Well this is all unfamiliar territory for the Spruce Kings as they will miss the post season for just the third time in its 14 year BCHL existence. The undesirable became all too real on Sunday night when the Spruce Kings were kept off the score sheet in Penticton. Perhaps unfortunately, the ending was inevitable as the Spruce Kings struggled to maintain leads and put away opponents when they could.
As a team the Spruce Kings could not make it into the post season but looking at players, there have been a lot of personal successes. Perhaps this shows just how much puck luck can impact a game as anything. The Spruce Kings had two players consistently in the top twenty among league scorers up to the trade deadline, they also saw players double their career numbers and improve on rookie season totals.
With three games still to go in the regular season, all players stand to improve their numbers even more. Good news for a pair of rookie defenceman that have yet to hit the score sheet with their first BCHL career goals. It should come as no surprise that there are defenceman on the team still looking for their first goal of the season; preventing goals against is a defenceman's first priority. Just the same it would be nice to be able to call out the names of Jeff Datoff and Jesse Scrimbit before the end of the 2009-10 season.
Between the pipes, the Spruce Kings had their fair share of issues that was highlighted by the departure of Alex Wright to the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League. If that wasn't bad enough, his replacement was hit hard by the injury bug. Steve Papciak was earning wins and posting decent numbers in goal before the trade deadline.
Things are much better between the pipes with the acquisition of Andrew Walsh from the Langley Chiefs and the noticeable improvements of Kyle Nielsen. Since the Christmas break Nielsen has shown that he is committed to being better and in that first game back from the break was the best player on the ice for the Spruce Kings. From then on, I noticed that Nielsen had become a more focused player prior to game time and recently I have seen an intensity in him that was missing earlier in the year. Back to Andrew for a moment, his season highlight actually came away from the rink when he won the opportunity to run with the Olympic Torch in its final leg before the opening of the Olympic games.
The Spruce Kings have been blessed over recent seasons with defenceman that have the ability to jump up on the rush. Perhaps it is something that the coaching staff encourages and develops through practice or it is something that is actively recruited, either way it always adds for excitement in the game. Reid Blinkhorn, who came up from the Junior B ranks and hasn't looked out of place, scored a highlight reel goal against the Merritt Centennials in his first game with the Spruce Kings.
Brad Bourke and Justin Fillion are two other defenceman that aren't afraid to jump up on the rush and along with their lion's share of ice time, the pair have posted some respectable offensive numbers. Currently sitting third among team scoring, Fillion has more than doubled his points from last season with a majority of those a result of setting up team mates. Bourke has also seen a significant increase in his numbers and has had seven multi-point games so far this season.
The other defenceman on the Spruce Kings roster has also enjoyed dual duty throughout the season playing up front on a forward assignment. Moving out west with his family in the off-season, Jonathan Gibson is one goal away from tripling his previous season in the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
Another player that can boost of a better than 300% increase in goals this season over last year is sophomore Nick DeSousa. In his rookie year DeSousa finished with 7 goals and this year he sits with 22. Without any special teams goals etc last year, this season DeSousa has 5 power play goals, two shorthanded goals and a game winner to his credit.
In his final season of Junior 'A' eligibility, Joe Morgan is closing in on a 40 point and a 20 goal season. Although Joe broke the twenty goal mark last season, he came up one point shy of that 40 point benchmark. As a sixteen year old, Morgan played in six games as an AP and then started full-time with the Spruce Kings in the 2007-08 season. With 167 games played for the Spruce Kings, Morgan will move into the top ten among alumni and top five among forwards for games played wearing the Crown.
A sixteen year old on the roster this season, Lyndon Martell has quietly accumulated five powerplay goals as part of his 13 goals and 15 assists in 41 games. Martell started the season with the Cariboo Cougars squad and was producing on such a pace that, even after he joined the Spruce Kings in mid-October, he still earned the player of the month of October in the BC Major Midget League.
Five other rookies have each left their mark on the 2009-10 edition of the Spruce Kings. Jeremy Wiebe has always been prepared to step in to defend the honour of a team mate. Kyle Manlow has taught many an opponent to keep their head on a swivel with some hard body checks that led many times to a change of possession. Luke Hannas leads the team in penalty minutes, but as of late has developed a taste for time on the ice, especially in front of the net. Scoring twice in consecutive games recently, it isn't surprising to find Hannas making space for himself and calling for the puck.
Stewart Lambert took a year off away from the rink to attend to his educational commitments has come back this year and has been working as hard on the ice. Earlier this season, Jeff Earnest became the latest member of the Spruce Kings to earn a NCAA Division I scholarship. Earnest is set to move up to the college ranks in the 2011-12 season giving this forward another year to develop in the Junior 'A' ranks.
Saving the top line for last, the trio of RJay Berra, Zac Rasmussen and Sam Muchalla were recently placed together on the top line and they found immediate chemistry. Working on getting to that 20 goal plateau, Berra has already doubled his goals and tripled his assists from last season. In a single season Rasmussen has more than doubled his points from his two years with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks and is three away from doubling his goals. Many of these goals have been big for the team as well with 5 on the powerplay, 2 shorthanded and 5 eventual game winning goals.
Sam Muchalla has been producing a frantic pace and has been moving through the top ten among the league. Muchalla currently sits just three points behind his rookie year mentor - Jordie Christian. In his third season with the Spruce Kings, Muchalla has earned a spot on the team's top ten list for points in a single season and is four points away from moving into the top five for a career. The name Sam Muchalla will be all over the Spruce Kings record book not just for points and goals but also for games played and assists as well as powerplay goals and game winning goals.
Well there is a brief on all of the players on the Spruce Kings roster as the 2009-10 season will come to a close on Saturday night. On Monday the team, the players and the volunteers will convene in the Cariboo Restaurant for the Annual Player Awards and Banquet. Among the hardware to be handed out will be a chance to send the players off to next stop in their hockey careers and wish them well along the way.
Prior to Monday night I will look at the list of awards and look back at some of the names on those awards as they get shined up and ready to be presented to their 2009-10 recipients.