Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Moving On To Salmon Arm

To look at the score sheet and find an overtime loss does not sum up the game the Spruce Kings had against the Penticton Vees last night. *note* At the time this blog is being posted, I would like to add that the score sheet has a few errors with it that are in the process of being corrected.

Going into Penticton is the epitome of never taking your opponent lightly, if you can't get motivated for a game against the Vees in the South Okanagan, you should be checking your pulse. The building is one of the largest in the Interior Division, the history that the team has built over its many years of existence is impressive and year after year they are considered to be a team that can go the distance. Given all of that, you can only imagine what must have been going through the heads of some of the rookies and even the vets as they got set to meet the latest edition of the Vees.

Perhaps the most interesting comment leading up to the game came from the head coach and the general manager of the Penticton Vees. Fred Harbinson told me that his team has just as many rookies and players that have been recruited out of minor hockey and high school hockey programs. He reminded me that his players have to play inside that arena far more than any other players have to and that they have to be motivated to play or the opposition will be leaving with the points.

The Spruce Kings came out hungry and on the first shift were able to get a great scoring chance with the puck being frozen in the blue paint by the Vees netminder Billy Faust. After that opening shift, the Vees started to take over the play and were the recipient of a long point shot that was tipped in on its way to the net to open the scoring two and a half minutes into the contest.

Playing on his first shift of the regular season after returning from an injury, Faiz Khan got turned around and his stick came up resulting in a double minor for high sticking. Although Logan Johnston would receive a minor just five seconds later nullifying the first half of the double minor, the Vees would add a powerplay tally seconds after Johnston was released from his penalty box.

Down 2-0 on 11 shots not seven minutes into the game, the coaching staff made the never easy decision of pulling the starting goaltender in favour of eighteen year old rookie Kirk Thompson ... and did he ever look good. In the end he stopped 29 of 30 shots as the Spruce Kings were able to use him as a catalyst to get back to even and force overtime.

The first goal came off a faceoff win from Connor Tiechko back to Justin Fillion, the point man walked along the blue line and let a low hard shot go that was tipped by Kyle Manlow in front off the goal post. With the puck sitting between the post and the goalie, Faust swung around in a desperation move to clear the puck and ended up knocking it into his own net with Chris Bodo and Tiechko both reaching to poke the puck in themselves.

It would be the third period before the red light would be lit again and it was a result of the top line converting on a broken play. With the play moving out of the Vees end, Nicolas DeSousa was able to knock down the puck and put it into the left corner. Jujhar Khaira picked it up, drawing the pair of defenders to him as he moved to go behind the net. Khaira then spotted RJay Berra coming back into the zone and put the puck out into the left faceoff circle where Berra was able to swipe at it and beat Faust to tie the game with 7:30 remaining.

The two teams traded late powerplay chances but neither was able to capitalize with the extra man. The Vees powerplay extended for 42 seconds into the first overtime period which they used to get a couple of shots on Thompson. The defence for Prince George played a great game keeping the Vees buzzing on the outside and allowing Thompson to see the shots, make the saves and control the rebounds.

The highlight of the night came in double overtime when the teams were 3-on-3; the Spruce Kings were trying to setup in the Vees end to get a shot on goal but the puck squirted free giving Curtis Loik a breakaway from his own blue line. Thompson played it perfectly and stayed with the shooter making the save with the puck sitting under his left thigh on the blue line.

A few seconds later the game would come to a heartbreaking end for the Spruce Kings when the Vees sixteen year old defenceman Tyler Stecher came down the left side, used a spin-a-rama move to get past the Spruce Kings d-man. Stecher continued behind the net and went from a wrap around that Thompson got a pad on to make the stop, the puck went up and over the goaltender coming down in the crease for Logan Johnston to find and direct into the open net.

Thompson played 61:31 in total and with his 29 save performance was named the game's second star, although I gave him the first star honours for his 96.67 save percentage and 0.98 goals against average. Once the scoresheet and the stats are correct to show these numbers, Thompson will move up into the fourth spot among goaltenders in the BCHL.

Thompson's performance on Tuesday night will earn him the start tonight against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks as the Spruce Kings still look for their first regular season win. History has provided many memorable games and results for these two in the Sunwave Centre and tonight should be no exception as the two teams meet for the first time this year.

Following the game the Spruce Kings will return home in preparation for a three game weekend with games against the Vernon Vipers on Friday night, the Penticton Vees on Saturday night and the Vipers again for a matinee game Sunday at 3pm. Tonight's game will be available as an audio only webcast from the Spruce Kings UStream channel available here


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