Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spruce Kings Look For Progress

The following article was written by Alistair McInnis and appeared in the electronic version of the Prince George Free Press on Tuesday March 26th and print edition on Wednesday March 27th. Throughout the season Alistair has attended practices and games getting to know the players and those around the team. Here he shares his thoughts on the 2012-13 season and makes some comparisons to last year's squad to provide a hint of what may be for the team in 2013-14.

Prince George Spruce Kings forward Coltyn Hansen battles
with the Chilliwack Chiefs Trevor Hills during B.C. Hockey
League playoff action in Chilliwack on March 20.
Alistair McINNIS/Free Press

Progress, regress or neither? It can be a matter of perspective.

The Prince George Spruce Kings recorded a .527 winning percentage in the 2012-13 regular season with 25 wins, 22 losses, one tie and eight overtime defeats (25-22-1-8) in 56 games. The previous campaign, they sported a 33-21-2-4 mark in 60 games, a .600 winning percentage.

This season, they had a harder time scoring. At 170 goals, they averaged only 3.04 goals per game. In 2011-12, the average was 3.63. They were also outscored overall (185-170) and had a higher goals against than 2011-12, when they outscored the opposition 218-185.

The 2011-12 season also saw Spruce Kings forward Paul de Jersey take the B.C. Hockey League scoring title with 98 points (41 goals and 57 assists). This season the Spruce Kings top scorer, Coltyn Hansen, recorded 50 points.

But look beyond the regular season statistics and you may say the Spruce Kings took a step forward this season.

A significant portion of the Spruce Kings 2011-12 roster didn't return this season. While they lost a chunk of players to graduation and NCAA Division 1 commitments, they also said goodbye to the Fitzgerald triplets, who requested a trade and ended up property of the Victoria Grizzlies.

While the majority of staff remained in place, the team iced a vastly different looking lineup. They also switched conferences. They didn't only survive the move from the Interior to the Mainland Division. They were competitive in the new division, ending up third in the five-team group.

Something else that indicates a sign of progress: the Spruce Kings had playoff wins this year, two more than the 2011-12 campaign.

That's right, the 2011-12 season ended in disappointment for the Spruce Kings as they were swept in Round One.

While 2012 saw the Spruce Kings make the playoffs for the first time in three years; they lost four games to zero to the Merritt Centennials. This year they pushed the Chilliwack Chiefs to the limit in their best-of-five set, losing three games to two.

The Spruce Kings also appear to be in good shape moving forward.

Ok, the losses will be noticeable. They lose a few of their top skaters in addition to goalie Kirk Thompson, who you could say was their most valuable player this past season.

But this team has a solid core of talent returning. And as they proved last year, they have an ability to attract skilled newcomers.

Long gone are the days when the Spruce Kings were among the bottom feeders in the BCHL. Despite the losses of Cariboo neighbours (Quesnel and Williams Lake), the Spruce Kings have been competitive in the BCHL the past two seasons.

But with the rise comes higher expectations. The past two years have shown they're clearly a strong BCHL team that can make the playoffs.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Off-Season Recruiting Underway

Danny Kiraly (10) fends off a forechecker in a game
from earlier this season with the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes

Less than 48 hours after the Annual Spruce Kings Player Awards Banquet officially wrapped up the 2012-13 season, the team was busy putting out a press release announcing a second player commitment for the coming year of hockey. Hockey truly is a year-round sport with players expected to compete on the ice from September until March or longer and then spend the off-season preparing themselves with an aggressive training program for another go.

Likewise the hockey operations staff remain vigilant in their efforts to recruit the best players out there to build up a team capable of winning it all. Having scouts placed strategically around rinks in Western Canada and the United States, allows the Spruce Kings to have eyes on players eligible to make the jump to the next level. Quite often that means sending scouts and even members of the coaching staff to various tournaments no matter where they are being held.

Recently Spruce Kings assistant coach, Colton Buffie headed out to Minnesota to take a look at a Tier I Elite League playoff tournament. There were over 500 players on 24 teams playing in the four day weekend tournament, providing an opportunity for Colton to see a great deal of talent from all over the United States assembled in one area. One of the players that stood out was a 17 year old defenceman with the Phoenix Junior Coyotes.

Danny Kiraly's skating ability was one of the first things that Colton Buffie noticed about the 6-foot-1 180 pound right handed defenceman.

"His ability to control the game made it look like everybody else was standing still," said Colton Buffie. "He was able to skate the puck from one end of the ice to other with ease and create scoring chances almost every time he touched the puck. I was able to talk to Danny after one of his games and got to know a little bit more about him."

Kiraly started as a forward and made the transition to defence two seasons ago, not that that deterred his abilities to be an effective player. For two seasons, he was selected as one of the top two hundred in the nation to attend the US National Team Camp, once as a forward and the following year as a defencman.

"I was a forward and I actually transitioned back to defence two years ago," explained Danny Kiraly. "I mixed the two styles together between forward and defence, so yes, I can say easily that I am an offensive defenceman."

Braiden Epp (24) separates himself from a defender to get
to the puck first in a playoff game with the Spruce Kings

Kiraly becomes the second player to commit to the Prince George Spruce Kings for the 2013-14 season with Braiden Epp having done so himself just last month. Epp played two games for the Spruce Kings during the regular season and another three in the post season scoring a highlight reel goal in game five of the best-of-five series with the Chilliwack Chiefs.

"Playing those playoff games helped my confidence," said Braiden Epp. "That was a great experience and stepping stone for myself. It let me know where I need to be to be ready for next season."

Epp finished second in team scoring with the BC Major Midget League Cariboo Cougars, and third overall in the League itself, scoring 29 goals and setting up 40 more to finish with 69 points in 38 games. That offensive skill from the local Prince George hockey product will be a big asset for his hometown team next year as the Spruce Kings look to add depth and top line scoring with the departure of Coltyn Hansen.

Its all about building for the next season and without question the Spruce Kings are busy doing that right now as they prepare to host over 100 young prospects at the annual Spring Prospects Camp at the Prince George Coliseum from April 12 - 14th.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spruce Kings Never Give Up

Mitch Gillam and Kirk Thompson took a little extra time
to congratulate each other at the end of the game

The Prince George Spruce Kings season came to an end Wednesday night in Chilliwack after suffering a 5-2 loss to the Chiefs just 24 hours after PG extended the series with an identical score in the Coliseum. Perhaps it was the short series highlighted by a quick turnaround from Game 4 in Prince George to Game 5 in Chilliwack with an eight hour bus ride to the Fraser Valley, but both teams had to do it. As much as it hurts to say it, the better team did win this series but not without having to earn it and both teams were better teams after the series than before the post season started.

Both teams started the game running on adrenaline but it was obvious to see that they had been playing on for the previous four games was missing. The plays were more calculated and more defensively minded as opposed to the hard hitting in your face style that we had witnessed in the games leading up to this fifth and deciding contest.

An early goal by Prince George send waves of excitement rippling through the Province as a future star with the Spruce Kings opened the scoring just 73 seconds into the game. Lyndon Martell and David Stephens hopped over the bench with Braiden Epp joining the pair for the trio's first shift of the game. The play started with a nice defensive stick by Martell who stole the puck away and tapped it up to Stephens. The hockey product from Whitehorse took off up the left wing with Epp jumping up through the middle creating a two-on-one rush for Prince George.

With David Stephens looking to feather a pass through to Braiden Epp, the Chilliwack Chiefs defenceman committed to taking away the pass and threw his body in the lane. Stephens took an extra step to the left that pulled Mitch Gillam into no man's land and then saucered a pass over to Epp in the slot. Committed to the Prince George Spruce Kings for the 2013-14 season, Epp took the pass on his forehand with Gillam overcommitting to get back to cover a one-timer from the youngster. Epp pulled the puck back to his back hand and lifted the puck over a vulnerable Gillam for his first BCHL goal.

The lead would hold up for only six minutes before the BCHL's Coastal Conference Rookie of the Year took matters into his own hands and led a Chiefs rush down the ice the other way. Luke Esposito showed his ability to turn on the jets on this play as he drove hard down the right side wall before letting a hard shot go from outside the faceoff circle. Kirk Thompson got all of the shot with his big pads but the rebound went right out to Josh Hansen who was coming down the middle and was able to corral the puck and move in on Thompson untouched. Hansen made no mistake going blocker side on Thompson to the tie the game at a goal a-piece.

The toll of the bus ride started to show on both teams as they didn't have the legs or the life in them as the period wore on. The opening twenty minutes would end in a 1-1 tie with Chilliwack posting 17 shots on Thompson and Spruce Kings getting 8 on Gillam. In stark contrast to previous games, the first period had no penalties to show for either team; which was as much an indication of how the game was being called as it was being played. The four man officiating crew let a few borderline calls that didn't have any malice to them go on both sides.

In the second period, the teams traded penalties with Cooper Rush getting called for the hold at 2:14 putting the Spruce Kings on the game's first powerplay of the game. The Spruce Kings were able to work the puck around quite nicely and kept the pressure in the offensive zone for almost a full minute before the Chiefs were able to relieve the pressure and send the puck down the ice. Eight players were able to change with only Mitch Eden left on the ice as he went to retrieve the puck from deep in his own zone. The Spruce Kings put more pressure on Chilliwack with their second unit but couldn't get anything past Gillam. Even after being on the ice for the full two minutes and a few extra seconds, Eden came off still looking as fresh as he did when the powerplay started.

Through the next few minutes the game took on a feel that the next goal was going to win the game even though there was lots of hockey still to be played. The teams were playing defensively cautious hockey and the offense wasn't looking to get caught in a situation that could lead to an odd-man rush for the other team. Both sides were playing this one close and safe and then Chilliwack got their first powerplay of the game with Trevor Esau was called for interference after not releasing a player off the wall after the puck came loose.

Fortunately the Chiefs first powerplay was also ineffective despite getting some good cross seam passes through. The one-timers were either wide or blocked and the ones that did get through from the peripheral, Thompson was able to stop. In what looked like the makings of the Studio Cuts Crowning Moment of the Game for Prince George, just seconds after Esau was released from the sin bin, the Chiefs captain was sent to sit for two or less on a cross checking call at 9:33 of the second.

The Spruce Kings power play that had looked so good earlier in the second period on their first chance came up empty and they spent very little time in the Chiefs zone with any kind of pressure or possession. In one foreshadowing play, the Spruce Kings struggled to get the puck into the offensive zone and had to circle back no less than three times and by then the team's second powerplay was over. To make matters worse, 14 seconds later Skylar Pacheco was called for high sticking while trying to wrap the puck around the back wall.

The Chiefs embraced their second powerplay that started at 11:47 and lasted 51 seconds before the BCHL Playoff Scoring Leader was credited with his seventh goal of the post season. In a flurry of action, Philip Zielonka received a pass from the left side wall to where he was standing at the bottom of the right side face off circle. Zielonka's shot hit Kirk Thompson and redirected across the ice into the left corner. Before I could finish extolling the greatness of that save, the puck was fired back to Zielonka who took one more shot towards the net.

In a flurry of movement in front of the net and beside it, Thompson was back in position and down on the ice to take away the high percentage shot coming from Zielonka. Good positioning by Thompson was trumped by better luck from Zielonka as his shot deflected off a defender at the side of the net and ended up fluttering over the reach of Thompson and landed on the ice just over the goal line. The goal spotted a the Chiefs their first lead of the game and marked the first time in the series that a team was able to erase a deficit in a game they trailed in.

As predicted the goal changed the tide and left the Spruce Kings to try and open things up looking for the equalizer that would never come. The second period ended as a 2-1 lead for the Chilliwack Chiefs despite being outshot 13-11 in that middle frame by a desperate Spruce Kings squad. Both teams had just the two powerplays in that middle frame to work with.

To start the third period, the Spruce Kings came at Chilliwack in waves who for just the second time this series seemed content to recede into a defensive shell. The only other time I saw that from the Chiefs was late in the first game after the Chiefs scored their first goal to take away Thompson's shutout. After scoring that goal, the Chiefs just carried the puck into their own end of the ice and waited for the clock to expire. The difference between game one and game five was that there were only four seconds on the clock in game one and still twenty minutes of hockey to be played in this deciding game.

Even when playing a defense-first style of game, when opportunities present themselves, you have to take them and that happened very early in the third period for Chilliwack when Spencer Graboski forced a turnover in his own zone and was able to go down the ice with Mathieu Tibbet. Although not an offensive threat in the regular season, Tibbet provided depth for Harvey Smyl's team and on this play would pick up his third goal of the post season and seventh point.

With the Chiefs now up 3-1, Zielonka and Esposito were noticeably absent as they sat on the bench resting in case they were needed later on in the period. It was instead a steady diet of Spencer Graboski, Autin Plevy and Mathieu Tibbet for the Spruce Kings to deal with. On one particular play Plevy dove for a loose puck and ended up falling face first onto Cameron Lawson's stick.

In noticeable discomfort, Plevy went straight to the bench and the trainer started working on him. It became quite apparent that Plevy had broken his nose as the trainer put it back into place and cleaned up the forward. No sooner was Plevy back in the game then he was on the scoresheet. Just moments after having his nose broke, Plevy was set up Graboski in front and whistled his fourth of the post season past Thompson at 7:26.

Just over two minutes later, the Spruce Kings were able to get on the board on a nice play that started with Jake LeBrun protecting the puck in the left side faceoff circle while playing keep-away from three defenders. LeBrun put the puck off the wall to Shayne Morrissey who was standing behind the Chiefs net. Morrissey faked one way and came out the other passing the puck through the top of the crease to Sean Landrey who was on the inside of the left face off circle.

Landrey didn't spend any time thinking of what shot to take, he just let instinct take over and knew that Gillam would be coming back to protect the short side so he fired top shelf far side beating Gillam's glove for his first of the post season. The goal gave the Spruce Kings bench some life as they now had 10:16 remaining in the third period to come up with two more goals to tie this game up.

Dreams of seeing this game go to overtime were not shared by Chilliwack who concentrated on their defensive game first and foremost leaving the Spruce Kings with very little to go on. As time ticked down on the Spruce Kings season and the tanks empty from the adrenaline laced game just one night prior in Prince George, it started to become apparent that this series was going to go to the home team.

In one last valiant effort to maybe find fumes, Dave Dupas pulled Kirk Thompson and sent Coltyn Hansen on the ice as an extra attacker. The gamble looked like it might actually pay off as the Spruce Kings used the artificial man advantage to create a couple of scoring chances but again Gillam was not going to be letting anything more in on this night. As if the time on the clock hadn't already sealed the deal, Austin Plevy made sure of it scoring an empty net goal with four seconds remaining on the clock. Prince George outshot Chilliwack 16-11 in that final frame but only the Landrey shot beat Gillam.

The two teams shook hands at centre ice taking a little extra time to congratulate different players on both squads. While watching the graduating players go through the line, it was clear to see that there was a lot of respect for what Kirk Thompson and Trevor Esau brought to the series. It is a strange feeling to know that a pair of rookies just three season ago that gave so much to the Spruce Kings and to the City of Prince George will no longer being wearing the Crown on the ice, but will always wear the Crown on their hearts.

With the season done, the team will return to Prince George to clean out their dressing room, hold exit interviews and present recognize individual achievements with the annual Player Awards Banquet on Saturday night. I will have a wrap up of those awards that feature two new ones this year to recognize areas of play in a game that are very important to Dave Dupas and his coaching staff. Perhaps the hardest trophy to find a single recipient for will be that of Playoff MVP with so many players elevating their game in the post season and showing the true character of what it means to be a Spruce King.

Playoff Game Preview: Game 5 at Chilliwack Chiefs

The way this series has gone,
the opening faceoff might be the biggest play of the game!

Following an adrenaline fueled win in Game 4, the Prince George Spruce Kings accomplished their goal of forcing a fifth and deciding game in their best of five series with the Chilliwack Chiefs. The series can now be dubbed the "Midnight Run" as both teams hit the road after Tuesday's game to arrive in Chilliwack in the early morning hours.

After the rush of the win Tuesday night followed by the eight hour trip to Fraser Valley, its hard to make a prediction on the game because of course the Chilliwack Chiefs had to make the same trip after suffering the loss. For the Spruce Kings, this becomes a test as to whether or not all those regular season road trips out of Prince George has acclimatized the players for this one in particular.

Last night in the Coliseum, the home town fans were treated to a solid effort from start to finish and from top to bottom. The fans showed their appreciation with every save, shot block, scoring chance and of course goal with rousing ovations that had people hanging onto the edges of their seats when they weren't jumping off them.

Trevor Esau opened the scoring with a point shot off a faceoff win 28 seconds into the game. Early goals have proved to be very important in this series with the team scoring the first goal winning all four games. The Chiefs were looking to change that last night when Philip Zielonka tied the game on the powerplay mid way through the opening first period.

To start the second period, the Spruce Kings came up with another quick goal when Mitch Eden banked the puck off the wall to Coltyn Hansen who was in full flight down the left side wall. As Hansen crossed the offensive blue line, he snapped a shot that blew past Gillam 23 seconds after the second period faceoff.

A pair of fan favourites connected on the eventual game winning goal that came just as the Spruce Kings killed off a penalty to Skylar Pacheco. As the penalty expired, the defenceman went to the Spruce Kings bench allowing Shayne Morrissey to jump up on a play being set up by Kevin Guiltinan. Guiltinan's centering pass went off a defender's stick right to Morrissey who had a wide open net to bury his first of the post season.

From there the Spruce Kings had their hands full and were full value for their efforts of blocking shots and keeping the potent Chilliwack offense to just one more goal in the game. In the third period, Thompson saved the series when he flew backwards through the air reaching with his stick to make an incredible paddle save. As Thompson fell to the ice, he was forced to make another save with his back somehow getting the puck to stop off his jersey and elbow.

Without question that was the highlight of the night, if not the year, and the Spruce Kings fans continued to rally and grow louder in their deafening show of support for their community owned team. In the end Kirk Thompson ended up with 40 saves and the all important win to force the series to a single winner-moves-on game Wednesday night in Chilliwack.

I could look at all the stats that show the Spruce Kings have won the last three of four in Prospera Centre, but I can also show that they have lost two of their last five in spectacular fashion too. This game is one that will have the Vegas odd-makers looking at all kinds of variables including the unmeasurable one of how individual players will respond when their current season is at stake.

This series has seen a number of adjustments made by both coaching teams to try and counteract the strengths of the other guys. From Harvey Smyl breaking up his top line to stretch out the defensive abilities of the players on Dave Dupas' bench to both teams carrying APs to ensure full rosters. In all of the adjustments, one constant does remain and that is the traffic going to the net and converging in the crease after almost every whistle.

Given the travel schedule of both teams and seeing just how much was left on the ice last night, I'm not sure how that tempo can continue in the slightly larger Prospera Centre tonight. One thing is sure, if there is anything left in the tanks, these coaches and players will get it out of each other making for another highly entertaining game five.

Game time tonight is 7pm with Ron Gallo and Todd Doherty providing the call of the game and analysis beginning with a pregame show at 6:30pm on 93.1 CFIS-FM. As usual, the game will also be available with a free audio webcast on the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel and as a pay-per-view broadcast on FASTHOCKEY.com. We won't know what is next for the Spruce Kings until the end of the game ... win and they move on to Surrey to face the Eagles in the second round, lose and the season comes to an end.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spruce Kings Force Game 5 Against Chiefs

Start the bus, the Prince George Spruce Kings are still alive in the BCHL playoffs.

The Spruce Kings beat the Chilliwack Chiefs 5-2 on Tuesday night at the Castle and force a decisive Game 5 on Wednesday night back in Chilliwack.

Coltyn Hansen took a breakaway feed from Mitch Eden and wired a shot off the cross-bar an in past Chiefs starter Mitch Gillam just 23 seconds into the second period to break a 1-1 tie and score his first of two on the night. The shot was beautiful, but the way Hansen was able to corral the bouncing pass without breaking stride that made the play and helped earn him Treasure Cove Casino second star honours. Third star Trevor Easu also picked up an assist on the go-ahead goal.

Shayne Morrissey also had a pair, keeping alive his streak of success after appearing with Ron Gallo on the Spruce Kings pre-game show.

Jeremiah Leudtke almost had a breakaway goal of his own a few minutes later, but Gillam won the race to the loose puck against the Spruce Kings forward.

Prince George did go ahead by two at 12:25, shortly after killing a Skylar Pacheco boarding penalty. As Kevin Guiltinan led the rush out of the Spruce Kings zone, Pacheco stepped out of the box and onto the bench. Morrissey was Pacheco's replacement and got on the ice just in time to one-time the rebound off Guiltinan's shot past Gillam. Cameron Lawson also picked up an assist.

Lawson had a glorious chance to make it a three-goal lead in the dying seconds of the second period but he couldn't get a handle on a bouncing puck in front of the net with Gillam down and out.

The Spruce Kings got things started in the third with a big open ice hit by Guitlinan on Luke Esposito and a mind-boggling cross-crease full body diving save by Kirk Thompson to preserve the two-goal lead.

The Chiefs were able to get back within one at 5:12 of the third as Philip Zielonka scored his second power-play goal of the game off a feed from David Thompson and Ryan Donohoe.

The Chiefs were buzzing around the Spruce Kings net for the majority of the period, with

Thompson stepping up time and again between the pipes for Prince George. The Spruce Kings goalie made 18 third period saves and finished the night with 40 stops and was the game's first star.

Gillam made 24 saves, facing his most difficult shots in the first two periods. Hansen iced the game with 42 seconds to go into an empty net. His fifth goal of the series was assisted by Mark Begert. Morrissey added a second empty netter with a half-second left on the clock.

After slow starts in each of the last two games, the Spruce Kings jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 28 seconds into the game when Esau ripped a point shot over the shoulder of Gillam. David Stephens picked up the lone assist.

After taking back-to-back penalties, the Spruce Kings found themselves down two men for 45 seconds midway through the first. They killed off the 5-on-3 portion of the odd man disadvantage, but the Chiefs did get back on even terms at 10:46. Zielonka took a feed from Alexandre Perron-Fontaine in the slot and was able to beat Thompson low to the blocker side. Austin Plevy also picked up an assist on the play.

Guiltinan was named the Fortis Energy player of the game and Begert took home the Dairy Queen player of the game award.

The winner of the Prince George-Chillwack series will play Surrey in Round 2 beginning on Friday night in Surrey in another best-of-five series.

Playoff Game Preview: Game 4 vs Chilliwack Chiefs

facing elimination, the Spruce Kings are
forced to fight for their playoff lives tonight

The Prince George Spruce Kings come into tonight’s game facing elimination in their best of five Mainland Divisional semi-final series with the Chilliwack Chiefs.

Last night the Spruce Kings had difficulties getting going at the start of each period giving up a goal in the first minute of each period in a 5-3 loss. Tonight the Spruce Kings will have to answer that early push by the visitors who are feeling quite confident of themselves and looking to be shaking hands at the end of the night before returning home to Chilliwack.

Chilliwack built up a 3-0 first period lead on a pair of goals from Phil Zielonka and the other from Austin Plevy. Early in the second period it was a 4-0 game when Mathieu Tibbet finished a three-way play.

The Spruce Kings answered back while on a two-man advantage with Coltyn Hansen standing on the top of the crease where he was able to get a stick on a blast from the point by Mark Begert. The goal was Hansen’s third of the post season and seemed to give the Spruce Kings some much needed life.

An unfortunately play early in the third proved to be too much for the Spruce Kings to overcome when Luke Esposito intercepted a puck in the high slot and was able to move in on Kirk Thompson and restore Chilliwack’s four goal margin on Prince George.

A laser beam shot from the left point by Trevor Esau and a display of stick handling and skating finesse by Jake LeBrun resulted in the only other goals that Prince George was able to come up with on Monday night. Tonight the home team will not only need to find some more goals but will have to be defensively sound in order to avoid elimination.

These two teams split the first two games in Chilliwack and now Prince George fans will be looking for the split again, which will force a deciding game five to be played on Wednesday in Chilliwack.

Elsewhere in the BCHL Powell River has a chance to upset the top seed in the Island Division as the Kings have a 2-1 lead over the Victoria Grizzlies with game four tonight in Powell River.

The Surrey Eagles scored six unanswered goals after the Langley Rivermen opened the scoring to give the Eagles a 2-1 series lead there. The Alberni Valley Bulldogs avoided elimination last night and posted a 4-1 win over the Nanaimo Clippers.

In the best of seven Interior Division series, the Penticton Vees are one win over from the Salmon Arm Silverbacks from advancing while the Merritt Centennials picked up their first win against the West Kelowna Warriors.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Chiefs Push Spruce Kings to the Brink of Elimination

Following a 5-3 loss to Chilliwack, the Spruce Kings now
face elimination on home ice and will have to answer back

The Prince George Spruce Kings are down to their last life.

Philip Zielonka scored two first period goals and the Chilliwack Chiefs skated to a 5-3 win on Monday night at the Castle to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five BCHL Mainland Division semifinal.

The Spruce Kings and Chiefs are back on the ice at the Castle on Tuesday night and Prince George must win in order to send the game back to Chilliwack for a possible Game 5 on Wednesday.

The Chiefs scored in the opening minute in each of the first two periods, with Treasure Cove Casino first star Philip Zielonka connecting in the opening period and second star Mathieu Tibbet lighting the lamp to start the second to give the Chiefs a 4-0 lead. It took all of 62 seconds for the Chiefs to score at the start of the third, as Luke Esposito capitalized on a bad turnover in the Spruce Kings zone to restore the four-goal lead at 5-1.

The Spruce Kings did their best to claw back, with third-period goals from Fortis Energy player of the game Trevor Easu and Jake LeBrun, but they had dug themselves too deep a hole to extricate themselves from.

Esau scored the Spruce Kings' second goal of the game at 2:47 of the third, getting his team back within three at 5-2. The captain's low point shot beat Chiefs goaltender Mitch Gillam cleanly.

The Spruce Kings got another 5-on-3 early in the third, this time only for 11 seconds. Jace Hennig came close to making it a two-goal game, but Gillam got just enough of his one-timer and the puck trickled wide. That save by Gillam and the penalty kill as a whole were the Studio Cuts crowning moment of the game.

LeBrun did get the Spruce Kings within two with an unassisted goal at 9:43.

Despite two more power plays - their eighth and ninth of the game - the Spruce Kings weren't able to draw any closer.

Down 4-0, the Spruce Kings got on the board in the second, with third star Coltyn Hansen tipping home a Mark Begert point shot on a two-man advantage at 15:07. Skylar Pacheco also got an assist as the Spruce Kings did a great job moving the puck around before getting the shot they wanted.

Braiden Epp, playing as an affiliate player, was named the Dairy Queen player of the game.

After dropping a 10-1 decision in Game 2 on Saturday night, the Spruce Kings couldn't have ordered a worse start with Chiliwack getting on the board just 20 seconds into Monday night's game and doubling their lead 4 1/2 minutes later. The Chiefs added one more before the first period was out to take a 3-0 lead into the break.

Zielonka opened the scoring on the first shift, getting to a loose puck in front of Thompson and sliding it home at 20 seconds for an unassisted tally.

The Chiefs capitalized on an offensive zone face-off for their second goal, with Josh Hansen converting off a play set up by Austin Plevy and Luke Esposito at 4:51.

Zielonka's second of the period came off another scrambly play at 9:31. This time he grabbed a loose puck at the side of the net and stepped in front creating a two-on-one down low. With the Sprue Kings' defender tied up with another Chiefs forward, Zielonka was afforded the luxury of waiting out Thompson - which he did, lifting a shot over the goalie's glove after Thompson committed. Tibbet got the lone assist.

The Spruce Kings weren't without chances of their own in the opening stanza. Chad Staley took a lead pass as he stepped out of the penalty box and had a clear cut breakaway. The Spruce Kings forward lost the handle just as he was getting in on Gillam, but drew a slashing penalty.

Mark Begert ripped one off the post late in the period and Gillam had to reach back to prevent the Spruce Kings forwards from getting to the rebound in the blue paint.

Playoff Game Preview: Game 3 vs Chilliwack Chiefs

NOW IT’S A BEST OF THREE SERIES

A Physical Series is Now a Best of Three

This Mainland Divisional Semi-Final series shifts to Prince George as a best of three affair after the teams split games one and two in Chilliwack on the weekend. The Spruce Kings won the first game Friday night with Chilliwack tying the series the following night.

Friday night’s game was a close one with neither team able to find the first goal of the series until Cameron Lawson did at 16:43 of the second period. Lawson redirected a David Stephens shot while on the Spruce Kings were on the power play. From there Coltyn Hansen added a pair in the third period as the Spruce Kings took game one with a 3-1 win.

The following night was the complete opposite with the Chilliwack Chiefs finding the net early and often to the tune of a 10-1 win. The score was really immaterial as the game was marred by a parade to the penalty box leaving many to speculate what that means for game four tonight.

Scores aside, both teams know what worked for them and where they can make improvements in this pivotal game of the series. A win tonight will give that team a huge advantage in the series with a chance to close it out on Tuesday night.

The other series in the Mainland Division is also down to a best of three with the Langley Rivermen taking over home ice advantage on the Surrey Eagles after a 1-0 win on Saturday night. On Friday night, the Surrey Eagles posted a 2-0 win to open that series.

The top team in the Island Division, the Victoria Grizzlies find themselves in Powell River with that series tied 1-1. On Friday night the Grizzlies won 6-2 while the Kings of the Island Division won 3-1 on Saturday night.

The Nanaimo Clippers are the first team on the verge of advancing to the second round after taking both games on home ice over the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, 4-3 and then 3-2 in overtime.

The Interior Conference is playing best of seven series with only two matchups on that side of the playoff bracket. The Penticton Vees head to Salmon Arm for game three tonight with a 2-0 series lead after beating the Silverbacks 4-2 on both Friday and Saturday night.

The other Interior Division matchup has the West Kelowna Warriors leading the Merritt Centennials 2-0 after a big opening night 6-1 win and a 3-2 overtime decision on Saturday night.

The game tonight in the Prince George Coliseum has a 7pm faceoff and is expected to be well attended. For those unable to be in the Castle tonight, the game will be broadcast on 93.1 CFIS-FM beginning with a pregame show at 6:35pm. The game will also be available online with a free audio webcast on the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel and a pay-per-view video broadcast on FASTHOCKEY.com.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Series Is All Tied Up At One

Series Tied After a Parade to the Penalty Box

In the end it doesn't really matter what the score was as this series now shifts to Prince George and starts fresh as a best of three with the Spruce Kings having home ice advantage. To make it official though I will say that the Chilliwack Chiefs won big finishing with a total of ten goals to the Spruce Kings lone marker that came off the stick of Bryant Christian in the third period.

Perhaps there was some complacency issues early in the game but as the game progressed it got down right ugly with some not too pretty displays of unsportsmanlike behaviour from both sides. In my opinion, this is another area where the Chilliwack Chiefs were able to best the Spruce Kings and draw Prince George into a long series of penalties that started in the first period.

It isn't easy to pull out one moment in particular that can be considered the Studio Cuts Crowning Moment of the Game as everything seemed to favour the home team on this night. Some of those moments that stand out for me include the game's opening faceoff where Spencer Graboski and Chad Staley lined up against each other. Graboski had no intention of winning that faceoff and instead used his stick to push Staley down to the ice and held him there for a few extra seconds.

Credit where credit is due and the Chiefs are full value for forcing two early turnovers that both resulted in goals and swinging the momentum of the game for sure in favour of Chilliwack. The first turnover was some hard forecheck pressure that resulted in the Spruce Kings icing the puck and, with the new rules this year, unable to make any line changes.

Off the ensuing faceoff, Prince George did get possession of the puck but again an effective forecheck prevented them from getting the puck down the ice and caught two players in no-man's land trying to make a change. Luke Esposito came up with the puck and was able to feed it over to Austin Plevy on the weak side of the ice who let go a perfect shot from the far side of the left faceoff dot that beat Kirk Thompson. The Spruce Kings found themselves down 1-0 on just the Chiefs second shot and 3:03 into the game.

The next turnover came a minute later when Philip Zielonka closed off the lane twice and then took the puck away in the high slot. He too moved over to the left side and used a Spruce Kings defender as a screen getting the puck through both the defender and the goaltender to double Chilliwack's lead to 2-0 at 4:05 of the first period. Both those goals had to be perfect and they obviously were perfect and a sign of things to come.

Dave Dupas found himself using up his timeout after that second goal to try and calm the troops and get the Spruce Kings back on track. It seemed to worked as the Spruce Kings manufactured some chances and were getting shots on Mitch Gillam. In a reversal of the night before when the Spruce Kings kept the potent Chiefs offense to the outside and allowed Thompson to see everything, the Chiefs goaltender was having no difficulties tracking the puck and making the saves.

The physical play of the Chiefs started to become effective as the plays after the whistle and behind the play were allowed to go on. The officials did warn both benches that if the extra curricular activities continued they would start taking players out of the scrums and true to their word, they did. The first penalty was to Mark Begert who was called for roughing after the whistle after pushing back on a Chiefs player who was encroaching on Thompson's crease.

The Chiefs extended their lead with just five seconds remaining in their first powerplay on a hard seeing eye shot from Alexander Perron-Fontaine from the high slot just under the blue line. It was the third goal in a row for the home team that just seemed to find the perfect line through an opening to find the back of the net.

The Spruce Kings would get their first powerplay of the game in a similar fashion after Coltyn Hansen tried to get to the a loose puck in front of Gillam. Hansen was given a shot and in the melee he and Philip Zielonka were both given roughing minors while Spencer Graboski picked up a roughing after the whistle penalty. The Spruce Kings were able to work the puck around but without much luck, coming up empty with their man advantage.

The second period started with the Chiefs players starting to key on certain Spruce Kings, in particular it seemed they were highly interested in Chad Staley and Kevin Guiltinan. Prior to the game Dave Dupas mentioned that having Guiltinan in the lineup is a benefit to the Spruce Kings as it keeps the other team wary of the NHL Central Scouting ranked defenceman.

To me it seems like there might be a hidden motive here to get Guiltinan out of the rest of the series. With the Junior A supplement there has been a two year crackdown on a number of specific type penalties including dangerous hits, blows to the head and accumulated fighting majors. Guiltinan is currently at his maximum allowed fights for the season and another one will result in additional game suspensions. If you would like to read more about the Junior A supplement and the rules around it, CLICK HERE.

Early in the middle frame, Kevin Guiltinan was assessed a two minute minor for slashing that didn't result in a powerplay as the Chiefs Josh Hansen was also assessed a two minute minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. While those two sat in the penalty box another turning point in the came when David Stephens was hit from behind into the corner. Not only was there no call on the play, but as the Chiefs headed up the ice the other way, all four officials followed the play with nobody looking back to see Stephens struggling to get off the ice on all fours.

To add insult to injury, Trevor Hills was able to snap a wrist shot off the glove of Kirk Thompson that fluttered into the back net while Stephens was still making his way to the bench. From there things just seemed to go from bad to worse for the Spruce Kings and it became hard to keep track of everything that was going on in the game itself.

The Chilliwack Chiefs did get the next two penalties, the first was to Ben Masella who stuck a knee out on Chad Staley up ending the forward but fortunately not seriously hurting him and the other was Ryan Donohoe who was called for charging after running Staley moments later. Frustration was setting in for the Spruce Kings and was very evident when David Stephens took another hit from behind from Austin Plevy while Prince George was on that Donohoe powerplay. Stephens went after Plevy and ended up getting a high sticking call against him.

The Chiefs would add one more goal to make it 5-0 forcing Dupas to pull the Spruce Kings number one goaltender from the game and insert the sixteen year old rookie, Liam McLeod. McLeod made a great glove save for his first save of the night in time for the BCHL timeout and when play resumed, the proverbial wheels on the bus fell off and things deteriorated with a parade to the penalty box.

It started with Spencer Schoech getting called for cross checking when he came into the fray late with his stick elevated. Shortly after that, the Spruce Kings assistant coach, Brad Rihela was ejected from the game followed by Kevin Guiltinan who was given a ten minute misconduct for something he may have said on the ice. The Chiefs would take a minor of their own before the end of the second period but would hold onto their 5-0 lead heading to the dressing room.

In the third period, Bryant Christian ended the shutout bid for Gillam with a nice shot of his own that found the far side of the net. Shortly after this Harvey Smyl decided to pull his number one goaltender, leaving people to read into that move as a precautionary measure with the game heading south in a hurry.

In the end there were a total of 34 minutes in penalties (12 minors and 2 fighting majors) 2 ten minute misconducts and 2 game misconducts in the third period alone. Nine of those minors, one major, both ten minutes misconducts and both game misconducts were assessed to the Prince George Spruce Kings. In all Prince George received 33 minutes in penalties, 3 ten minute misconducts and 3 game misconducts resulting in nine times the Spruce Kings were shorthanded and five powerplay goals for the Chilliwack Chiefs.

Although the score and the game got out of hand Saturday night, the end result is that this series is all tied up at a game a-piece making this Mainland Divisional Semi-Final a best of three with Prince George having home ice advantage. The next game is Monday March 18th with puck drop at 7pm in the Prince George Coliseum. There will also be a game Tuesday night March 19th at 7pm also in the Castle with a deciding game scheduled for Wednesday night in Chilliwack if necessary.

Playoff Game Preview: Game 2 at Chilliwack Chiefs

Spruce Kings celebrate after a Game One 3-1 victory

After taking game one in this best of five series, the Prince George Spruce Kings will be back in Prospera Centre looking to see if they can take a stranglehold on this short series. Game one is huge, no question, but it's the first team to three wins that will advance to the Mainland Divisional finals.

Certainly the Chilliwack Chiefs have to be thinking of that right now and feel, despite the loss on Friday night, that they played a good game and had a legitimate chance at winning. The Chiefs came at the Spruce Kings in waves and outshot Prince George from the start to the end of the game.

The Chiefs had eight shots on Kirk Thompson before the Spruce Kings registered their first - a long dump in shot by the captain from centre ice. Chilliwack would have registered more shots if it weren't for the likes of Trevor Esau getting down and blocking shots or deflecting them away from the Prince George goal.

When the first period BCHL timeout hit at 10:59, the Spruce Kings were trailing on the shot clock 10-1. Whatever Dave Dupas, Brad Rihela and Jason Garneau said on the bench worked though as the Spruce Kings came out with three solid back-to-back-to-back shifts resulting in three quality scoring chances.

Jeremiah Luedtke (14) with the Spruce Kings first
good scoring chance in game one vs Chilliwack.

The first was from Jeremiah Luedtke who was playing in his first game back in Prospera Centre after being hit from behind on January 23rd by Ryan Donohoe. Luedtke flew down the right side wing and fired a quick wrister in on Mitch Gillam that snuck through the equipment just grazing the outside of the far post.

On the very next shift, Shayne Morrissey came down the same wing on a two-on-wing, taking the shot that was stopped by Gillam with the rebound coming right back out to Morrissey but bounced past his stick. The third shift belonged to Karan Toor who's original shot from the left point was blocked. Toor picked up the loose puck and moved through a couple of the defenders to the high slot before getting a shot on Gillam.

The Spruce Kings looked to be taking over some momentum when the lights went out in Prospera Centre. When the game resumed, the Chiefs found three more shots on Kirk Thompson for a first period total of 18-5. Most of those shots were coming from the Chiefs top guns of Luke Esposito, Philip Zielonka and Austin Plevy. Some of the shots were coming from the points too with Cooper Rush, David Thompson and Alexander Perron-Fontaine.

The barrage continued all night long from the Chiefs who ended up with a total of 44 shots on goal but only one that counted. Matthieu Tibbet was the benefactor of a forced turnover by Brodyn Nielsen late in the game after the Spruce Kings had built up a 3-0 lead.

The Spruce Kings first goal came on the powerplay moments after the Chiefs had a glorious short handed opportunity off a two-on-one rush with Philip Zielonka feeding Luke Esposito the puck in the slot. Esposito got his stick on the puck redirecting the shot on Thompson who got enough of it to send it wide. At the other end David Stephens sent a puck on goal that deflected off Cameron Lawson's skate and in to give the Spruce Kings the first goal of the series.

In the third period Coltyn Hansen scored twice to put the game out of reach. The first goal was the result of Hansen's speed as he separated himeself from the pack and went hard to the net slipping a shot through Gillam. Hansen's second goal of the night came in the final minute of the third period and was a bit of a hail mary pass into the open net.

Certainly the Chiefs have to think they did everything they could have done in game one except score enough goals to win. How do you change that? Well expect the Chiefs to be getting in even tighter on Thompson looking for an ugly goal or deflection off a player in front. More than 44 shots shouldn't be a surprise tonight from a team that needs to find a win before heading north to Prince George.

The mission of the Spruce Kings will be to play another good road game with attention to detail especially in their own zone. A full team effort for blocking shots and not forgetting defensive assignments will be the key. For Prince George to head home up two games to none, they will have to show the patience they did last night and take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. They too will have to think of getting traffic in front of Mitch Gillam and being prepared to pay the price to be in the dirty areas.

There are no significant changes expected in the lineup for the Spruce Kings who are without Justin Rai again tonight. I know in last night's broadcast I voiced concern over how the League would look at a penalty given to Kevin Guiltinan, but want to point out that the call on the ice was a minor for checking from behind and not a major. After reviewing the rule book, a minor is not subject to supplemental discipline and Guiltinan is fully expected to be in the lineup tonight.

The coaching staff may resort to a little line juggling after seeing a few things that they both liked and left them a little concerned. Sometimes it is hard to make changes when you win, but at the same time Prince George will have to be prepared for an even more determined Chilliwack Chiefs squad tonight.

Game time tonight is 7:00pm with the game broadcast live on 93.1 CFIS-FM beginning with a pregame show at 6:30pm. Free audio of the game will also be available online from the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel and there is also the pay-per-view broadcast on FASTHOCKEY.com. Following the game, the Spruce Kings will head home and prepare for Game Three on Monday night in the Prince George Coliseum. The Spruce Kings office will be open from 10am to 2pm Sunday and again Monday from 9am to 5pm for anyone looking to purchase playoff tickets.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Spruce Kings Take Game One

Chad Staley (22) was able to stay in the game
after taking a blindside hit from Eric Roberts.

The Spruce Kings went in to Chilliwack and did what not very many people thought they could do ... take the first game in the Mainland Divisional Semi-Final best-of-five series. The final score was 3-1 for Prince George, but the shots told a much different story with Chilliwack outshooting their opponents 44-20. The game lived up to its billing of being a physical contest with some heavy hits, a couple of tilts and even the lights going out.

In a scoreless first period of play, with the Spruce Kings just starting to get their wits about them after being outshot 10-1 prior to the BCHL timeout, four lights went out in Prospera Centre above the Spruce Kings blue line. The outage happened just as Prince George was heading up the ice looking to cash in on some of the momentum that they had got to swing their way.

On the first shift after the BCHL timeout, Jeremiah Luedtke got the Spruce Kings first real shot on goal and first quality scoring chance after rifling a shot on goal that Mitch Gillam had difficulties containing and ended up watching slide just past the far post. On the very next shift Shayne Morrissey elected to go for the shot on a two-on-one, this time Gillam was square to the shooter but gave up a juicy rebound that just got away from Morrissey. On the next shift it was Karan Toor who danced through the top of the slot before firing a shot on Gillam.

With 3:52 remaining in a scoreless first period of play, the lights went out prompting the officials to send the teams to the dressing room for an early intermission. At the time of the early dismissal, the Chilliwack Chiefs were outshooting the Prince George Spruce Kings 15-5 and when the first period resumed, they added three more for a first period total of 18-5.

The games first penalty came in the second period to David Stephens who was called for tripping. The Spruce Kings, who had been working on their penalty kill, were successful in killing of the Chilliwack man advantage and tried to use that as leverage to get back in the game with some offense. The offense didn't come easy for the Spruce Kings on this night who found themselves being turned around at every corner and challenged to every puck. The difference was the stellar performance between the pipes of Kirk Thompson.

At the 15:31 of the second period, a bit of a scare was put into the Spruce Kings bench when Eric Roberts caught Chad Staley in an awkward position and checked him into the boards with a blindside hit. The referee's arm went up in the arm immediately. Jace Hennig took exception to the hit and went right after Roberts with the two dropping the gloves and trading a couple of blows. When the dust settled, the Spruce Kings ended up with their second man advantage of the game. Roberts received two minutes for boarding, two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct and a five minute major for fighting. Henning was assessed an instigating minor, fighting major and a ten minute misconduct. With the man advantage, Mark Begert was able to use some time and space from the left point to feed the puck to David Stephens standing in the left faceoff circle. Stephens shot the puck towards the net and had the puck deflect off of Cameron Lawson's skate and into the net. With very little dispute or discussion, the goal counted and the Spruce Kings found themselves up 1-0 at 16:43 of the second.

The Chiefs poured it on immediately after that looking for the equalizer and with time ticking down in the second period, everybody in the building was brought to the edge of their seat when Luke Esposito had a chance with a shot into a wide open net. The puck fluttered on Esposito and a Spruce Kings defender may have been able to get a stick on the shot as well, but either way the end result was the same with Esposito lifting the puck over the open net and firing off the glass on the back wall. The second period ended with the Spruce Kings leading the Chiefs 1-0.

The third period was a little more even with the difference coming at the 6:38 mark when David Stephens found Coltyn Hansen on the left wing. With his deceptively quick speed, Hansen found himself a stride ahead of the defender inside the Chiefs zone as he cut to the net. From the top of the blue ice and with an extra little push of the stick, Hansen was able to get the puck to go through Gillam, who had sprawled going for the poke check. After the goal Gillam was seen looking at his jersey and his equipment for a hole or at least an explanation as to how that puck got through him.

With plenty of time left in the game, the Chilliwack Chiefs sent out a steady diet of the top line trying to manufacture a goal from the combination of Luke Esposito, Austin Plevy and Philip Zielonka. The three would all have chances with Esposito actually finding the net but only after the puck was ruled to have been touched by the hand of another Chiefs player. As the time ticked away in the third period, the game remained a 2-0 lead for Prince George with Chilliwack looking to cut that lead in half. With 1:41 remaining in the third period, Gillam was pulled in favour of the extra attacker giving Prince George a chance at the empty net.

Coltyn Hansen would get two attempts to put this game out of reach and wouldn't miss on his second try. Taking a bit of a gamble by taking the shot from the Spruce Kings side of centre ice, Hansen watched as the puck bounced into the open cage with 16 seconds remaining in regulation time giving Prince George a 3-0 lead. On the ensuing faceoff, the Chiefs forced a turnover from below the goal line where Brodyn Nielsen fed the puck to an open Matthiew Tibbet in the slot. Thompson was caught out of position with the traffic in his crease giving Tibbet the easy tap in ruining the shutout bid of Thompson.

With their loan goal coming with less than 4 seconds remaining in the game, the Chilliwack Chiefs seemed content in knowing that they had found a way to beat Thompson and score on the Spruce Kings, they didn't even bother looking for another offensive chance. The win was Kirk Thompson's first post season win and something that had eluded him in his Junior A career.

The Spruce Kings went into the game with the mantra of having "attention to detail" and although they picked up the win, they know there is still room for improvement in their game. Mitch Eden was given a ten minute misconduct for not having his jersey tie down secured, which became apparent early in the second period when he was partially jerseyed in an altercation. Jace Hennig was also given a ten minute misconduct for instigating a fight after Chad Staley was hit in the boards and in the third period Kevin Guiltinan ended up with a two minute minor for checking from behind and a game misconduct for the penalty. There should be no further discipline for that call, despite what I said on the broadcast, because the penalty was only a minor and not a major.

The Spruce Kings will get a chance now to double up their lead on Chilliwack and take a stranglehold in this short series with game two on Saturday night. Certainly the Chiefs will have something to say about that as their goal will be to get a split on home ice and force a game four in Prince George. Faceoff for game two tonight is set for 7pm from Prospera Centre with the game broadcast live on 93.1 CFIS-FM as well as online from the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel and pay-per-view broadcast on FASTHOCKEY.com.

Playoff Game Preview: Game 1 at Chilliwack Chiefs

Prince George's Shayne Morrissey (12) battles with Chilliwack's
Keifer McNaughton in a preview of what is expected
to be a physical series between the two teams.
(photo courtesy Garrett James)

The Prince George Spruce Kings start their post season tonight with the first game in a best of five series against the Chilliwack Chiefs in Prospera Centre. This is an interesting matchup with both teams have ties to a long standing rivalry against each other. The Chiefs are in essence a hybrid extension of the Quesnel Millionaires after that team folded two seasons ago and merged with a fractured arm of the Langley Chiefs to take up occupancy in the Fraser Valley.

When you look at the Chiefs roster you can still see three players that had their start in the Gold Pan City. Playing in his final season of junior hockey, David Thompson is the Chiefs captain who played a full season in his rookie year (2010-11) in Quesnel before moving to Chilliwack. Keifer McNaughton is the other defenceman with ties to the 2010-11 Millionaires team, although he did play the next season with the Vancouver Giants before returning to the team with his Junior A rights.

Spencer Graboski has much deeper roots with the Millionaires being from Quesnel and having played parts of three seasons for his home town team before they folded and headed south. Over the years Graboski has had some memorable moments against the Spruce Kings and this season has contributed for 3 goals and 4 assists against Prince George. When looking at secondary threats for the Chiefs, Graboski is for sure one of them.

The Langley Chiefs contributions to the Chilliwack team include the team's leading scorer in Austin Plevy and Josh Hansen. Of course the biggest contribution from that Langley Chiefs team will have to be Harvey Smyl, the team's General Manager and Head Coach. Smyl has a total of 15 years of experience as the bench boss of the Chiefs team as he was with the original team in Chilliwack that moved to Langley to make room for a WHL franchise.

Although he is the first one to admit that the season series on paper is more lopsided in his team's favour then it should be, Smyl will have his team ready to go and not to fall in a trap of complacency. It might sound like cliche and there is a lot that going around at this time of the season as all teams start with a clean slate looking to be the first team to stake three wins in a short series.

The eight teams in the two divisions of the Coastal Conference will actually play one more round and potentially more games than their counterparts playing out of the Interior Division/Conference. That is just an anomaly that is created by the geographic layout of the BCHL. Certainly that could make for a very interesting series if this one goes the distance because there is only one off day scheduled in the series and that comes between game two in Chilliwack and game three in Prince George.

This series could come down to attrition on the road and with two teams expected to play each other tough in the early going, nobody from either teams wants to see this one get to a fifth and deciding game.

After finishing off the regular season with a total of seven scratches, the Prince George Spruce Kings are looking healthy and ready to go. Justin Rai remains the lone scratched player on the squad after suffering a lower body injury. Everybody else is back in the lineup having been able to use the time off this week to get rested up for the playoffs.

While talking with the coaching staff and players over the past couple of days, it has become readily apparent that everybody is on the same page with three keys coming out in all conversations. Certainly it comes as no surprise that both teams are looking to their goaltenders to be the ace up their sleeve.

Kirk Thompson and the rest of the Spruce Kings are prepared
for this series and believe they know what it is going to take
to claim home ice advantage from the Chiefs.
(photo courtesy Garrett James)

"I think this could easily come down to goaltending," says Spruce Kings assistant coach, Brad Rihela. "Mitch Gillam and Kirk Thompson are two of the top goaltenders in the BC Hockey League."

By the numbers, Mitch Gillam finished higher than Kirk Thompson with 27 wins in 46 games and a goals against average of 2.53. Thompson was right there however and has top caliber numbers as well with a franchise best 24 wins, 2.84 goals against average and 91.5 save percentage.

Thompson is a driven individual this season and will be just as motivated in the post season. In his final season of junior hockey, Thompson doesn't want the ride to end any time soon and knows just how important every game is and what it means to take control of home ice advantage. The Spruce Kings two regular season wins over the Chiefs both came in the Prospera Centre in Chilliwack (Feb 9 3-1 and Feb 23 5-3).

"It is very important for us to take away their home ice," said Thompson. "Not only take away their home ice advantage, but we have to capitalize on ours too.

The second key will be to win the battles, especially the physical battles to gain puck possession and create or take away scoring chances.

"This is going to be a real physical series," predicts Spruce Kings video coach, Colton Buffie. "To have a real good chance here, we're going to have to match their physicality."

Two of the most physically dominating players in this series come from the Spruce Kings blue line with team captain Trevor Esau and NHL Central Scouting ranked defenceman Kevin Guiltinan. Both players have been forces to deal with and both are looking forward to this series.

"Looking forward to some old school hockey with lots of physicality," says Guiltinan. Committed to Harvard University along with two of the top three Chiefs, Guiltinan knows that it is job to help shut down Luke Esposito and Philip Zielonka from the top line.

Coltyn Hansen (10) has the ability to turn a game
and the Spruce Kings will be counting on his speed in this series.
(photo by Garrett James)

The third key comes from the Spruce Kings General Manager who wants to see two things in this first game of the series.

"Attention to detail," is the top priority for Mike Hawes. "It's those little things that can win or lose a game for you."

One of those little things might very well be the powerplay and the penalty kill. In the regular season, the Chiefs came out on top in both those categories and also led the League in short handed goals scored. The Spruce Kings were not out of the running in either category and have shown to be effective on the penalty kill scoring the League's second highest number of short handed goals.

"This series will turn on special teams," says Spruce Kings assistant coach, Jason Garneau. "We have been doing a lot of work in both of those areas and I think our penalty kill will win the day."

This is sure to be an entertaining series and certainly the Spruce Kings appear to be ready, willing and able to get this one started tonight against the Chilliwack Chiefs.

"We've been waiting six months for this series," says Spruce Kings Head Coach, Dave Dupas. "It's been a long season with some ups and downs. We're all excited to get going so the puck drop can't come soon enough for us."

Game time is 7:00pm from the Prospera Centre in Chilliwack with the game broadcast live on 93.1 CFIS-FM beginning with a pregame show at 6:30pm. The game will also be available online with a free audio feed from the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel and also as a pay-per-view webcast from FASTHOCKEY.com.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Regular Season Leaders

Coltyn Hansen (10) finished the season as the team's
leading scorer hitting the 50 point plateau

At this time of the year the stats keepers are quick to release information regarding how players fared during the regular season. I guess that makes me no difference because the Spruce Kings have their statistical leaders in all those common categories too. Perhaps the best test is to compare some of those numbers around the League and through the years. I'll look a little more in depth into those numbers but for now here are those common numbers.

Coltyn Hansen finished the season as the team's leading scorer with 21 goals and 29 assists reaching the 50 point plateau. With skates a-flash, Hansen used his speed on many occasion to create scoring chances for himself and the Prince George Spruce Kings. His speed can be attributed to more than just a handful of his goals this season.

That 21 goal performance was tied by Cameron Lawson who counted 7 powerplay goals, 2 short handed goals and 5 game winning goals in that number as well. Unfortunately for Lawson, a late season injury prevented him from maybe passing his roommate and taking over sole possession of that particular stat.

Honorable mention has to go out to a pair of Spruce Kings in defenceman Mitch Eden and forward Shayne Morrissey in this category. For much of the first half of the season, Eden was the team's leading scorer contributing with setup plays from the blue line that were often initiated by him carrying the puck from coast to coast. Speaking of going from coast to coast, Shayne Morrissey came out west from St. John's, Newfoundland at the beginning of October. Even though he missed out on the eight games in September, Morrissey came to within one goal of a three way tie for goals scored and finished one point behind Mitch Eden for total points.

Being able to play a full season is no easy feat, especially this year when the team battled the flu and normal winter colds leaving the team short benched for a few games. Two of the three players were rookies this year which is sometimes its own hurdle in getting in a full compliment of games. Bryant Christian and Chad Staley were the two rookies that managed to suit up for all 56 games and play through it all this season. The other player to strike up an iron man streak in 2012-13 is Skylar Pacheco who is actually up to 71 games dating back to February 3, 2012.

There are a few stats that are kept but not listed on the BCHL website that coaches like to have at their disposal to measure some of the intangibles of a player's on-ice performance. Blocked shots and plus/minus can be huge to determine how effective a player is when he's on the ice even when there aren't necessarily any points to show for it on the scoresheet. Coltyn Hansen won the plus/minus title finishing with a plus 16 followed by Justin Rai and Skylar Pacheco.

Blocked shots is interesting stat and one that just doesn't get enough recognition. When a team is having difficulties finding a lane and getting shots through, it is because of these players that are sacrificing themselves for the team. The undisputed fearless leader for 2012-13 is Trevor Esau who blocked a total of 254 shots in 51 games. Coming in second in this category was the rookie defenceman, Karan Toor with a season total of 202 blocked shots. The entire Spruce Kings lineup all contributed to an overall team total of 1369 blocked shots, 998 among defenceman.

Between the pipes there is no question as to the contributions of Kirk Thompson who found himself in 50 of the team's 56 games for a franchise record of 2806 minutes played in a single season. Thompson also set the single season franchise record for wins at 24 with both stats helping him lay claim to the franchise record for career minutes played (6705) and career wins (46).

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Silverbacks Claw Past Spruce Kings in Regular Season Finale

Derek Bulmer (26) and Riley Hawes (24) were emergency callups
from Midget Tier I Cougars saw a lot ice in their first BCHL games

The Prince George Spruce Kings fell behind early and couldn't recover in their regular season finale on Saturday night at a sold out Coliseum.

The Salmon Arm Silverbacks spoiled the party for the hosts and the 2,116 fans who packed the Castle building a 3-0 lead in the first 6 1/2 minutes and hanging on for a 5-3 win.

With six regulars out of the lineup due to illness and injury, the Spruce Kings called three affiliate players - including two making their BCHL debut.

Reece Forman took a regular shift on the blue-line, while local products Riley Hawes and Derek Bulmer played up front. Often paired together, Hawes and Bulmer generated a handful of scoring chances, with Bulmer ringing one off the cross-bar in the first.

Salmon Arm, riding high after clinching a playoff spot in Merritt on Friday night, stormed out to a three-goal lead just 6:22 into the game. First Steven Iacobellis wristed a shot over Kirk Thompson's right shoulder at 3:59; then Josh Bowes took a feed from Brayden Sherbinin, cut to the front of the net and slid one under Thompson at 5:36;then Harlan Orr lifted a rebound over Thompson's pad at 6:22.

The third goal prompted Spruce Kings head coach Dave Dupas to use his timeout and settle his team. The tactic seemed to work as a couple of shifts later Coltyn Hansen found Shayne Morrissey in front and he fired the puck past Silverbacks' goalie Angus Redmond as a pair of graduating Spruce Kings players connected at 8:17.

That score held through the rest of the first and the entire second, but it was Prince George who was beginning to take control of more and more of the play as the game went on.

Hansen got the home side within one at 13:13 of the third when he tipped home Chad Staley's shot for the prettiest goal of the game. Lyndon Martell got the play started, finding Staley with a nice pass in the high slot.

Salmon Arm snuffed any budding momentum with a goal a couple minutes later on the power play. Jordan Levesque's harmless looking point shot hit a Spruce Kings' player in front and fooled Thompson as the visitors resorted their two-goal lead.

Prince George battled back one more time, with Martell snipping a laser of a shot past Redmond at 15:58. Bryant Christian and Hansen picked up the helpers.

Ryan Schwalbe iced the game with an empty-net goal at 19:13 of the third.

The loss had no impact on the Spruce Kings final standing as they finish the regular season third in the Mainland Division and will play the second-place Chilliwack Chiefs in the first round. The best-of-five series begins Friday and Saturday in Chilliwack, with Game 3 coming back to Prince George on Monday March 18.

Game Preview: vs Salmon Arm Silverbacks

Bryant Christian (11) scored for Prince George the last time
these two teams met on November 18, 2012

With a tail gate party before a sold out game, the Prince George Spruce Kings are feeling pretty good about themselves right now knowing that they have the entire community behind them as they wrap up their regular season and prepare for the playoffs.

The opponent tonight is breathing a little easier too knowing that they clinched the final playoff spot in the Interior Division. The Salmon Arm Silverbacks needed at least a point in their final two games of the regular season to eliminate the Trail Smoke Eaters and they did that last night.

In a game that they never led, the Silverbacks fought from a 3-0 deficit to tie the game 4-4 before winning it just 30 seconds in to the extra frame. The Silverbacks have been scratching and clawing for points for a while now and are full value for making it to the playoffs with 25 wins under their belt.

Although tonight’s game is the first time that they can actually take their foot off the gas pedal, don’t expect them to ease up now knowing that they will have to face the Penticton Vees in the first round of the post season. The Spruce Kings secured their rights to the “second season” a couple of weeks ago and secured their spot in the standings last weekend, but it did come at a cost.

Heading into the game tonight there are four key players on the shelf and all are expected to be sitting in the sold out stands at the Coliseum. Justin Rai might be gone the longest of the three after suffering a lower body injury while initiating a hit on a Langley player. In a similar situation, Cameron Lawson is out with an upper body injury, but has been rehabbing faster than originally expected.

Two other players are question marks for tonight and both listed as day-to-day. Both Jace Hennig and Jeremiah Luedtke sustained hits to the head and have been careful not to come back too soon for fear of re-aggravating their injuries. With the Cariboo Cougars at the start of their post-season, the Spruce Kings were only able to call on one affiliate player to join them this weekend. Reece Forman will suit up in his third game for the team and will expect to see some time on the blue line while Mitch Eden and Mark Begert play a few shifts on offense.

Tonight’s game also marks the final regular season games for Kirk Thompson, Trevor Esau, Coltyn Hansen and Shayne Morrissey. The four over-agers will be recognized before the game for their contributions to the team. Hansen comes in to the game as the team’s leading scorer while Morrissey has a chance to position himself in the top three. Esau has been the team’s captain leading by example on the ice and team’s leading shot blocker while Thompson has done everything imaginable between the pipes setting four franchise records this season.

Game time tonight is schedule for 7pm and will be broadcast live on 93.1 CFIS-FM with a pregame show beginning at 6:35pm. The game will also be available for free online through the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel and as a pay-per-view broadcast on FASTHOCKEY.com. With this being the final regular season game of the year, fans are invited to attend a fan appreciation and playoff send-off for the players at the College Heights location of Dairy Queen on Sunday March 10th from 11:30am to 1:30pm. The players will be signing autographs and everybody in attendance will have a chance to win one of two team autographed hockey sticks as well as playoff tickets for the Spruce Kings first post season home game on March 18th.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Graduates

This Saturday marks the final game of the regular season for the Prince George Spruce Kings and the final regular season game of four players on the team. All four have made an impact on the city of Prince George and all admit that they will carry with them memories of the city, the fans, the team and the building they have called home.

For two of those players, the Coliseum has been home to their entire Junior A career while two others were brought in for their final season of junior hockey. From a couple of trade acquisitions to a pair of three year vets - all four have wore the crown with pride and brought the home town fans to their edge of the seats and off them.

Although he is the oldest of the four players, Shayne Morrissey's time in Prince George is the shortest. Acquired in an early season trade, Morrissey brought with him an impressive resume that included 190 Junior A games played with 102 goals and 130 assists. Playing with the Prince George Spruce Kings, Morrissey has been climbing the leader board and has found himself in the team's top four with 19 goals and 16 assists.

Morrissey's is a community minded player and has given much of his time to helping minor hockey teams in Prince George.

Coltyn Hansen was an off-season acquistion from the Victoria Grizzlies and has proven to be a huge asset for the Prince George Spruce Kings. Hansen has used his speed to his advantage throughtout the season; it is not uncommon to see #10 flying down the wing on a breakaway chance. Currently the leading points getter for the team with 20 goals and 27 assists this season, Hansen also has 19 goals and 17 assists from his previous year in the BCHL.

Knocking on wood as I count Saturday's game in the stats, Hansen has only missed out on one game this season versus the West Kelowna Warriors when a number of players were out with the flu.

The next two players both come from the Lower Mainland and came to the Prince George Spruce Kings to try their luck at making the lineup through the team's training camps. Both players have been leaders both on the ice and in the dressing room, but only one wears a letter.

The unanimous choice for the captiancy this year was Trevor Esau who has embraced the role and taken the job to heart leading by example on the ice. Although he doesn't lay claim to being the most offensive player on the team, Esau leads the team in many other categories including a few of the coach's favourites.

Coach Dave Dupas will be one of the first to sing the praises of Esau especially when it comes to the contributions on the ice in the area of blocked shots. All season long the Spruce Kings have kept track of this stat and have watched as Esau has taken away scoring chances with over 250 shots going off his shin pads or elsewhere in his equipment.

One player who appreciates that sacrifice is the Spruce Kings goaltender Kirk Thompson who has had an exceptional season between the pipes. This year Thompson has set a four team records including 2747 minutes played in a single season, 6646 career minutes played for the Spruce Kings, 24 wins in a single season and 46 franchise wins. Thompson will also finish in the top ten for both single season and franchise records for goals against average and save percentage.

It has been a treat watching all four of these players this season and especially watching the evolution of Trevor Esau and Kirk Thompson. From a pair of young rookies getting their break in the BCHL to becoming fan favourites around the league, these two players become focal points for other team's coaches and players. I, for one, certainly wish our graduating players all the best in their future hockey careers and thank them for all they have done for the Prince George Spruce Kings.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Rivermen Double Up Spruce Kings

This game won't be remembered for the final score!

The Langley Rivermen's top line was too much for the Prince George Spruce Kings on Sunday afternoon.

Mario Puskarich, Evan Campbell and James Robinson combined for 18 points as the Rivermen clinched a playoff spot with a 8-4 win at the Castle.

A day after locking up third place in the Mainland Division, the Spruce Kings were playing for pride on Sunday and trying to even the season series against Langley. With the win the Rivermen picked up their 12th point in nine games against the Spruce Kings - five wins and two overtime losses. The Spruce Kings received eight points for their four victories.

Robinson scored twice in the second to break a 3-3 tie and give Langley a lead they would never relinquish. At 6:37 of the middle period he slid a rebound past Spruce Kings' starter Liam McLeod. Campbell and Puskarich got the helpers.

Just over four minutes later Robinson, standing at the side of the net, took a feed from Puskarich and banged home is second of the night.

Prince George had a couple of chances to get back in the game late in the second, but Coltyn Hansen clanged one off the post and goalie James Barr got a glove on a Chad Staley shot from point-blank range.

A couple of lights went out in the Coliseum late in the second necessitating an early intermission while they were rebooted. The teams played the three minutes of the third after the flood and switched ends for the third.

Trevor Cope at 34 seconds and Puskarich, assisted by Robinson, at 1:33 put the game out of reach.

The Spruce Kings power play, which has sputtered at times this year, was the lone bright spot. Prince George scored twice with the man advantage in the first - even building a 2-1 lead at one point - and added another power-play talley in the third.

Jake LeBrun and Justin Rai both scored with the man advantage, but it was the Riverman who led after one period thanks to a pair of goals from Campbell and a single from Puskarich.

Campbell opened the scoring just 2:15 in as the Rivermen capitalized on an early power-play opportunity.

LeBrun brought the Spruce Kings back on even terms at 5:46. After Rai's shot attempt was blocked in the slot, LeBrun corralled the loose puck and fired it past Barr.

Rai gave the Spruce Kings their only lead of the game at 13:10, tipping home Mark Begert's point shot.

The lead was very shortlived as Puskarich blasted a shot past McLeod off a rush at 13:31. Campbell's second of the period at 17:06 gave the Rivermen the lead heading into the intermission.

Hansen tied the game up again at 3:08 of the second with a nice individual effort while short-handed. Hansen also had a short-handed breakaway in the third, but tried one too many moves and was stopped.

Things began to get out of hand in the third and tempers flared. Spruce Kings captain Trevor Esau was ejected after an altercation and Langley padded their lead on a resulting five-minute power play when Derek Sutliffe scored at 6:49 of the final period.

Mitch Eden's point shot at 13:57 of the third got past Darren Hogg, who finished the game in net for Langley, to give the Spruce Kings three power-play goals on the night. Kevin Guiltinan and Bryant Christian got the assists.

The Spruce Kings wrap up the regular season on Saturday night when the Salmon Arm Silverbacks make their one and only trip to Prince George. Prince George will open the playoffs in Chillwack on March 15 and 16, with the best-of-five series coming to Prince George for Game 3 on March 18 and a possible Game 4 the following night.

Game Preview: vs Langley Rivermen

Sean Landrey (18) will be a welcome addition to the
Spruce Kings lineup today vs the Rivermen

It is the final regular season matchup between the Langley Rivermen and the Prince George Spruce Kings today. This matchup has been one full of stories, twists, turns and when the final whistle blows nothing may have been decided between these two. The Langley Rivermen have 10 points (4-2-0-2) and the Spruce Kings 8 points (4-4-0-0) in head-to-head meetings this season.

Last night the Spruce Kings clinched third place in the Mainland Division with their win over the Rivermen. The win was the second consecutive one against the Rivermen, but it may have come at a high cost as two game changing players were put on the shelf after suffering injuries in the game.

Jace Hennig was the first to go down after he was caught from behind and hit into the end boards on a play that never resulted in a penalty. Hennig went down and was slow to get up, requiring assistance to make it to the dressing room. Hennig seemed to be okay and returned to the game moments later to a round of applause from the Prince George fans on hand. After the adrenaline of the game wore off, Hennig informed the team that things weren’t right and the decision was made immediately not to risk further complications.

Shortly after Hennig returned to the ice, Cameron Lawson was seen leaving for the dressing room with Bill Baldridge, the team’s trainer right behind him. Lawson did not return to the game, but was seen afterwards still at the rink in his suit and tie. He too informed the team of his ailments and it was clear that he would not be available for today’s game with an injury that may have him sidelined for the season finale next weekend as well.

In the third period there was more concern for the Spruce Kings when rookie forward took a hard hit along the side wall while trying to clear a puck out of the zone. After a couple of second laying on the ice, Staley was able to recover his breathe after having the air knocked out of him and stayed in the game.

On the other side of the ice today, the Langley Rivermen are expected to be healthy and rested. After the long overnight bus trip to get to Prince George, the team will have welcomed a proper night’s rest. In Saturday’s loss to Prince George, the Rivermen did everything they could in the second period to tie the game but getting to within one on a shot from Mario Puskarich was all they could come up with.

Kirk Thompson played unbelievably in last night's win and on more than one occasion added highlight reel saves to his resume. The performance between the pipes allowed Prince George to stem the tide and Coltyn Hansen took the wind out of the visitor’s sails with a solo effort late in the second period. After picking the pocket of the defenceman on the point, Hansen batted the puck off the wall for himself and flew down the right side wall before picking the top corner short side on the Langley netminder.

One player who will be ready to go for today's game is Sean Landrey who had to sit and watch while serving a two game suspension for a blow to the head in a game one week ago today in Coquitlam. Landrey and the eight other forwards on the team will have to expect some extra ice time as Dave Dupas will have to roll three lines with a few defenceman getting some time up front in the game. Mitch Eden is a likely candidate for that role as he has the ability to carry the puck the length of the ice and make plays happen with some nice foot work and stick handling.

Liam McLeod is expected to get the start today and has been showing that he is a very capable goaltender. In his last start, McLeod kept his team in the game for fifty minutes but ultimately took the loss when Prince George could not find any offense against the Coquitlam Express.

Speaking of Coquitlam, that team could have a role to play in this game today. With a start time one hour earlier, the Express will be hosting the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in a game featuring two teams fighting to find a playoff berth. If the Express win they will be sitting just three points back of the Langley Rivermen watching the third period of this game from their dressing room.

The Langley Rivermen can end it for Coquitlam and clinch that fourth playoff spot in the Mainland Division with a win today over Prince George. As mentioned earlier, the Spruce Kings clinched third place last night and now know they will start the first round of the playoffs on the road in Chilliwack with game one on March 15th. Game two will also be at Prospera Centre on Saturday March 16th with the teams returning to Prince George for game three on March 18th. If a game four is required it will be played in the Coliseum on Tuesday March 19th and a fifth and deciding game is scheduled for Wednesday March 20th back in the Fraser Valley.

But that is two weekends away, today it is game number 55 of a 56 game regular season and the season series finale with the Langley Rivermen. Game time is 3pm with a full broadcast available online only! There will be no radio broadcast, but Ron St. Clair, Todd Doherty and Peter James will have all the pre-game, post game and action between the whistles starting at 2:35pm on the Spruce Kings MIXLR.com channel and as a pay-per-view video broadcast through FASTHOCKEY.com. Following the game today, fans who remembered to bring their skates with them will get to skate with the Spruce Kings.