Prince George Spruce Kings have started the season on a winning note with a 4-1 victory over the Merritt Centennials in the first game of the season. Playing in the Prospera Centre in Chilliwack at the BCHL Showcase, the Spruce Kings lined up against the team that ended their season on March 20th. As Dave Dupas said in the pregame interview, that particular piece of history would fall on deaf ears with the new players on the squad so motivation would have to come from a different source.

Many of the players that played prominent roles for the Spruce Kings weren't even in the lineup at the end of the season. Coltyn Hansen, Cameron Lawson and Lyndon Martell led the way with three of the four goals while Tyson Witala had the other. Other play makers that made a difference in the game included Mitch Eden along with Trevor Esau and Skylar Pacheco.

The Spruce Kings created many scoring chances throughout the game but didn't really cash in until the third period with three goals unanswered goals. One scoring chance early in the first period belonged to Lyndon Martell who was setup by a good penalty kill forecheck from Cameron Lawson who sprung the pair on a two on one. After getting the puck from Lawson, Martell was able to come straight in on Tyler Steel pulling the puck from his backhand to his forehand. Steel was able to get a piece of the puck with his skate sending the puck just past the post.

A few minutes later it was Skylar Pacheco that was able to get the Spruce Kings moving in the right direction. Under a little pressure from the Centennials forwards, Pacheco used the back of the net to get away and find some open ice in the corner before using the wall to get the puck up to Cameron Lawson. From there Lawson found Coltyn Hansen through the middle and Hansen used his speed to get around a defenceman before cutting to the net. Hansen cruised through the top of the crease and just waited for Steel to commit before depositing his first of the season into the back of the net at 7:12 of the first period.

That's how the first period would end even though the Spruce Kings trailed 8-6 in the shots on goal stat. In the second period the Spruce Kings again created chances but were unable to capitalize on any of them. On an icing call in the middle of the second period both teams got a chance to regroup during the BCHL time out but it would be the Merritt Centennials that would eventually benefit from the break.

After winning the ensuing faceoff, the Centennials found themselves with a scoring chance. The puck was fired wide off the back boards where it was picked up by Brandon Bruce who just shoveled it towards the front of the net where it found Kirk Thompson's pads and ended up in front of the goal line against the goal post. Trevor Esau rode Bruce out of the play with a heavy check against the boards that drew the attention of Dylan Chanter who immediately dropped the gloves and went after Esau.

In the same stoppage of play, Karan Toor and Payton Schaefer also got into it with Toor getting the early edge in the fight before being tackled to the ice by Schaefer. Meanwhile Esau and Chanter had a pretty spirited battle of their own. When the dust settled, Esau was given two minutes for cross checking, two minutes for roughing and five minutes for fighting. Chanter was charged with an instigator to go along with his five minute major and Toor and Schaefer were both given five minutes for fighting and game misconducts.

The net result put the Centennials on the powerplay and would make short order of the Spruce Kings with the man advantage. Less than a minute after the scuffle, Sean Maktaak was able to find a loose puck and force it home past a down and out Kirk Thompson who thought he had it covered. The goal put the teams back to even tied at a goal a-piece and that's how the second would end.

The Spruce Kings found a new gear in the third period and were buzzing early again creating scoring chances. Even while inside their own zone, a good work ethic shone through and at 7:07 of the third period the Spruce Kings would take the lead for good as a result of the no quit attitude on the ice. From inside his own zone, Mitch Eden fought to get the puck out of the defensive zone including a last ditch dive and poke at the puck that setup Coltyn Hansen and the rest of the top line.

Hansen carried the puck through the middle and was able to get a shot on goal that left Tyler Steel looking for the bouncer. Both Lyndon Martell and Cameron Lawson got a crack it before Lawson got the last touch and was able to lob it up and over Steel to make it a 2-1 game.

Lyndon Martell for one wasn't done there and would get himself on the board a couple of shifts later and seemingly harmless looking play. After a D-to-D pass inside their own zone, Mitch Eden and Skylar Pacheco were able to get the puck to Martell cruising through the middle. At the tail end of their shift, Martell step over the blue line and instead of dumping it in decided to take a shot on goal that fooled Steel as it sailed in over his glove. The insurance goal was scored at the 14:37 mark of the third period putting the Centennials into desperation mode.

A line that has been working hard at developing some chemistry came together for the Spruce Kings fourth goal at 18:06 after Tyson Witala finished another one of those no quit type plays. Again it was just good solid work at trying to get the puck down low that resulted in the goal by both Bryant Christian, Liam Board and Tyson Witala all had a touch on the puck in the left corner before Witala was able to come out front and bury his first of the season.

The Spruce Kings did a great job in capitalizing on chances especially in the third period and if they can continue on the path they have set for themselves, could become a team that others will be forced to bring their 'A' game to play against. One area that the coaching staff will want to take a closer look at is the powerplay that came up empty on five chances. Although the penalty kill did allow one goal against, that special team did an effective job on the night.

The attention will now shift to the team that currently sits in top spot in the Mainland Division by way of their four goal victory over the Alberni Valley Bulldogs on Friday night. The Langley Rivermen are a much different team than they were last season when they finished with a disappointing 19-35-1-5 record last season.

The Rivermen did keep nine of their players from last season and also acquired Jakob Reichert from the Merritt Centennials in a two for one deal. For Langley, their strength looks like it will come by committee with a couple of rookies leading the way out of the gate. Ben Butcher (2 goals) and Matt Ustaski (2 assists) combined on two of Rivermen's seven goals. Scott Moyer was the only other multiple point player with a goal and an assist.

The Langley Rivermen have the longest break between games at the BCHL Showcase after opening the tournament format on Friday afternoon and will now play in the last game of the weekend. Game time is 6pm from the main rink in Prospera Centre Chilliwack. Something will give in this game and depending on two earlier games, the winner of this one could come out of the weekend with sole possession of first place in the Mainland Division.

All five teams have two points only difference is that the Chilliwack Chiefs have played both of their games. The Coquitlam Express will face the Cowichan Valley Captials at 2pm and the Surrey Eagles will play the West Kelowna Warriors at 5:30pm. The Express picked up their two points in a 1-0 overtime win over the Victoria Grizzlies and the Surrey Eagles needed overtime as well to claim their two points in a 3-2 decision over the Powell River Kings.

The Spruce Kings and Langley Rivermen game will be available on 93.1 CFIS-FM which can also be found online as an audio feed from the radio station's website or as a Pay-Per-View full broadcast on Fasthockey.com.

Game Day - Merritt Centennials

The Spruce Kings will start the season without a number
of guys from last year, but that shouldn't stop them!

The Prince George Spruce Kings are in Chilliwack along with the rest of the BCHL for the inaugural BCHL Showcase featuring all 16 teams playing a pair of games over the three day weekend. The Spruce Kings first game will be at noon on Saturday September 8th against the Merritt Centennials. Yes the very same team that eliminated the Spruce Kings in their return to the post season just six months ago.

Although the team names are the same as they were when the Spruce Kings season ended on March 20th, many of the players are very new to this matchup with very few even familiar with the team they will be lining up against. The Merritt Centennials are bringing back ten players that played against the Spruce Kings at the end of last season while Prince George only has six returners.

The Merritt Centennials do have two additional players that know the Spruce Kings including one that knows it from the inside of dressing room out. After playing his rookie year as a 16 year old with the Spruce Kings, Stephen Ryan finds himself one day before his birthday playing against his former team. In 56 games with Prince George, Ryan helped set up nine goals. As a 17 year old he dressed for seven games and will be hoping for a lot more this season as an eighteen year old starting with game one against his former team.

Another player that the Centennials have added to their roster over the off season is Smithers hockey product and younger sibling to Spruce Kings alunmi Darcy Huisman. Derek Huisman started his BCHL career with the Quesnel Millionaires and moved last season with them to Chilliwack, In the offseason, the now twenty year old was part of trade that saw the Centennials trade the playing rights of Austin Plevy and Keith Hamilton to the Chilliwack Chiefs.

It could be said that Derek has played some of his best games against the Prince George Spruce Kings but he has had two good season in the BCHL doubling his offensive numbers last season while with the Chiefs. This season as a twenty year old, Huisman is expected to be an offensive leader and a leader in the dressing room for the Merritt Centennials.

With a healthy number of returning players (11), the Centennials should be a serious contender in the Interior Division. Those returnees include notables like ironman Silvan Harper who has missed only one game in the previous three seasons, nineteen year old Regan Soquila who led the Centennials last season with 70 points (16G, 54A) and Sean Maktaak with his physical style of play. Also in that mix is the netminder Tyler Steel who finished last season in the top three among the league's best goaltenders for both goals against average (2.60) and save percentage (91.60%).

The Prince George Spruce Kings have six returners and a seventh with an asterisk in Lyndon Martell who will be starting his third season with the team. Martell first joined the Spruce Kings in October of 2009. At the time Martell was lighting up the BC Major Midget League playing with the Cariboo Cougars and then moved over to the Spruce Kings putting up equally impressive numbers of 13 goals and 18 assists in 44 games.

The following season, Martell answered the call of the Kamloops Blazers and started the season with that WHL franchise. Early into the season, Kamloops made the decision to give him back to his Junior A team and then traded him to Regina in December where Martell finished out the season and played the next year as well. During the offseason Lyndon made the decision to play for his hometown Spruce Kings and will now play in his 62nd game Saturday afternoon.

Other returners for the Prince George Spruce Kings include the newly named team captain, Trevor Esau who is starting his third consecutive season wearing the Crown. Considered a stay at home defenceman who can punish opposing forwards with his 6' 4" 220 pound frame, Esau is expected to log big minutes on the blue line in his twentieth year with the Spruce Kings.

Another twenty year old starting his third season in Prince George is netminder Kirk Thompson. Picking up a 4-0 shutout win in his first preseason game, Thompson wants to improve on his numbers from last season and set himself apart from others that have wore the crown before him. Thompson already appears in four of the five stats in the team record book and is looking to climb up to the number one position in at least a couple of those.

Skylar Pacheco was last seasons Rookie of the Year and will be expected to be a key part of the team's defence this season. Latrell Charleson rounds out the defensive core of returning players although there was some concern that he would be playing this season in the WHL with the Moose Jaw Warriors. Perhaps the uncertainty surrounding the NHL can be considered good fortune for the Spruce Kings as the Warriors found themselves with an excess of defenceman.

Up front there are only two returning players that finished out the previous season with the Prince George Spruce Kings. Both are local products and both play with that tried and true characteristic that Prince George hockey fans call a lunch bucket work ethic. To go along with the hard nosed edge that Tyson Witala and Sean Landrey can bring to every shift is an ability to turn a seemingly innocent play into a scoring chance and points on the scoreboard.

Although the Spruce Kings may lack the actual number of returning players, they certainly don't lack Junior A experience with the likes of Cam Lawson and Coltyn Hansen who were both acquired from Victoria along with David London in the off season. It should be noted here that London is not with the team after being placed on the Injured Reserve List as a result of a broken collar bone that will keep him out of the lineup for up to twelve weeks.

Other players with Junior A experience, although not gained from the BCHL, are Brad Ryan and Liam Board who were acquired in the offseason from the Oakville Blades. Mitch Eden is another Ontario boy and one that is looking to turn the heads of scouts this weekend being NHL Draft eligible in the summer of 2013.

Perhaps this year's Spruce Kings squad will be better known for its rookie crop. Jeremiah Luedtke, Chad Staley and Alec Butcher who all played in the NAHL last season ... Luedtke and Staley with the Wenatchee Wild and Butcher with the Peaks Miners. Luedtke is an early season standout for the Spruce Kings and looks like a player that may be able to keep pace with the League leaders.

Another rookie to take note of is Karan Toor on the back end who came to camp looking like he went to the same gym as Jujhar Khaira packing on the muscle and becoming a bigger stronger played than anyone may have thought. Another player that has quietly made an impact with the Spruce Kings early on is Quesnel resident Ryan Keis.

A player looking to make a name for himself is the younger brother to Spruce Kings Rookie of the Year and BCHL's Interior Division Rookie of the Year award winner, Jordie Christian. Bryant Christian is following in his brother's footsteps only until he steps on the ice and from there he is looking to carve his own path through to the NCAA.

This year a total of five players come directly from Prince George and two of them come out of the BCMML Cariboo Cougars from last season in Tanner Fjellstrom and Jake LeBrun. For Fjellstrom he will have to wait at least another week before he might be able to be cleared to play after suffering a bit of a high angle sprain in the Saturday's preseason game in the Coliseum.

One Prince George player who wasn't expected to be on the final roster but whose play said otherwise is Jake LeBrun. At 17 years of age it can be said that he outplayed some of the signed guys on the team but for sure played well enough to pick up the final roster spot for the Spruce Kings.

The last player on the Spruce Kings roster is one that wants to be the "last line of defence." Liam McLeod comes into the BCHL as a sixteen year old rookie goaltender but has already shown a level of maturity ahead of his years. Picking up a win in his first preseason game in the BCHL, McLeod has been diligent about his approach to the game and has shown a deep desire to learn and more importantly be ready at a moment's notice to get in the game.

After going through the process of three Intra-Squad game, four preseason games and all the practices etc., it comes down to game number one in a 56 game regular season. That game is a noon start on Saturday September 8th against the Merritt Centennials. The game itself will be viewer from Fasthockey.com ... there will also be a Listen Live link on the Spruce Kings website as well as here on the Spruce Kings blog (upper right) to get you on the CFIS-FM free public streaming.