It is never easy at this time of the year with player's playing lives hanging in the balance while the powers that be discuss possible scenarios to make their teams better. Some want to be better right away and find that one piece that can complete the puzzle and compliment their core while others have to look to next season and beyond. For the Spruce Kings, they were the latter but with a condition that they don't want to completely give up on the current season and that was evident by the final moves on trade deadline day.
Widely rumoured to be going, Wes McLeod ended up proving all the arm chair general managers correct, but who would have expected the Spruce Grove Saints to win this lottery. The Saints are leading the Alberta Junior Hockey League and are ranked second in the country with an impressive record of 37 wins, 3 losses, 1 tie and 3 overtime losses for a total of 78 points. Not a shoe-in to win the league championship but well on their way, the Saints are 15 points up on their next closest competitor - the Grande Prairie Storm - with sixteen games remaining in their regular season.
The addition of Wes McLeod gives the Spruce Grove Saints the most NCAA committed players on an Alberta Junior Hockey League roster with five. Perhaps best of all for McLeod, who has only played for the Spruce Kings in his Junior A career, there are two other players committed to his school - the University of Alaska Anchorage. Brett Cameron is another 19 year old that will be moving on in the fall of 2010 with Wes to play for the Seawolves. Scott Allen is also 19 years old but has an option to play one more year of junior before moving up to the college level.
Wes McLeod spent the better part of three seasons with the Spruce Kings and became the centre of attention because of his play and skating style. Selected twice to represent the Prince George Spruce Kings at the BCHL All Star game, McLeod has also played in the CJAHL Prospects Game and represented Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge. Wes is a soft spoken and unassuming individual off the ice but a fierce competitor on the ice.
The only other 19 year old player to be moved off the Spruce Kings roster as part of a trade deadline deal saw goaltender Steve Papciak head to the AJHL with the Canmore Eagles. After Alex Wright was acquired by the Prince George Cougars of the WHL, the Spruce Kings struck a deal with the Okotoks Oilers of the AJHL that brought Papciak over the Rockies to play in the BCHL. Papciak played in eight games with the Spruce Kings compiling a record of 4 wins, 2 losses and 1 tie before missing a handful of games due to an injury.
Three twenty year old players were also dealt on this day with Josh Pineiro being the only player to be traded within the BCHL; Brooks Robinson was traded to the Fort McMurray Oil Barons and Marcus Watson to the Grande Prairie Storm. Pineiro was a mid-season acquisition from the Alberni Valley Bulldogs last year and has played in 70 games for the Spruce Kings. During his stay with Prince George, Pineiro scored 9 goals and added 27 assists.
Perhaps his biggest goal was scored in overtime on October 6th to give the Spruce Kings a 2-1 win over the Millionaires. Pineiro's goal celebration saw him slide through centre ice banging on an imaginary drum for members of the Blue Man Group to see. The musical group was so impressed with the game and the goal celebration that they requested a dressing room visit and gave the entire team tickets to their show the following night.
For the second consecutive trade deadline, Brooks Robinson is heading from a royal family in the BCHL to a team in the northern division of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Last year at this time saw Robinson dealt from the Powell River Kings to Grande Prairie where he eventually helped the Storm win the league championship, this year Robinson will be leaving the Spruce Kings to head farther north in Alberta to play for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons.
Robinson led the Spruce Kings with points from the beginning of the season, finishing with 18 goals and 40 assists. His 58 points was good enough to put him in the top ten among the league leaders tied for ninth spot with Mark McMillian of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. Robinson's gift was in the faceoff circle and finding the open man as evident by the number of assists he tallied over 44 games. The forty helpers he tallied with the Prince George Spruce Kings is fifth among the league leaders this season.
Marcus Watson was the only other player traded before the trade deadline going to the Grande Prairie Storm. Watson only played in eleven games with the Spruce Kings, but in that short time managed to average better than a point a game finishing with 3 goals and 11 assists. Watson was no stranger to Prince George having played here with the Cougars before being sent to the Langley Chiefs.
In his final game with the Spruce Kings, Watson was able to play against his former team. Although he recieved a warm welcome on the video screen, the same couldn't be said about the reception he recieved from his former teammates. On one rush around the Chiefs net, Watson was caught with a clean hip check that put the speedy forward horizontal to the ice surface level with the dasher. The check was hard enough to dislodge the glass behind the goal resulting in a ten minute stoppage in play.
All five deals were made with the Spruce Kings getting future considerations in return for the players. It will be interesting to see what players the Spruce Kings will get next year to compliment their roster as they will now finish out the season with still a strong core of players. I expect to be seeing a few of the holes filled for the remaining games with at least a couple of the players that the team has listed as their affiliate players or APs.
The core that remains are still confident that they can make a push for the playoffs as one of the four teams vying for the three bottom playoff spots. That core includes Sam Muchalla, Zac Rasmussen, Joe Morgan and Brad Bourke who will all finish their Junior A careers with Prince George. Justin Fillion, RJay Berra and Nick DeSousa are second season veterans that will also be called upon to fill leadership roles. The departure of the five players will provide a great opportunity for the rookies and younger players to elevate their game, push for a playoff spot and gain some much needed experience for seasons to come.
Trade deadline day is never easy for the players or those that try so hard to make sure they do the absolute best they can for the player and for the team. Perhaps lost in all of this is the thanks that needs to be given to Ed Dempsey and Mike Hawes who worked very hard over the past few days to make sure the best interests of all the players was taken into consideration before any trade was made. I wish only the best for Wes McLeod, Steve Papciak, Josh Pineiro, Brooks Robinson and Marcus Watson. I also firmly believe the players that remain have what it takes to make it to the playoffs and once the second season starts anything is possible.