Thursday, January 31, 2013

Spruce Kings Soar Past Eagles

Liam Blackburn (24) was called up from the Cariboo Cougars
and notched his first in the BCHL

The Surrey Eagles may be the Mainland Division leaders, but the Prince George Spruce Kings sure have their number so far this year.

For the fourth time in seven meetings the Spruce Kings came out victorious, decisively defeating the Eagles 4-1 at the Castle on Thursday night.

Lyndon Martell had a goal and an assists and Cameron Lawson chipped in with three helpers as the Spruce Kings improved their record against the Eagles to four wins and three overtime losses. Chad Staley and Liam Blackburn also scored for the home side, while Kirk Thompson turned aside 31 shots to earn Treasure Cove Casino first star honours. Martell, the Dairy Queen player of the game, got things started with a power-play goal at 9:07 of the opening period. His blast from the point appeared to hit something and front and fool Michael Sanatguida in the Eagles net. Jake LeBrun and Lawson picked up the assists.

Just over a minute later the Spruce Kings doubled their lead as Chad Staley and Jeremiah Luedtke broke in 2-on-2. Staley tried a drop pass to Luedtke, but the winger fanned on his first shot attempt. The puck bounced right back on Staley's stick and he lifted it over Santaguida at 10:31. Skylar Pacheco also picked up an assist.

The Eagles got one back in the second period when their most dangerous player on the night Brady Shaw capitalized. He came in on a rush, cut to the middle of the ice and fired a shot past Thompson - the lone blemish on an otherwise perfect night for the Spruce Kings' ace. Thompson had played spectacularly well against the Eagles this season, with both his shutouts coming against Surrey.

The Spruce Kings weathered a strong second period by the Eagles and carried a 2-1 lead into the third. Using all four lines all game, Prince George appeared to have more jump in the final stanza and it paid off on the scoreboard.

First sniper Shayne Morrissey restored the two-goal lead with the help of Lawson and Mark Begert at 8:26. Then Blackburn, a member of the midget triple-A Cariboo Cougars and one of three affiliate players in the Spruce Kings lineup, scored his first BCHL goal at 10:21. Santaguida made a save on a Lawson shot, but Blackburn dug out the rebound and fired it in the net. Blackburn was named the game's second star.

The game got chippy in the third and the Spruce Kings were awarded ample power play time in the dying minutes which allowed them to control possession and run out the clock.

Captain Trevor Esau was named the FortisBC Energy Player of the Game for his steady - and physical - play patrolling the Spruce Kings blue-line.

The Spruce Kings are back on the ice on Friday night when the Nanaimo Clippers make their first and only regular season visit to the Castle this year.

Game Preview: vs Surrey Eagles

Kirk Thompson was the difference
the last time these two teams met

As the playoff race intensifies, so do the games … especially the divisional matchups like tonight’s game. The Surrey Eagles are in town for their final regular season matchup with the Spruce Kings, the seventh of eight meetings between the two clubs.

The last time the Spruce Kings played the Eagles it was a one sided affair on the scoreboard with Kirk Thompson registering his second shutout of the season against the birds. The interesting fact about the six previous meetings is that Prince George has picked up at least a point in every game.

That’s huge when you think about the importance of points at this time of the year. Coming in to the game tonight, the Surrey Eagles sit in top spot in the Mainland Division with 59 points (27-11-2-3) which is 11 points better than Prince George (20-15-1-7). The Spruce Kings have an eight point cushion on the Langley Rivermen and eleven on the Coquitlam Express.

With thirteen games remaining in their regular season schedule, magic numbers start surfacing and for Prince George that magic number to clinch a playoff spot is 14 points. Holding onto third spot, that magic number jumps to 23 points. To secure home ice in the first round of the playoffs, that number is still attainable at 35 but would require a little help from some other teams.

Without getting too far ahead of the game at hand, the Spruce Kings will be in tough against a team that has been surging since that 2-0 loss to Prince George before Christmas. The Eagles are on a three game winning streak and are 7-1-1-1 in their last ten games. They are also a very good team on the road with a record of 13-6-0-2 away from their nest.

There has been a recent rash of injuries requiring both teams to call on some of their affiliate players to fill gaps. The longest list of injuries belongs to the Eagles who are without five players including their trade deadline acquisition from the Vernon Vipers, Adam Tambellini. Also out of the lineup are Demico Hannoun, Troy Paterson, William Clark and Glenn Ferguson.

The Spruce Kings have also had to call in Kody Disher from the Castlegar Rebels and Liam Blackburn from the Cariboo Cougars to cover for four vacancies with David Stephens, Tyson Witala, Sean Landrey and Kevin Guiltinan all out of the lineup. Both Disher and Blackburn have played games wearing the Crown and will be able to fit in nicely tonight. Disher is expected to play with Jace Hennig and Bryant Christian while Blackburn will take Stephens spot at centre with Lyndon Martell and Coltyn Hansen on his wings.

Game time tonight is 7pm and will be broadcast on 93.1 CFIS-FM starting with a pregame show at 6:35pm. The game will also be carried online with the free audio broadcast from the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel and a pay-per-view feed from FASTHOCKEY.com. A reminder about tomorrow's game versus the Nanaimo Clippers, it will also be Heart and Stoke Awareness night in the Castle Friday in recognition of Heart and Stroke Month. Prior to the game, the Spruce Kings will recognize Bill Baldridge as their Heart Hero. For more information, please visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation website (click here).

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Spruce Kings' OT Woes Continue Against Express

Liam McLeod was at his best in the second period
when Coquitlam was forcing much of the play

The Spruce Kings got a great effort from a trio of rookies, but it wasn't enough on Sunday afternoon as they fell 4-3 in double overtime to the Coquitlam Express.

Former Spruce King defenceman Brad Ryan was the hero for the visitors, converting a 2-on-1 in the second overtime period to give the Express their first win against the Spruce Kings in six starts. Prince George had now dropped six straight overtime games after winning three of their first five to start the year.

Ryan's goal was set up by Adam Rossignol and came at 3:09 of the second OT session, with the two teams playing three-on-three.

Despite the loss, first-year netminder Liam McLeod was strong in net for Prince George. He turned aside 35 shots, including 18 in the second period, and was named the Treasure Cove Casino first star. Fellow rookie Jake LeBrun added two goals and affiliate player Kody Disher had a solid game and was named the Fortis Energy player of the game.

McLeod's counterpart Cole Huggins made 41 saves, with 17 coming in the third period, and was named second star. Spruce Kings defenceman Karan Toor picked up third star honours.

Dairy Queen player of the game Jace Hennig also scored for Prince George, getting a goal against his former team. Rossignol, Justin Georgeson and Ben Israel replied for the Express. Georgeson finished with a goal and two assists.

Disher, called up from Junior B as an affiliate player due to the absence of forwards Sean Landrey and Tyson Witala, made his presence felt early with a scoring chance on his first shift, a big hit on his second and a fight with Israel in the second period. Disher even earned ice time in the final minute of regulation with the score tied.

The Express got on the board first in what turned into a wild first period, when Rossignol beat McLeod with a shot to the five-hole at 9:04. Georgeson and Malcolm McKinney got the helpers seconds after a Trevor Esau penalty expired.

The Spruce Kings drew even on LeBrun's first of the night, the rookie took a feed from Shayne Morrissey and quickly released a wrist shot past Huggins. Cameron Lawson also picked up an assist at 11:39.

Hennig gave the home side its first lead of the game at 12:53 on a goal set up by Coltyn Hansen. After scoring a hat trick Saturday night, Hansen weaved through a pair of Express defenders right in front of the net, but couldn't get a good shot off. Instead he slid the puck back through the crease where Hennig banged it home. David Stephens also got an assist on the play.

The lead was short-lived as the Express drew even when Georgeson capitalized on a penalty shot. Using a dangling move made famous by Peter Forsberg, Georgeson drew McLeod to the goalie's left and at the last second reached around and slid the puck in on the right side at 13:32.

LeBrun put the Spruce Kings back in front at 17:03, tipping a Morrissey shot past Huggins moments after an Express penalty expired. Skylar Pacheco also got a helper. Israel had the lone goal of the second period, collecting his own rebound and lifting a shot over McLeod's shoulder. His power-play goal was assisted by Georgeson and Zack Pryzbek.

The Spruce Kings continue their homestand on Thursday night when they host the Surrey Eagles at the Castle.

Game Preview: vs Coquitlam Express

Coltyn Hansen (10) was the story last night with a hat trick

Coming off a 5-3 win last night, the Prince George Spruce Kings will be hosting the Coquitlam Express again today in the back half of a weekend double header. Last night`s game started out quickly with Coltyn Hansen spotting the Spruce Kings to a 1-0 lead before the fans had found their seats. The Express answered back some six minutes later on their first shot on goal and another six minutes later Hansen had restored the Spruce Kings lead.

A start that probably had the coaches on both squads wondering what was in store for their teams soon settled down into an entertaining game that everybody seemed to enjoy. There was end-to-end action, break-away chances and scoring chances that should have went in but for one reason or another didn`t. Both goaltenders had to be sharp and that was the case, especially through forty minutes of play.

A one-goal game opened up for the Spruce Kings in the third period when a broken play resulted in an insurance marker for Prince George. With sticks in the lane providing an obstacle course for Cameron Lawson, the puck was poked back to Shayne Morrissey who let a clapper go that appeared to be tipped in front off Lawson`s stick and behind Cole Huggins. On their next shift, the pair would connect again as Lawson went through the crease on a pass for Morrissey who fired the one time to give the Spruce Kings a comfortable 4-1 lead.

As it turned out, it wasn`t that comfortable as Will Cook would answer both those goals back to make the game a one-goal affair again with less than two minutes remaining. The Express pulled their goaltender in favour of the extra attacker only to have Coltyn Hansen find a loose puck on the Spruce Kings side of centre ice and find the empty net with less than a minute to go.

These two teams were able to execute the long transition pass and cross seam passes that created so many glorious scoring chances. Safe to say that adjustments will be made to the game today, but there`s no reason not to think that this game won`t be just as exciting for the fans and nervous for the coaches. All of the games between these two have been close, despite the final scores.

There is no expected lineup changes for the Coquitlam Express who came into the weekend a little banged up and without a few key players in the lineup. Since losing Alexander Kerfoot for the season back in November, the Express haven`t been the same team. Not having Brandon Morley, Sam Majka or Lars Hepso in the lineup doesn`t help their cause either. Once again today, Coquitlam will see three AP`s in their line.

The Spruce Kings will have one AP in their lineup today, Kody Disher will suit up after arriving late last night. Disher will be in to offset the vacancies of Kevin Guiltinan, Sean Landrey and Tyson Witala. Following the game today, fans will be able to come out on the ice and skate with the Spruce Kings … remember to bring your skates.

Game time is 3:00pm with a pregame show beginning at 2:35pm. Please note that this game is not broadcast on 93.1 CFIS-FM, but you will be able to listen to it online and from your mobile device on the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel. You can also watch it online from FASTHOCKEY.com, hook it up to your television and watch it from the comfort of your livingroom.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hansen Hat Trick Powers Spruce Kings Past Express

Cameron Lawson (7) celebrates Shayne Morrissey's
eventual game winning goal

The Prince George Spruce Kings offence got back in gear and the team snapped a three-game losing streak Saturday night with a 5-3 win over the Coquitlam Express at the Castle.

A pair of first-period goals by Coltyn Hansen got things started and he added an empty-netter to finish things off with a hat trick. In between the Shayne Morrissey-Cameron Lawson combination clicked for a pair early in the third as the Spruce Kings built a three-goal lead and hung on for the win.

With the Spruce Kings leading 2-1 through 40 minutes, Lawson and Morrissey both scored in the first six minutes of the third to put the game out of reach.

First Lawson broke into the Express zone, but was stopped by a Coquitlam defender. Morrissey, the trailer, corralled the loose puck and his shot hit Lawson as it made its way past Cole Huggins in the Express net.

A few shifts later, Morrissey was credited with a goal after a Coquitlam player put the puck in his own net. The goal came after a nice rush by the Spruce Kings' top scoring line, with assists going to Lawson and Trevor Esau.

Will Cook scored twice to get the Express back within one, but Spruce Kings goalie Kirk Thompson shut the door from that point on to preserve the lead. The first goal off a face off in the Prince George end and the second on a rush with just 1:45 remaining in the third.

Hansen iced it with an empty-net goal.

Hansen got the Spruce Kings on the board on the very first rush on the very first shift of the game. After Jace Henig's shot went wide, the rebound off the end boards came right to Hansen and he deposited the puck into the open net just 34 seconds into the game. Mark Begert also picked up an assist.

Ben Israel got the Express back on even terms with a perfectly placed wrist shot off a two-on-two rush. Israel crossed the blue-line on the left wing, moved across to the right slot and shot back across his body catching Thompson going the wrong way.

Hansen restored the Spruce Kings lead before the first period was out and once again he found himself in position where all he had to do was put a puck into an open net. This time Hansen got help from Mitch Eden who passed it to Lyndon Martell in the high slot, Martell quickly slid it over to Hansen just off the left wing boards. The quick puck movement was too fast for Huggins, and Hansen fired it home.

With the two tallies, Hansen has tied Tyson Witala for second on the team with 14. Lawson scored his 15th of the year Saturday to take sole possession of the team lead.

Thompson finished the game with 38 saves - including a few of the acrobatic variety - to notch his 19th win of the season. Huggins stopped 27 pucks in a losing cause.

The Spruce Kings have won all five meetings against the Express so far this year, but Coquitlam will try to change that when the two teams meet again for a Sunday matinee at the Castle. Puck drop is 3 p.m.

Game Preview: vs Coquitlam Express

Spruce Kings will like to see this scene play out again tonight

The Prince George Spruce Kings are back on home ice for the first half of a double header against the Coquitlam Express – and it couldn’t come at a better time. The Spruce Kings have struggled in their past few games and, thanks to the Chilliwack Chiefs, are winless in their last three games. The Spruce Kings previous victory came at the expense of the Express back on January 12 in Coquitlam.

Like the Chiefs have been able to do to the Spruce Kings so far this season, so have the Spruce Kings done to the Express. In four meetings so far this season, Prince George has a 4-0 record over Coquitlam outscoring their Mainland Divisional opponent 19-8. This stat won’t sit well for the Express who rolled into town last night and remember coming up empty in the Castle the last time they were here for a double header.

The Express are winless in four games with their last victory coming in a thrilling overtime finish against the Merritt Centennials two weeks ago. The winning goal showed up on national television, comparing Adam Rockwood’s moves in a penalty shot to that of NHL’er Pavel Datsyuk. Since then the Express haven’t had much to celebrate, in fact they are 1 for 9 in their last ten games.

Something will have to give tonight for two teams that sat on top of the Mainland Division standings in the early parts of the season and have since fallen on lean times. The Spruce Kings have been faring better with an almost .500 record in their past ten outings (4-5-0-1). Prince George’s home record remains one of the better ones in the BCHL, failing to pick up any points in only five of 18 games played in the Coliseum.

The Spruce Kings desperately want home ice win number ten and regular season win number twenty tonight and have been a little sour since returning home from Chilliwack Wednesday night. The team has had some spirited practices and long discussions to see if there is something that can be done to get the team moving in the right direction as the playoffs continue to draw closer on the horizon.

Players out of the lineup for one reason or another could play a factor tonight. The Coquitlam Express rolled into town without four of their regulars in the lineup leaving Jon Calvano and the coaching staff to bring in an all AP line to provide a full complement of forwards for the game. Alexander Kerfoot returned home after a season ending injury earlier in the year, Lars Hepso has still to report to the Express while Brandon Morley and Sam Majka are sidelined with undisclosed injuries.

The Spruce Kings have their own woes to worry about and will be without Kevin Guiltinan tonight who is serving the first of a two game suspension for a blow to the head in Wednesday’s game. Coltyn Hansen is out with a lower body injury after blocking a shot, also in Wednesday’s game and Tyson Witala will miss the game tonight due to personal reasons. Kody Disher was expected tonight as an AP call up, but that changed when his flight was delayed making him unavailable now until tomorrow leaving the Spruce Kings one player short of a full bench.

Puck drop tonight is 7pm at the Prince George Coliseum with the game broadcast on 93.1 CFIS-FM beginning with the pre-game show at 6:35pm. For listeners out of town, the free online audio broadcast is on the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel and there is also the pay-per-view video broadcast on FASTHOCKEY.com. Ron St. Clair, Todd Doherty, Peter James and Ron Gallo will provide the play-by-play, commentary, analysis and interviews during the game.

The same two teams will faceoff again Sunday afternoon at 3pm and following that game, fans will be able to skate with the players. Remember to bring your skates to the game Sunday and then skate with the Spruce Kings afterwards.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Game Preview: at Chilliwack Chiefs

Game On! It's the Chiefs and Spruce Kings one more time.

For the third straight game, the Prince George Spruce Kings will be facing off against the Chilliwack Chiefs. Going back two more games, this will be the fourth meeting between the two in less than two weeks. The problem with that is the fact that the Spruce Kings have only picked up one point in five tries this season against their Mainland Division rival.

Although that might be cause for concern in some camps, it isn't with the Spruce Kings who believe that they have gotten better every time they have played the Chiefs and are expecting the tide to turn tonight. In the very first two meetings - a double header in Prince George that everybody would rather forget - the Spruce Kings were held off the score sheet in both games. The last time the Spruce Kings were in Chilliwack they had a late third period lead slip through their hands as a result of two powerplay goals scored against them.

This past weekend in Prince George, the Spruce Kings gave up only one powerplay goal against and were able to score two of their own. That's no easy task given that the Chilliwack Chiefs have the third best powerplay and the best penalty kill in the BCHL. Penalties may end up being a factor again Wednesday night, because let's face it, these two teams don't like each other. They play a very mean and physical style and look to punish each other whenever they can.

We especially saw that on Friday night and even with a tamer game on Saturday night, there were still 26 minutes in powerplay time handed out and a penalty shot awarded bringing the weekend total to 21 powerplays split between the two teams (14 for Prince George and 7 for Chilliwack). That doesn't include a few hits that went undetected and left players with battle wounds afterwards. The most grotesque was to Trevor Esau who had his head drilled into the glass by Tanner Burns resulting in a cut and swollen eye for the Prince George captain.

Certainly in hockey days gone by you could sell tickets on the expected retaliation alone, but those days are long gone with rules in place to deter against fighting and those types of situations that leaves the game with the black eye. Instead the retaliation for Prince George will have to come in the form of offence, something that has been hit and miss since the calendar turned to 2013.

If you can count on trends, the Spruce Kings are due to bump the slump tonight, but in order to do that they will have to figure out Mitch Gillam. Destined to play in Cornell next year, the twenty year old netminder for Chilliwack can be credited for both wins on the weekend stopping pucks, in some cases when he couldn't even see them. In the two games on the weekend, Gillam is credited with 78 saves on 82 shots in total. In contrast, the Chiefs managed only 67 shots and two of those were into empty nets.

Kirk Thompson has been doing his job and really the only difference in the two games was some untimely bounces off players in front redirecting pucks into the Spruce Kings net. Thompson has been sensational through the recent offensive production struggles of the team and has been getting help from his defence who are allowing the twenty year old to see the puck and help clear away rebounds.

Perhaps the most consistent player on the blue line has been Karan Toor, who plays under the radar but has been a stalwart in the Spruce Kings zone. Never giving up on a puck battle, Toor can muscle his man off a puck and get it out of harm's way and won't stop trying until he succeeds. Toor has also been seen recently trying to help out the offence and has had a few chances joining the rush and also with his point shot.

One other tidbit of information to relay, that will be seen as reason for concern, is that the Spruce Kings are doing this one game roadtrip as just that - a one day there and back affair. Nine hours on the bus to Chilliwack, play the game and then get right back on the bus and come home. For almost every other team in the BCHL this incomprehensible, but for the Spruce Kings it's what they know.

Road trips are a part of life as a Spruce King in the BCHL, the closest opponent is Merritt and the closest Divisional opponent is the Chilliwack Chiefs. Having to be able to manage life on the road through the regular season should benefit the Spruce Kings if they get through to the post season. This particular road trip can be used as a conditioning exercise for the team - especially if a first round playoff series goes the distance.

With the recent League realignment, there was also a need to tinker with the playoff format. In the Coastal Conference the first round will pit the fourth seed against the first seed and the third against the second within the respective divisions. The thing to note here is the format is a best of five with the first two games in higher seed's arena. After a travel day, games three and four will be played in the lower seed's arena. Where it becomes interesting is if a fifth game is required, it will be played the next night back in the first rink without a day off in between.

Certainly the Spruce Kings aren't in the playoffs yet and there are still enough games to be played that anything could happen in what is still considered to be a pretty tight division. The five teams in the Mainland Division are separated by a total of 19 points with 16 games remaining in the season. The Chilliwack Chiefs sit in top spot with 54 points, one better than the Surrey Eagles. Being able to put a little more distance between first and second should provide motivation for the Chiefs tonight.

The Prince George Spruce Kings are in third spot with 45 points and looking to play catchup with the two front runners. The Langley Rivermen, who have played two fewer games then the top three teams, is right there in the chase with 38 points. The Spruce Kings next two home games are against the Coquitlam Express who have now played the most games in the division at 42 and are sitting in the basement with 35 points.

A Prince George win tonight will do two things, the obvious being the two points gained to pull themselves closer to the top teams, the other will be to provide that confidence to go along with the resolve that they can beat the Chilliwack Chiefs. With teams leap frogging each other since before Christmas, the notion that the teams have found their rung on the playoff ladder simply isn't valid. I expect to see some more changes in playoff positioning and a win tonight by Prince George sets them up nicely to get right back to top before the end of the month.

Before we can have a serious conversation about the post season, we first have to get through the regular season and build on strengths. The strongest part of the Spruce Kings game right now has been it's defence, so you know that the coaching staff will be looking to find ways of lighting that offensive spark tonight. The line combinations to begin the game are expected to be the same as they were on the weekend, but don't be surprised if you notice some changes, especially if the Spruce Kings don't get going early in this one.

Game time tonight is 7pm with the game broadcast on 93.1 CFIS-FM beginning at 6:35pm with the Treasure Cove Casino pre-game show. Besides finding the call of the game on the radio, it will also be available for free on the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel and a pay-per-view video broadcast on FASTHOCKEY.com. Again, following the game, the Spruce Kings will head home and get ready to host the Coquitlam Express in a double header this weekend with games Saturday night at 7pm and Sunday afternoon at 3pm. By the way, after Sunday's game, fans will get a chance to skate with the Spruce Kings players so remember to bring your skates to that game January 27th.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Chiefs Sweep Weekend Set With Spruce Kings

Chad Staley (22) finishes the play as the Cascade Express Line
scores in the first period against Chilliwack

Whatever the Chilliwack Chiefs are doing to the Prince George Spruce Kings, it sure is working.

For the second time in as many nights the Chiefs skated to a 4-2 win at the Coliseum against the Spruce Kings. The Chiefs, who moved into first place in the Mainland Division with the win, now have defeated the Spruce Kings five times this year.

A pair of first period goals by Philip Zielonka gave the Chiefs a lead they would never relinquish. Josh Hansen and Luke Esposito also scored for the visitors, while Chad Staley and Mark Begert replied for Prince George.

The Spruce Kings actually dominated the game early, racking up 11 shots in the first eight minutes and spending large chunks of time in Chiefs territory, but it was Chilliwack who struck first as Zielonka handcuffed Spruce Kings goalie Kirk Thompson.

Prince George was finally rewarded for their hard work in the early going when Justin Rai made a nifty saucer pass to Staley, who was crashing the net. Staley got the puck passed Mitch Gillam to even the score.

Zielonka struck a second time before the first period was out. The Chiefs leading goal scorer was the beneficiary of a scrambley play in front of the Spruce Kings net and scored his 25th of the season after locating the loose puck near the crease.

The Spruce Kings had a great chance to tie the game in the second period when Coltyn Hansen was awarded a penalty shot after he was hauled down by Cooper Rush on a breakaway, but the Prince George forward couldn't be Gillam. Hansen elected to shoot rather than deke and the Chiefs goalie got a pad on the puck.

Late in the second Josh Hansen gave the Chiefs a two-goal lead when he beat Thompson with a shot off a rush down the left win. The shot seemed to fool the Spruce Kings goalie, who got a piece of it before it snuck by him.

The Chiefs, who have the league's best penalty kill, frustrated the Spruce Kings power play for most of the weekend but it was Begert on the man advantage who got the home side back into it in the third. Begert's blast from the blue-line made its way through a crowd on the way to beating Gillam and getting the Spruce Kings within one.

It was a similar script to Friday, when Prince George scored late to make it a one goal game, but once again they weren't able to find the equalizer. Esposito iced the game with an empty net goal.

Zielonka took home Treasure Cove Casino first star honours and his linemate Austin Plevy was the second star after picking up three assists. Plevy had a goal and two assists on Friday. Begert was named the third star.

A pair of Prince George linemates were also honoured, with Jake LeBrun taking home the FortisBC Energy player of the game and Bryant Christian winning the Dairy Queen player of the game.

The Spruce Kings and Chiefs play again in Chilliwack on Wednesday. The Spruce Kings are home to Coquitlam for a pair next weekend, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

Game Preview: vs Chilliwack Chiefs

Pieces of Kirk Thompson are strewn about following
a vicious goal mouth collision in Friday's game

Rematch, back half of the double header, game four ... call it what you want, one thing is for sure this is turning into an entertaining series between these two teams.

If the rematch tonight is anything like the game last night, we are in for another entertaining and physically demanding contest with two teams that are well on their way to developing a heated rivalry.

Last night these two teams put on a battle that was reminiscent of games played many seasons ago, in a time when players, teams and their fans were emotionally involved with the game on the ice. Both teams had their fair share of penalties and power play chances.

Some many even say that there was so much going on that it was too much for just one referee to handle. The BCHL has answered that concern and there will be a four man officiating team for the rematch tonight.

A scary play last night saw Trevor Esau hit from behind with a high elbow driving his head into the glass. The hit left the Spruce Kings captain with a deep cut above his eye that required medical attention. There was also a lot of concern after a play that saw Kirk Thompson bowled over into his net. Besides the concern of seeing the team’s number one goaltender sent sprawling, the net also needed some repairs before the game could continue.

Both teams are going with identical lineups as last night showing that both teams believe they put their best efforts forward. The Spruce Kings will be without Sean Landrey for the third game in a row after suffering a lower body injury in Chilliwack last Friday. Spencer Schoech is a healthy scratch tonight as the Spruce Kings get to enjoy a basically healthy roster, something that isn’t known to be the case, especially at this time of the year.

The Chilliwack Chiefs are still shorthanded with injuries and suspensions meaning that their trio of affiliate player will be back in the lineup tonight. Last night the combination of Brandon Volpe, Spencer McHaffie and Scott McHaffie combined for the eventual game winning goal. Those bragging rights will for sure have the former Spruce Kings players beaming tonight.

Meanwhile Prince George will be looking to find their way around some of the obstacles they faced last night with Chilliwack finding ways to break up passes. The biggest obstacle for the Spruce Kings last night had to be the play of Mitch Gillam who was able to turn aside some quality scoring chances for Prince George to the tune of 46 saves.

Kirk Thompson didn’t have the night off either facing a total of 37 shots. Two of the three goals were deflections off of his own defenceman making the job of protecting the net a difficult one. Thompson and Gillam come in to the game with some all-star numbers. Gillam has a goals against average of 2.29 to Thompson’s 2.64 while both have A+ rankings with their save percentages of 93.6 for Mitch and 92.0 for Kirk.

Game time tonight is 7pm with the game broadcast starting at 6:35pm on 93.1 CFIS-FM as well as a free online audio feed from the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel and the pay-per-view broadcast on FASTHOCKEY.com. Following the game, the Chilliwack Chiefs will return home to await the arrival of the Prince George Spruce Kings to finish up the three game set between these two Mainland Divisional rivals on Wednesday night.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Chiefs Double Up Spruce Kings

Jake LeBrun (8) was tripped on this partial break-away

Generating offensive chances wasn't a problem for the Prince George Spruce Kings on Friday night, but converting them into goals was in a 4-2 defeat against the Chilliwack Chiefs.

The Spruce Kings directed 48 shots on Chiefs goaltender Mitch Gillam at the Coliseum but only lit the lamp twice in a physical game between two division rivals battling for playoff position.

The Spruce Kings also had nine power-play opportunities, including a pair of extended two-man advantages. They were able to get some great scoring chances - Justin Rai in the slot, Jake LeBrun at the side of the net and Cameron Lawson on the halfboards all came close in the first period alone, but Gillam and the Chiefs penalty killers held them at bay.

After Philip Zielonka gave the Chiefs a 1-0 lead in the first period on a two-man advantage for the visitors, the Spruce Kings finally struck with a power-play goal of their own in the second. David Stephens batted a bouncing puck out of the air and past Gillam to even the score at 1-1.

The game again turned in the Chiefs favour late in the second period when Spencer Graboski caught a break on a 2-on-1 rush. Although it appeared as if he was trying to pass the puck cross ice, it re-directed off diving Spruce Kings defender Kevin Guiltinan, off the post and past Spruce Kings goaltender Kirk Thompson.

The Chiefs took that 2-1 lead into the second intermission, but the Spruce Kings came out flying in the third, generating chance after chance only to be stymied time after time by Gillam, who earned Treasure Cove Casino first star honours.

The Chiefs extended their lead when they got a goal from their affiliate player line. Brandon Volpe, Spencer McHaffie and Scott McHaffie had been giving the Spruce Kings fits all the day and all three players got on the score sheet when Volple beat Thompson with a wrister from the slot.

Bryant Christian got Prince George back within on late, with a beautiful deflection off a Mark Begert point shot. Christian was named the Dairy Queen player of the game.

The Spruce Kings pressed hard for the equalizer, but it was Austin Plevy who iced it for the Chiefs with an empty-net goal with 10 seconds left.

Plevy, who had a goal and two helpers, was named the third star and Thompson took second-star honours after a 35-save effort.

Spruce Kings captain Trevor Esau, who left the game in the second period for a bit to deal with a nasty cut on his face, was named the FortisBC Energy player of the game.

The win gives the Chiefs a seven-point lead over Prince George for second in the Mainland Division, but the Spruce Kings will have a chance to cut into that lead when the two teams face off again at 7 p.m. Saturday night at the Castle.

Game Preview: vs Chilliwack Chiefs

Spruce Kings celebrate a short handed goal against Chilliwack
last weekend (photo courtesy David Wilson)

HOCKEY IS BACK

That might be the slogan that the NHL is using to encourage fans to come back to their games, but it is also one that can be heard on the streets of Prince George in reference to the Spruce Kings who haven’t played a home game since December 9th. Although the team has not seen a home game in that time, they certainly haven’t been sitting idle having played eight times.

In a span of 40 days, the Spruce Kings have played 8 games in 3 road trips while wrapping and unwrapping presents and turning the calendar. Prior to the Christmas break the Spruce Kings had a three game road trip picking up two wins including a 2-0 shutout victory over the Surrey Eagles. Following the break, the team returned to Prince George on December 28th to start practicing for another long road trip on the first weekend of January.

The Spruce Kings started 2013 with a sixteen hour travel day that included two ferries to get to Powell River. The road trip and extended break over the holidays seemed to play a factor as the Spruce Kings came home with one win. Last weekend the team was back on the road with a pair against Mainland Division opponents. On the Friday night they suffered a 3-2 overtime loss and rebounded the next night with a 7-2 win.

The win over the Coquitlam Express seemed to give the team a sense of relief after a bit of lull in goal scoring. Some of that new found touch around the net can be attributed to the arrival of David Stephens. The former Cariboo Cougar is now playing on a line with another former Cariboo Cougar in Lyndon Martell and the very speedy Coltyn Hansen. In Coquitlam the three teamed up for a total of 12 points, four each.

For success tonight against the Chilliwack Chiefs, that line will have to duplicate that effort and others as well. The Chiefs do come into the game with a few healthy scratches due to some suspensions after a bench clearing melee in Victoria that resulted in the Chiefs being assessed a total of eight man games. Trevor Hills and Shay Laurent will miss both of the games in the double header this weekend after being assessed with two game suspensions each.

Four other players were given a late Christmas present from the BCHL when it was decided that the team could choose which regular season games those players would miss. The BCHL made the decision that the one game suspensions to David Thompson, Mattieu Tibbett, Jaret Babych and Tanner Cochrane would put an unnecessary strain on Junior B teams that the Chiefs would have to draw players from.

As it is the Chiefs will have three AP players in their lineup including a pair that are very familiar with the Prince George Spruce Kings team and fans. Spencer and Scott McHaffie make their first return to the Coliseum after being reassigned to the Junior B level last season. The other AP in the lineup for Chilliwack is Brandon Volpe while the Spruce Kings will be able to go with a 20 man roster although they will be without Sean Landrey (injured) and Spencer Schoech.

This should be a very entertaining game with the rivalry that has existed between these two teams, the current playoff race and another Save-On-Foods game night. The Chiefs sit in second place in the Mainland Division with 50 points, five points ahead of the Spruce Kings. In their last meeting a week ago tonight, the Spruce Kings scored a short handed goal in the third period to take a 2-1 lead over Chilliwack into the late stages of the third period.

A couple of margin calls went against the Spruce Kings putting the team in a short handed situation against the best powerplay unit in the BCHL. Needless to say, it didn't go Prince George's way as the Chiefs capitalized on a powerplay in the final minute of regulation time and another powerplay goal in overtime to win it.

These two teams will play each in three consecutive games starting with the double header tonight and then a single in Chilliwack on Wednesday night. Those six points will be huge as the teams jockey for playoff positioning and set the stage for what is shaping up to be a first round playoff preview.

Tonight is also a special night with the Save On Foods sponsored Help Hunger Disappear night. Fans are being asked to bring non-perishable food items to be donated to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Every fan will receive an entry form to win a three night trip for two to Las Vegas and those fans that bring food donations will be given additional entry forms to win the prize.

Last year this game was a complete sell-out with fans being turned away at the door due to the full house. Seating capacity is limited to 2112 spectators and it is expected there will be at least that many at the game tonight. If you have your ticket, remember your food donation and come early!

For those unable to be at the game, the home broadcast crew of Ron St. Clair, Todd Doherty and Peter James will have the call of the game on 93.1 CFIS-FM. The game is also available for free online through the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel with the pay-per-view video broadcast on FASTHOCKEY.com.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

On The Eve

After a long time, a very long time, the Prince George Spruce Kings and their fans will finally have the game of hockey back in the Coliseum. The last time the Spruce Kings played was back on December 9th - 40 days ago. The Spruce Kings weren't idle during that time, playing a total of eight games in three big road trips.

After completing a weekend sweep of their opponents during their last home weekend (3-1 win over Cowichan Valley Capitals, 6-4 and 4-1 wins over Coquitlam Express) the Spruce Kings started on Vancouver Island with games against the Victoria Grizzlies and Cowichan Valley Capitals before wrapping up before Christmas with a game against the Surrey Eagles. Prince George went 2-1 on that weekend outscoring their opposition 6-0 in the final five periods of play including a 2-0 win over the Surrey Eagles.

After Christmas the players did return to Prince George for practice opportunities ahead of their longest road trip of the season. On Thursday January 3, the team left on a sixteen hour journey that included two ferries to get to Powell River. The trip proved to be too much to overcome as the Spruce Kings suffered their first lost of 2013. The following night the Spruce Kings shifted their attention to the Bulldogs of Alberni Valley and were able to tame them before losing to the Nanaimo Clippers.

After a disappointing 1-2 start in the new calendar year, the Spruce Kings found themselves up against a pair of their rivals from the Mainland Division. On the Friday night game the Spruce Kings lost in overtime but fully redeemed themselves the next night with a big 7-2 win over the Coquitlam Express. This gave Prince George a 4-3-0-1 record in their eight road games placing them solidly in the middle of the Division behind the Surrey Eagles and the Chilliwack Chiefs but nicely in front of the Langley Rivermen and Coquitlam Express.

During this time there was also the trade deadline to deal with which the Spruce Kings quietly refrained from, electing to go with the essentially the team that has gotten them to this point in the season. The lone exception happened prior to the trade deadline after Tanner Fjellstrom informed the Spruce Kings that he was leaving the team to pursue his education. This opened the door for David Stephens to join the team.

The arrival of Stephens has proven to be an insurgence of energy for the Spruce Kings especially with his two new linemates - Coltyn Hansen and Lyndon Martell. In the game against the Coquitlam Express last weekend, the three combined for four goals and four points each (Martell 2G-2A, Stephens 1G-3A and Hansen 1G-3A). The three look to be a line to contend with for any opposition and certainly something that the fans will be able to appreciate this weekend.

This weekend will feature a double header against Mainland Divisional rivals, the Chilliwack Chiefs, starting with the "Help Hunger Disappear" game on Friday night. Fans are being asked to bring non-perishable food items to the game to be donated to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Everybody in attendance will also get a chance to win a three night stay for two in Las Vegas (fans also bringing additional food donations will be given extra chances to win). There are also other prizes including an iPad and Blu-Ray Surround Sound system. All prizes are generously donated by the four Save-On-Foods locations in Prince George and their partners.

If everything goes as it did last year when Save-On-Foods had their big corporate night, this game will be sold out! Last year fans were actually turned away once the Coliseum was filled to its capacity of 2112 spectators. Save-On-Foods has been a model corporate sponsor for the Prince George Spruce Kings taking the reins to promote this game with the big winners being the St. Vincent de Paul Society who help feed the homeless in our community.

Please bring as many food donations as you can and come early to avoid any disappointment. As a side note, the four Save-On-Foods locations will be honoured for their initiatives with the Spruce Kings last year by the national Canadian Grocers after they handed out multiple awards to the Prince George stores for their community involvement.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Kevin Guiltinan Ranked by NHL Central Scouting

"They have embraced my old-school style." Kevin Guiltinan

On Tuesday Spruce Kings defenceman Kevin Guiltinan found his name ranked among the top NHL Draft Eligible players for this summer's draft by NHL Central Scouting. An honour to be sure, but one that is deserved for this hard working young man from London Ontario.

Guiltinan came to the Prince George Spruce Kings via the Vernon Vipers after choosing to come to the BCHL to future his hockey career. I should point out that this is a career that is already far ahead of many other players at this point in their lives. Kevin secured a scholarship to Harvard University for the start of the 2014/15 season playing midget hockey for the Hill Academy Prep School in his home town.

This is a player that plays above his years and plays with an edge (that's a theme I've noticed with both Kevin and Jujhar). This is something that the teams and leagues that scour the BCHL looking for their next gem are looking for. Kevin is the first to admit that he isn't the most offensively gifted player on the blue line but his physical play and compete level doesn't allow very many other players to score when he's out there either.

I had a chance to talk to Kevin briefly after learning that the seventeen year old went from a 'C' rating with NHL Central Scouting to his much more prominent positing in the midterm rankings. There is still a long way to go before the NHL Draft and much more that Kevin wants to be able to show on the ice between now and then. Kevin knows this and has been drawing some tips from those on with the team that saw what Jujhar Khaira did last year to get drafted.

My conversation with Kevin demonstrates just how mature this teenager is and how prepared he is to make the sacrifices it is going to take to get to the next level.

download audio file

Here is the release from the Prince George Spruce Kings following the release of NHL Central Scouting 2013 Midterm Rankings among North American Skaters.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 15, 2013

PRINCE GEORGE, BC – Prince George Spruce Kings defenceman Kevin Guiltinan has been ranked by NHL Central Scouting in their mid season rankings of North American skaters eligible for 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Guiltinan is ranked 141st on the most recent list placing him as the third highest ranked defenceman and fifth among draft eligible players in the British Columbia Hockey League.

Guiltinan is a big powerful defenceman that has made an impact on the Spruce Kings blue line since being acquired from the Vernon Vipers earlier in the season. From London, Ontario, Guiltinan is a 6’ 03” 205 lbs seventeen year old BCHL rookie who has already secured a scholarship to Harvard University for the 2014-15 season.

"Kevin Guiltinan is a tremendous young man who plays the game the right way," said Spruce Kings General Manager, Mike Hawes. "He is very committed to the game and his team mates and is very deserving of being ranked by Central Scouting."

"It's very exciting for the organization to have another player ranked this season," added Hawes. "After the excitement of having Jujhar Khaira drafted by Edmonton last year, it is equally exciting that we may have a player drafted in back to back years."

"I'm not the most offensive player," admits Kevin Guiltinan. "I think what they like is my old-school style. I'm willing to do the little things, I'll go in front of pucks, I'll battle, I'll do anything for the team and I compete hard every game."

Prince George fans will have an opportunity to see Guiltinan's style once again this weekend when the Spruce Kings host Divisional rival, the Chilliwack Chiefs.

For more information contact the Spruce Kings office at 250.564.1747.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Game Preview: at Coquitlam Express

Spruce Kings in Coquitlam tonight to take on the Express

A night after feeling like they had one taken away from them, the Prince George Spruce Kings will have to get back on the rails as they take on the Coquitlam Express. The Spruce Kings had a 2-1 lead heading into the final two minutes of last night's game only to see that slip through their fingers while shorthanded on a marginal calls. The Express also went to overtime and won their game in overtime.

As far as momentum goes, this one favours the Express who erased a pair of Centennial leads before winning the game on a penalty shot in overtime. The penalty shot was the result of a penalty to Sean Maktaak in the second overtime period that results in an automatic free breakaway from centre ice. Adam Rockwood played the hero for Coquitlam and electrified the Express dressing room - something they have been in serious need of.

Since starting the season in fine form, the Express have fallen upon some lean times and watched themselves fall from top spot in the Mainland Division all the way to the bottom. The free fall seemingly led to a fire sale with the Express trading away some big pieces in Phillip Zielonka (Chilliwack), John Siemer (Penticton) and the team's captain, Mitch Nardi (West Kelowna). The Express did get a few pieces back in the deals including Garrett Forster and Ben Israel from the Chiefs as well as Lars Hepso and Adam Rossignol from the Alberni Valley Bulldogs.

Almost prophetic in nature, Dave Dupas told me during the pregame broadcast yesterday that sometimes you add by subtraction and sure enough the Express seem like a better team today than they did prior to the trade deadline. After picking up only one win in their previous nine games (including two losses to the Spruce Kings) the Express will gladly take this win over the Centennials and try and run with it now.

The Spruce Kings will have to make sure they don't let what happened last night affect their confidence or change their approach to the game. The team was rolling last night creating chances off of the rush and finding ways to set up and maintain pressure in the offensive zone. In the faceoff circle the centres were almost unbeatable led by David Stephens and Bryant Christian who were given the task of facing off against the other teams top centres.

Prior to the game there was a lingering question of whether or not Stephens and Lyndon Martell would be game ready having missed as much game time to injury as they had. They quickly put that question to rest and didn't miss a step out there with Coltyn Hansen on their line. For the most part the lines will stay the same tonight as they were against the Chiefs. The lone exception coming on the energy line with Sean Landrey out after being banged up on a play that put the big forward hard into the boards.

Speaking of that energy line, it is too bad there isn't any video of the Jake LeBrun hit on Cooper Rush. The rookie forward for Prince George lined up the big 6' 7" defenceman perfectly in front of the Spruce Kings bench and put him in the visitor's bench with a solid hip check. I'm not just talking over the wall, I'm talking completely in the bench. Rush had to pick himself up from completely inside the bench area and step over the boards to get back into the game.

Spencer Schoech will take Landrey's spot on the left wing with LeBrun on the opposite side while Christian will stay at centre. Jace Hennig will stay in Justin Rai's spot on the Cascade Express line with Chad Staley and Jeremiah Luedtke and the other line will feature Shayne Morrissey with Tyson Witala and Cameron Lawson. I thought all four lines created chances last night and certainly Dave Dupas will want to see that continue tonight.

Game time is 7pm with the game being broadcast on 93.1 CFIS-FM, Ron Gallo will also have the call of the game available for free online through the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel and the pay-per-view feed will be on FASTHOCKEY.com. Following the game the Spruce Kings will head home to prepare for their first home game of 2013 and first since December 9th. The Spruce Kings will host the Chilliwack Chiefs in the first game of a double header on Friday January 18th.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Sorry

Bryant Christian (11) winning a faceoff draw against Luke Esposito,
Christian had a fantastic game against the Chiefs top line
It would seem that the Spruce Kings at least had two points picked from their grasp as time was winding down in Friday night's divisional matchup with the Chiefs. In the end Chilliwack was able to capitalize on two marginal penalty calls, one in the final two minutes and one in overtime, to defeat Prince George 3-2 in extra time.
Penalties would really be the difference in this game as all five goals were scored with a player sitting in the penalty box, four of them when Prince George was short a man. The Chilliwack Chiefs opened the scoring just 15 seconds into their first powerplay of the game after Karan Toor was called for the trip. The Chiefs would finish the first period 1 for 2 with the man advantage while the Spruce Kings went 0 for 2 in their chances.
To start the second period the Spruce Kings were the recipient of two overlapping calls against the Chiefs putting Prince George on a two man advantage for 1:27. Just as the first penalty expired and the penalized player stepped onto the ice, Lyndon Martell pulled the Spruce Kings even with his six of the season. The shot came from just off the faceoff circle and blew past Mitch Gilliam just off the inside of the far goal post.
The Spruce Kings would kill off their next two penalties in the second period and the Chiefs their lone infraction leaving the teams tied 1-1 after two periods of play. The Spruce Kings were full value for their effort on Friday night coming out fast against the Chilliwack Chiefs and building on their chances. At times the speed of the Spruce Kings seemed almost too much for the home team to handle, such was the case in the third period.
In the final period the Spruce Kings were called for three penalties. The first one was a hooking call against Cameron Lawson, who must have thought he was playing in a phone booth all night as the Chiefs stuck to him like glue and didn't give him much room to work with. The Spruce Kings killed off the penalty and seemed to be building momentum when they were caught with too many men on the ice.
What should have taken the wind out of the sails for Prince George and provide Chilliwack with the opportunity they needed turned the other way. On a great defensive play at the right point Coltyn Hansen stole the puck from the Chiefs defenceman, played it off the wall to centre ice and with a burst of speed picked up the puck in full flight through the middle. Flying down the left side wall, Hansen teed up the puck deep in the faceoff circle and let go a howitzer that handcuffed Gilliam finding the far side of the net on the glove side.
All five goals were odd-man situations
The goal was an unbelievable snipe coming off a show of incredible speed by the twenty year old vet and gave the Spruce Kings a huge lift on the bench. Prince George killed off that penalty and looked to have the game in hand when everything turned around them and the referee made a series of decision that impacted the game when maybe they shouldn't have.
There are marginal calls made in just about every game, sometimes they are actual calls and sometimes they are non-calls. There is an old-school belief that in the late stages of a game and especially overtime that the whistles should be put away. We know that isn't always the case and it certainly wasn't that way on this night. But what makes the whole thing even more unbelievable is that the referee making the calls apologized to the Spruce Kings bench for two of them when Prince George still had the 2-1 lead.
The first questionable call came against Kevin Guiltinan as he tried to stay close to his man and went to poke the puck away from the Chiefs forward. Spencer Grabowski moved the puck to the wall at the same time that Guiltinan's stick went for the poke check, Grabowski as much stepped on the stick as anything and went down bringing up the referee's arm. After the call was made, the official went over to the bench and apologized saying that maybe that wasn't a penalty after all.
Okay, fair enough, but we've all heard of the make up call to correct a mistake, right? In a battle for the puck that ended up seeing Lyndon Martell hooked just behind the play and go down, there was no call made and seconds later the Chilliwack Chiefs scored the tying goal. Again the referee came over to the bench and explained that although he saw Martell on the ice he couldn't be sure how that whole play developed.
A perfect chance to even things up, never was. If there was a penalty call made the play would have stopped, the faceoff would have gone down into the Chiefs end of the ice, Gilliam would have had to stay in the net and there would be one minute for the Spruce Kings to kill off to claim the win. As it was the teams would now head to overtime tied 2-2 instead.
In the extra time the Spruce Kings best player on the night was called for a hook after lifting his stick up against a Chiefs player and barely making contact. The Chiefs forward still got the pass he wanted towards the net and the shot on goal that Kirk Thompson turned aside. But the call was made putting Bryant Christian in the penalty box, giving the Chiefs a 4-on-3 to finish out the game with. The play allowed the newly acquired Phillip Zielonka to play the overtime hero on an ugly goal that flipped up and over Thompson.
The Spruce Kings were rightfully sour afterwards and a show of support from the Spruce Kings fans as well as the Chiefs fans indicated that a lot of people believed that the Spruce Kings were denied a win that they deserved. Either way, Prince George will have to put this behind them and look forward to their next game - Saturday night against the Coquitlam Express.
The Express are coming off an overtime win against the Merritt Centennials and will be looking to keep that rolling against Prince George. Game time is 7pm with the game broadcast on 93.1 CFIS-FM as well as the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel and FASTHOCKEY.com.

Game Day Preview: at Chilliwack Chiefs

Along with previewing this game, the first against the Chilliwack Chiefs in their arena, I will also finish my closer look at the Spruce Kings divisional rivals. With Prince George playing out of the Coastal Conference and specifically the Mainland Division this season, I profiled the other teams and their history before the Spruce Kings first visit to their arenas (Surrey Eagles, Langley Rivermen and Coquitlam Express).

Unlike the other three, there is a familiarity with the Chilliwack Chiefs although that is really just a footnote now. In the summer of 2011, the Quesnel Millionaires ceased operations in the Gold Pan City and essentially moved the franchise to Chilliwack where it amalgamated with a piece of the fractured Langley Chiefs team. That team used to be located in Chilliwack, sound confusing ... well maybe a little.

In fact there has been a long standing love/hate relationship between Chilliwack and Langley when it comes to junior hockey in the Fraser Valley. That history dates back to 1978 when the Chilliwack Eagles played three seasons in the predominately farming community before relocating to Langley to become the Eagles from 1981-1987. Then the team flew back to Chilliwack as the Eagles for two more seasons before heading to Ladner for a single season where it was known as the Penguins. The franchise then moved to Bellingham as the Ice Hawks before being bought by the Trail Smoke Eaters in 1995.

When Chilliwack lost their Eagles, the City bought the Richmond Sockeyes franchise and joined the British Columbia Hockey League in 1990 as the Chiefs (the Sockeyes reformed in the Junior B Pacific International Junior Hockey League). That franchise stayed put for sixteen seasons finishing first in their division six times including their first season (1990-91) and last season (2005-06). Coincidentally they lost both those times in the semi finals but do have three League Championships to their credit (1995, 2000 and 2002).

In 2004 a brand new arena was built in Chilliwack called Prospera Centre; although the Chiefs did get to play out of the building in their final season, it was intended for a major junior tenant that was coming in for the 2006-07 season. The arrival of the Bruins meant that the Chiefs had to go. Over in Langley the Hornets had been struggling financially and the ownership there was eyeing up the market in the Okanagan. All the pieces seemed to come together perfectly, the Hornets moved to West Kelowna to become the Warriors leaving an arena open for the displaced Chiefs to play out of.

The Chiefs who got to play out of a new building in 2005 also got to christen another new building as the Langley Chiefs took up occupancy in the Langley Events Centre, this time for two seasons. Following the 2010-11 season, the Langley Chiefs ownership group split up the assets with one group staying in Langley and the other group retaining the rights to the Chiefs franchise name.

In what seemed like an extremely short time, the Chilliwack Bruins announced that they were leaving the Fraser Valley for the Provincial Capital to become the Victoria Royals and the Quesnel Millionaires were making announcements that they could not afford to continue playing in the BCHL. Almost overnight the three pieces all came together - team, arena and franchise name. It happened so fast that the BCHL had no choice but scratch out the Quesnel Millionaires name and insert the Chilliwack Chiefs into the Interior Division.

The Chiefs were welcomed back by the city and have enjoyed great a fan base for their home games out of Prospera Centre. The arena itself was built in 2004 and seats 5,000 fans for a hockey game. Fan attendance over the past two seasons has shown no love lost for junior hockey in the Valley. On December 29th, they set a franchise record attendance of 3400 and at their last game had 2400.

Prior to the Christmas break the Chiefs were holding down top spot in the Mainland Division but have since watched the Surrey Eagles soar past them. Now two points back of first, the Chiefs are looking to get back on track after stumbling on their return from the Christmas break with a record of 1 and 3. The Spruce Kings haven't fared much better going 1 and 2 to start the New Year.

During the trade deadline, the Chiefs picked up one big piece in Philip Zielonka from the Coquitlam Express. They did give up Ben Israel and Garrett Forster in the deal but now have arguably the top forward line in the League along with Luke Esposito and Austin Plevy. The three combine for a total of 125 points (Esposito: 13G, 36A, Plevy: 18G, 24A, Zielonka: 20G, 13A).

As we know now, the Spruce Kings were engaged in trade talks but in the end stayed pat with the roster as it was when they left for the roadtrip. Earlier in the week there was a change made with one player opting out and another being brought in. Tanner Fjellstrom, who had missed much of the beginning of the season with an injury, informed the team early in the week of his decision to pursue his schooling. David Stephens, who had been at home recovering from an injury suffered earlier in the year while playing with the Moncton Wildcats, was made available and arrived in Prince George late Tuesday night.

Stephens has a couple of seasons of major junior experience and is also familiar with Prince George having played a couple of seasons with the Cariboo Cougars. In fact Stephens and Lyndon Martell were linemates and showed a chemistry at the major midget level that led to both putting up some serious offensive numbers. In the 2009-10 season, Martell was rolling along at better than two points a game (10GP, 12G, 11A) and was then called up by the Spruce Kings. Stephens played out the season with the Cariboo Cougars finishing with 56 points in 40 games (23G, 33A).

With Martell drawing back into the lineup after his own injury problems this season, the two will be on a line together with high flying Coltyn Hansen. If they can generate the chemistry they had when playing together coupled with the speed of Hansen, this line could quickly become a very potent production line for Dave Dupas and the Spruce Kings.

Both teams will be looking to get back on the right track after sluggish starts following the Christmas break. But don't expect either team to have an easy time finding the back of the net. For Prince George, Kirk Thompson has been the team's best player and turned aside 112 of 117 shots he faced last weekend. Thompson's numbers have been consistent throughout the season and his last five games have seen those improve even more.

Coming into the game tonight, Thompson sits with a save percentage of 91.8 and a goals against average of 2.64. Other numbers for the veteran goaltender include three assists and a pair of shutouts. The Spruce Kings will need Thompson to be on his game again tonight. Even though they come into the game with a .500 record in their last ten outings, the Chiefs have the League's best penalty kill (86%) and the fourth overall powerplay (22%).

The Chiefs have some other pretty impressive stats like a positive goal differential of 25 with an average of 3.37 goals for per game and 2.66 against. Overall they are the fourth best team in the League and have a 2-0 record against the Spruce Kings this season after posting back to back shutout wins in a double header to end the month of November.

With the playoff push now officially underway, the Spruce Kings are looking at this game tonight as a good test. There are only twenty games remaining in the regular season and the Spruce Kings will have some tough tests ahead of them starting with this one tonight in Prospera Place.

The game will be broadcast live tonight beginning with a pregame show at 6:35pm and scheduled puck drop at 7:00pm. Ron Gallo will have the call of the game on 93.1 CFIS-FM with a free online audio broadcast available on the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel and the pay-per-view on FASTHOCKEY.com. Following the game, the team will return to their home base in the Fraser Valley and prepare to face the Coquitlam Express on Saturday night.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Trade Deadline

Jarryd Ten Vaanholt was a trade deadline acquisition last year

It is that time of the year again - when teams go looking for a puzzle piece for the big playoff push and players worry about whether or not they are on the move. Trade deadline can be a stressful time for some and a source of excitement for others. One thing is for sure and that is change is inevitable on this day.

I have my thoughts on the trade deadline especially when it comes to players and its simple - embrace change. Player trades in the junior ranks is simply a part of the game. For most players, especially those that will play two or more seasons, chances are you are going to have more than one team on your resume. And you certainly will have long list of team mates that have more than one team on theirs.

My only other comment on trades is that I have no desire to speak on player trades made by other teams. Why teams trade for one player or another is completely up to them and I think it is up to those teams to disclose of the details in a way they see fit. Like everybody else, I will look back on a trade and evaluate on its impact, but I'm in no position to say whether a trade is good or bad at the time it is made.

I also want to advise those looking for details on any transaction that may include the Prince George Spruce Kings - there will be no information released until Friday January 11th at 10am. This includes a post on this blog, a tweet or a Facebook comment.

There are really two reasons for this, one being that I am traveling with the team today down to the Fraser Valley for a pair of games this weekend and the other is a League regulation. The BCHL governors all agreed a few meetings back that it was in the best interests of all parties involved that teams be given enough time to contact players involved in transactions so that they were hearing it from the teams and not through the media first.

Personally I like that; even though it is easier said then done. In some cases, the players themselves are the ones to first put the information on their Facebook pages and twitter accounts. I come from a media background and trust me I know how important it is to get the scoop and break the news, but in this case, when dealing with young adults, it is best to err on the side of caution first.

Now all that said, I really don't know what to expect today. The Spruce Kings will board the bus for Chilliwack late in the morning and travel through the afternoon and early evening. During this time there will be messages sent back and forth electronically of player transactions throughout the League, but I honestly can't say whether or not one or more will involve the Spruce Kings.

I'm not ruling out any possibility and for sure there is a need to resurrect team offense, but that could come internally with Lyndon Martell now skating with the team and the recent arrival of David Stephens. The passing of the trade deadline will also do wonders to relax the grip on the stick of a few forwards that have been nervously checking the clock and wondering if their time is up in a Spruce Kings jersey.

Other teams might be looking for a piece from Prince George that they think will compliment their roster now while enticing Mike Hawes with a piece for his roster next year. Hawes has shown over his time as the team's general manager that he has an eye for players and has done a great job shaping this team.

The Hockey Canada Roster Deadline is 6pm Pacific for any transactions involving teams from separate leagues and 8pm for teams making trades within the BCHL. The January 10th trade deadline reduces the number of player cards available to 22 in the BCHL and 23 to the rest of the Junior A teams in the other Canadian Junior Hockey Leagues.

Whether there is a move made today or not, it will be the right thing for the Prince George Spruce Kings and I look forward to the conclusion of this regular season. Twenty games to go, seventeen of them are against divisional opponents starting with the first of six remaining meetings against the Chilliwack Chiefs on Friday night.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Game Preview: at Nanaimo Clippers

After celebrating a win last night, the Spruce Kings head
into Nanaimo for their first meeting with the Clippers

Two thirds of the season in and the Spruce Kings will finally see all of the teams in the BCHL. The final team on that list is the Nanaimo Clippers and that game comes up today at 3pm from the Frank Crane Arena in Nanaimo.

There is some familiarity with the Clippers organization that is coached by Mike Vandekamp who has coached against the Spruce Kings with the Merritt Centennials and the Vernon Vipers. Vandekamp also spent a tour of duty in Grande Prairie with the Alberta Junior Hockey League's Storm before returning to the BCHL and the Clippers.

The Nanaimo Clippers are the host team for the inaugural Western Canadian Championship, a tournament featuring the four champions from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC with a fifth spot reserved for the Clippers. During the broadcast I will be talking to organizers about the tournament and the exact configuration of the WCC when it comes to setting up the RBC Royal Bank Cup National Championship.

The Nanaimo Clippers playing out of the Island Division sit in third place with 38 points in 34 games after defeating the Powell River Kings last night. With a record of 18-14-0-2, the Clippers have identical home and road records of 9-7-0-1. They have played in just four overtime games splitting that record evenly as well.

Perhaps the most interesting stat for the Nanaimo Clippers, as teams stare directly into the hockey trade deadline of January 10th, is that Mike Vandekamp is carrying a roster of twenty players including three goaltenders. Derek Dunn was added to the roster following the Christmas break joining Jarrod Schamerhorn and Jason Argue between the pipes, at least on the roster (Schamerhorn hasn't dressed since the Dunn has arrived).

The Clippers have an offensive punch to their game with six players boasting more than twenty points each. Leading the pack is a pair of twenty year-olds that have a combined total of 69 points. Greg Fraser is averaging over a point a game with 13 goals and 23 assists in 33 games. Committed to Brown University for next season, Kyle Kramer also averages a point a game with 17 goals and 16 assists in 34 games.

The other four snipers up front include Michael McNicholas (10G, 22A), Matthew Grant (6G, 22A), Reid Sturos (11G, 16A) and one-time Prince George Spruce Kings product Trevor Fitzgerald (10G, 13A). From the blue line, the Clippers also get good point production from Josh Bryan (5G, 10A) and Colton Dahlen (3G, 10A) as well as Christopher Rygus (4G, 6A). All three are 19 year-olds this year and expected to make up the core for the Clippers next season.

Both teams today are playing their third games of the weekend with similar results after losing Friday night and winning close ones last night. The Spruce Kings will have to defensively aware given the depth of the Clippers shown on the stats sheet. Prince George still has to find their offensive touch around the net having created many opportunities over the weekend but only finding the net twice.

The momentum gained from last night might just be the ticket the team is looking for this afternoon after getting a good night's rest at the Inn on Long Lake. Game time is 3pm with the game broadcast starting up at 2:35. The game will not be heard on 93.1 CFIS-FM but the free online audio broadcast will be available on the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel and the pay-per-view feed on FASTHOCKEY.com. Following the game the Spruce Kings will catch the first available ferry and head for home expected to arrive in Prince George early Monday morning.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Spruce Kings Nip Back at the Bulldogs

Kirk Thompson (1) made some unbelievable saves tonight
helping the Spruce Kings post their first win of 2013

The Prince George Spruce Kings picked up their first win in 2013 on goals from Justin Rai and Tyson Witala and more stellar goaltending from Kirk Thompson. In a much better effort from the previous night, the Spruce Kings did everything they were asked to do in a 2-1 win over the Alberni Valley Bulldogs to improve to 18-11-1-5 on the season.

The game was extremely close from the opening puck drop to the final buzzer as the two teams traded shots and scoring chances. The Bulldogs were first on the board after Hunter Stewart found himself on the doorstep with the puck fed out from behind the net. The Bulldogs carried that one goal lead to the dressing room with them but it didn't last for long once play resumed in the second period.

After a Bulldogs defenceman blew a tire and coughed up the puck in his zone to Justin Rai, the rookie made no mistake with a beautiful move in the deep slot. Rai found the puck with nobody around just inside the blue line and carried it right down the middle going from his backhand to his forehand on the top of the crease. As the goaltender opened up to push from one side to the other, Rai slid the puck through the five hole for his tenth of the season and the Spruce Kings first of 2013.

The goal changed the complexion of the game adding confidence to a Spruce Kings bench that had been struggling to find positives just a night ago. The Bulldogs on the ensuing shift tried to get their one goal lead back but were denied by the goaltending of Kirk Thompson which was solid again tonight. On more than one occasion players and fans were left in half cheer shaking their heads at another rob job by the twenty year old netminder.

Thompson's performance on the night earned him the number one star status and following the game a polite and respectful round of applause when his name was announced and he skated out onto the ice. Things might have been different for Thompson and the Spruce Kings had it not been for a head's up play in the neutral zone during the third period that led to the game's winning goal.

Following a series of failed attempts by either team to gain the offensive zone, Cameron Lawson dug a puck out from a pair of skates and flipped it along the boards to Coltyn Hansen who carried it into the Bulldogs end of the ice. Hansen then spotted Tyson Witala coming down the middle after getting free along the blue line. During the afternoon video session, coach Dave Dupas pointed out times where the Spruce Kings had failed to do just that and reminded them that somebody should always be going to the net.

Witala received the pass from Hansen and had time to think about his next move as he brought it in between the faceoff circles. With one quick move, Witala launched a shot that beat Jay Deo and gave the Spruce Kings their first lead of the game. The goal was Witala's 14th of the season coming with more than fourteen minutes still remaining in regulation time - more than enough time for either team to score again.

The Spruce Kings did get a few more chances but the best chance of the third was saved for the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. Sprung on a two-on-one Evan Tironese headed down the left side with Manny Gialedagis on the right side. A quick pass through the slot above the crease was received and fired towards the net. Diving across from one side of the net to the other, Kirk Thompson made the game saving stop off a sure goal from arguable the best player on the ice for the Bulldogs aside from their netminder.

In the dying minutes, the Spruce Kings would get a couple more chances with the Bulldogs net empty but neither long distance attempt made it leaving the score as it was since the Witala goal. The Spruce Kings posted their first victory of 2013 and completed the sweep of the Bulldogs after the 6-3 win in the Coliseum on October 26.

The scene will now shift for the Prince George Spruce Kings to Nanaimo and their first game of the season against the host team of the Western Canadian Cup - a tournament pitting the champions of the four western provinces against each other for a berth into the RBC Royal Bank Cup. The Clippers are coming off of a narrow victory of their own after downing the Powell River Kings 3-2 on Saturday night. Sunday's game is a 3pm start with the game being broadcast only online.

For the free online audio broadcast, check out the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel and the pay-per-view feed will be available on FASTHOCKEY.com. Following the game the Spruce Kings will head home to get ready for their next set of game - a pair on the road against the Chilliwack Chiefs and the Coquitlam Express next weekend.

Game Preview: at Alberni Valley Bulldogs

Spruce Kings will have to battle through the Bulldogs tonight

The Prince George Spruce Kings will try a second time to find the win column in the first weekend of 2013 after the first try came up empty. In a battle of the League's royalty, it was the Powell River Kings that came up big and handed the Spruce Kings a 2-0 loss on Friday night.

After a night to mull it over and another ferry ride, this time to Courtenay, the team is enroute to its next destination of Port Alberni. This will be the second meeting of the season between these two teams with Prince George winning 6-3 the first time around back on October 26th in the Coliseum. In that game Prince George got goal scoring from Bryant Christian, Tyson Witala, Shayne Morrissey (2) and Coltyn Hansen (2) ... something they'll need to see return again tonight.

Goal scoring, scoring chances and even shots on goal were tough to come by Friday night for Prince George and that is something the coaching staff will want to see changed for tonight's game. In a previous three game weekend roadtrip, the Spruce Kings did just that and posted back to back wins to erase a poor start so there is no reason why the same can't be expected again tonight.

It is no secret that the intensity level rises significantly in the second half of the season as teams start jockeying for playoff positioning and operations staff start thinking about final changes that can be made to the rosters. The trade deadline is only five days away and most teams have the ability to make three player moves on or before that day ... something that can weight heavily on some players.

I think that last night's outcome was more a result of playing first games after the Christmas break. The Powell River Kings were embarassed at home on their return to action and took that out on the Spruce Kings who were getting back into the swing of things after a 19 day layoff. One thing is for sure and that excuse has now been used up.

The Spruce Kings will take on a team that sat idle last night and is itching to get back into action for their first game of 2013 after losing 2-1 on home ice in a New Year's Eve game against the Cowichan Valley Capitals. The Bulldogs have been a little hot and cold this season but have fought through it to sit in second place in the Island Division with 40 points in 35 games.

Offensively, the Bulldogs are led by Ryan Lough with 14 goals and 20 assists followed by Evan Tironese and his 10 goals and 18 assists. The Bulldogs top defenceman was a mid-season acquistion from the Langley Rivermen. Bo Pellah brought with him 1 goal and 12 assists in 14 games and has since added 1 goal and 6 assists in 13 games with the Bulldogs. The other d-man to watch is a rookie sensation in Jared Wilson (6G, 13A in 32 games).

The Spruce Kings are still led by their rookie defenceman Mitch Eden (2G, 26A) followed by Coltyn Hansen (10G, 15A) and Cameron Lawson (12G, 8A). The strength of the Spruce Kings over the course of the past few games has come from their veteran netminder, Kirk Thompson. Credited with 37 saves again last night, Thompson was a key reason the game wasn't a blowout. Thompson is expected to start again tonight against the Bulldogs.

Game time tonight is 7pm from the Weyhauser Arena in Port Alberni. The game will be broadcast live on 93.1 CFIS-FM with a free online audio broadcast available through the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel and the pay-per-view feed on FASTHOCKEY.com. Following the game, the team will make its way over to Nanaimo where they will wrap up the weekend road trip with a 3pm matinee game against the Clippers on Sunday.

If this particular postings seems a little topsy turvey, please know that it was written while on a BC Ferries from Powell River to Courtenay during quite a rough sailing.