The Vancouver Island roadtrip did not start off the best but as it progressed the team showed positive signs as they hit the quarter mark of their regular season. In the first game on Wednesday night in Duncan against the Cowichan Valley Capitals, the Spruce Kings found themselves down 5-0 to a very physical team that started taking some liberties on the visitors.
One particular play led to a five minute major for a check to the head putting the Spruce Kings on an extended powerplay. RJay Berra did get the Spruce Kings on the board and that was followed up by what looked like good goals from both Brendon Fornwald and another from RJay Berra but were both waved off after the play by the referee.
As if that wasn't enough to zap team morale, the Spruce Kings would suffer another significant loss just moments later. On an offside play Nic DeSousa was cross checked in the back on the blue line and then the offending player turned his stick on Justin Fillion and cross checked him to the ice with a hit from behind. The extracurricular activity led to a multiple fight situation that left the officials confused as to who was involved in the altercations.
To add insult to Fillion's injury, he was assessed a fighting major and game misconduct; Brendon Fornwald was also tagged for the same infraction. After a league review the penalties were straightened out but with the new Junior A Supplement discipline document in effect this season, the additional fights drew two game suspensions each. Head coach Ed Dempsey was also assessed a single game suspension, despite being clearly seen on the bench restraining his players to make sure the situation didn't get farther out of hand.
When the dust settled after that first game the Spruce Kings had two new injuries to contend with and the pair of suspensions leaving the team three skaters short for their game in Nanaimo against the Clippers. The Clippers who were hungry for their first home ice victory showed the visitors just how hungry they were and jumped out to an early 4-0 lead before the Spruce Kings could find a tally of their own. But it was far too little as the Clippers handed the Spruce Kings their worst loss of the season.
The Spruce Kings then headed to Port Alberni for third game of the road trip against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. The Spruce Kings were able to keep this game close despite giving up an early first goal, tying the game up at one before surrendering a power play goal later in the first and another in the second.
In the third period of Saturday's the veterans combined forces to mount a comeback, RJay Berra got it started with a powerplay tally. Unfortunately the Bulldogs would respond with two of their own before Nic DeSousa picked up a pair including a last minute short handed tally, but that was as close as the team could get dropping a 5-4 decision. Just before DeSousa's two goals, a large salmon was thrown on the ice during the play just missing Jeff Earnest as the city of Port Alberni decided to use this game to celebrate the recent announcement that they were the salmon fishing capital of the world.
The Spruce Kings wrapped up their road trip in the province's capital against the Victoria Grizzlies. Before the game was nine minutes old the Grizzlies found themselves up 2-0 over the visitors on the only two shots that would beat Kirk Thompson. The eighteen year old rookie was nothing short of sensational on this night robbing the Grizzlies of sure goals numerous times.
The loan marker on the night for the Spruce Kings came just after the nine minute mark of the first period on a nice play started by Derek Henderson to keep the puck in the offensive zone. From there it was the forecheck of Connor Tiechko that caused the Victoria defenceman to cough up the puck, Tiechko gave it to a wide open Faiz Khan who made no mistake finding the open part of the net for his fourth of the season.
From that point out though neither team could find a way to score another although the Spruce Kings celebrated a goal in the second period. From the right side faceoff circle, Chris Bodo let go a high hard shot that the Grizzlies netminder was able to deflect off his shoulder. The netminder went one way and the rebound went the other way behind the net. On a head's up play from the impossible angle, Tiechko banked the puck off a diving defenseman's leg as the defender slid into the back of the net.
With the Spruce Kings heading down the other end of the ice to celebrate the goal with their goaltender, the referee listened to pleas of the Victoria Grizzlies players and then talked with the goal judge. Before the Spruce Kings could back down the ice to get in on the conversation, the referee gave the signal of no goal on the goal judge's explanation that he did not see the puck cross the line through the bodies. In the third period the Spruce Kings did not fare much better and would eventual surrender an empty net goal on their 41st shot on net.
With the first quarter of the season now done, the Spruce Kings are obviously looking for a better second quarter. After playing 15 games in 30 days, the Spruce Kings will get a little more down time between games with their next 15 taking 42 days to play out.
With the exception of the Powell River Kings, the opposition in the second quarter will come from the Interior Conference with five games against the Trail Smoke Eaters; two against the Vernon Vipers, Merritt Centennials and Westside Warriors. Singles against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, Penticton Vees and Quesnel Millionaires round out the next fifteen games with the money men next up on Saturday night in the Vault.