Monday, January 31, 2011

Playoff Spot in Sight

Okay admit it ... when was the last time you heard the words “Spruce Kings” and “playoff spot” used together in a positive statement? Probably not in quite awhile and that is understandable given the record the team has put together this season. If you do want to hear those words together and see faces beaming when they say it, come down to the rink ... every player is saying it to themselves, each other and anybody who will listen and they are saying it with conviction.

The Spruce Kings just put the finishing touches to their first winning month of the season and it comes at a time when a lot of people had already jumped off the bandwagon. In the month of January, the Spruce Kings finished with a positive record of 4 wins, 3 losses and 2 overtime losses. Those wins weren’t easy either with a total of five games being decided in extra time.

The wins were against the likes of Vernon (5-4 in overtime), Westside (5-4 in overtime), Alberni Valley (5-4 in overtime) and Merritt (4-1) while the two overtime losses were a 1-0 decision to the Merritt Centennials and a 5-4 final in Vernon against the Vipers. The record to start 2011 has also launched the Spruce Kings climb from an uneasy eight points out of a playoff spot to where they are now – one game back of the team that sits on that final rung of the Interior Division playoff ladder.

This past weekend saw the team head out on the road with the mindset that all the points were there for the taking. On the first night they had to overcome a 3-0 first period deficit in Vernon to force the two-time defending National Champions to overtime. The Spruce Kings did lose that game in the extra frame 5-4 but it gave them confidence, something they haven’t had a lot of to work with this season and perhaps something they wish now they had left behind.

The following night in Salmon Arm, the Spruce Kings went away from the game plan that had brought them a measure of success in games against the Merritt Centennials, the Westside Warriors and the Vernon Vipers – all games played after the trade deadline. Unable to keep up with the fast moving and faster passing Silverbacks, the Spruce Kings lost an ugly one that left coaches, players and fans embarrassed and bewildered at the turn of events.

After surveying the aftermath and analysing the destruction, the team dusted themselves off and refocused for their game against the Merritt Centennials on Sunday afternoon. In the first period, the game had shades of the previous night with the opposition seemingly having their way with the Spruce Kings. The difference this time was the determination of one individual not to allow this game to become another blowout – Kirk Thompson was nothing short of sensational in the opening frame turning aside 23 shots and keeping the opposition off the scoreboard.

In the dressing room during the intermission the players fed off the performance of their goaltender and turned the game around in the second period putting together a solid twenty minutes that resulted in three scoring chances and one goal. Leading 1-0 after forty minutes, Connor Tiechko only needed 23 seconds of the first shift in the third period to pot the eventual game winning goal on a wrap-around from behind the net.

The 2-0 goal sparked more players and a couple of shifts later Brandon Watson found himself streaking down the right wing with Trent Murdoch coming through the middle. Watson dropped Murdoch the puck as he crossed the blue line into the Centennials zone and watched as Murdoch moved in on the goaltender beating him on the glove side to give the visitors a 3-0 lead. That goal spelled the end for Lino Chimienti between the pipes and brought in Tyler Steel. The goaltending change and the time out seemed to spark the Centennials as they went hard for the rest of the period looking to get on the board.

The relentless pressure forced the Spruce Kings to call a time out with just under four minutes remaining in hopes of settling down the troops. The ensuing faceoff inside the Spruce Kings came back to the point and resulted in a shot on goal that went off some skates in front. In the goal mouth scramble Evan Stack ended the shutout bid for Kirk Thompson as he was able to poke it under the rookie netminder and get the Centennials on the board.

That would be the only goal for Merritt in this game although they would get a few more chances with the extra attacker on the ice. From the slot inside his own zone and with time running down, Kyle Manlow grabbed the puck and, in what can only be equated to a bowler’s stance as he releases the ball with one knee on the lane, fired the puck straight down the ice into the empty net. The shot and the goal with less than 8 seconds remaining in the third sealed the victory for the Spruce Kings and the faceoff at centre was only a formality to let the clock tick down the rest of the way.

The win left the players in good spirits and an understanding that the end goal may be more in reach than it was before the weekend started but with work still to be done. With only eight games remaining in the regular season, the Spruce Kings need to come up with three more points than the Quesnel Millionaires who have a similar schedule. For Prince George it starts this Friday with their final Inter-Divisional game of the season as the Nanaimo Clippers come to town. After that is a game in Quesnel, a three game home weekend and a final set of three on the road to finish off the regular season.

The Spruce Kings can’t get too far ahead of themselves as the Nanaimo Clippers have already shown that they can be a tough opponent to overlook. Earlier this season the Clippers handed the Spruce Kings a 10-2 loss in the second game of their four game Island road trip. Nanaimo currently sits fifth in the Coastal Conference with 56 points, three behind Victoria and three ahead of Alberni Valley. The Clippers will be in Prince George for their third game in four nights and third game of four in five nights through the Interior Conference.

A playoff spot is there for the taking for Prince George, but they will have to stick to a game plan that gave them their first winning month and first .500 or better record through ten games of the season.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Jordan White Suits Up for the San Jose Sharks

What a treat to turn on the Vancouver Canucks game and see, Jordan White, a Spruce Kings alumni getting into his first NHL game with the San Jose Sharks. Normally the tandem of Antti Niemi and Antero Nittymaki would be the go to guys between the pipes for the San Jose Sharks, but that changed earlier in the day. After Nittymaki was placed on the Injury Reserve list, the Sharks turned to the former Spruce Kings and current UBC netminder to fill the role of backup goaltender, signing White to a one-day amateur tryout contract.

Jordan White making a save in goal for the Spruce Kings
(January 14, 2007)
Seeing Jordan sitting on the bench with that smile reminded me of the goaltender that played out the 2006/07 season with the Spruce Kings including the record setting semi-final game in the RBC Royal Bank Cup. It started out as any other game in the tournament that week with an appearance in the National Championship Game at stake. The Spruce Kings started out the game the right way building up a 2-0 lead early in the second period against the defending Champions.

The Camrose Kodiaks showed the Prince George fans why they were in the National Championship for a second straight year after cutting the lead in half before the end of the second and then tying the game in the third. At the end of regulation time, the Kodiaks led 42-34 on the shot clock and had one powerplay goal in five chances while keeping the Spruce Kings without an odd man tally in four tries.

Overtime in the National Championship is of the full meal variety with a full intermission between 20 minute periods. This scenario played out in the Prince George Multiplex for a five full periods and got in to a sixth before the game was final settled six hours after it began - shortly after 1am local time.

Overtime action in the RBC semi final game
(May 13, 2007)
Although the eventual game winning goal was the most important play at the time, the real story of the game was the goaltending in overtime, especially from Jordan White. In that record setting game, White faced a total of 93 shots from the Camrose Kodiaks and after being beat on the 23rd and 41st shot, proceeded to shut the door making save after save of the spectacular variety. The performance between the pipes earned the then 19 year old goaltender player of the game honours and the team a berth into the Championship game.

Unfortunately the physical, mental and emotional drain of the game that took a total of 146 minutes to play, 86 minutes of which were played under the stressful setting of sudden death, was just too much to over come in the final game. The Spruce Kings won silver, but for the fans that were in the building that night, the team won gold in that semi final game.

Oh and as for the eventual winning goal ... that was scored by Jason Yuel tipping a Tyler Helfrich shot under the cross bar while on the powerplay ... their first powerplay goal of the game in ten opportunities. It was a beautiful goal that can be found in the Hockey Hall of Fame in the form of Jason Yuel's stick and the puck that came 122:50 minutes after the Spruce Kings made it a 2-0 game.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Weekend Preview: The Smoke and The Snakes

Is the glass half full or half empty ... seems to be a lot of people around thinking that the Spruce Kings have opted to build for next season and just let this season go, but don't let the coaches or players hear you say that. The immediate goal, according to the team, is to make the playoffs and let the second season take care of itself. At the same time everyone agrees that it won't be an easy task, but that just leads to the cliché of taking it one game at a time.

"A lot of people see us as building for next season," said Spruce Kings defenceman and assistant captain, Trevor Esau. "We want to make it into the playoffs and that is our goal right now."

Earlier in the week the Spruce Kings found themselves busy during the trade deadline and in the end the top three goal scorers were gone along with a few other players from the roster replaced by some younger players that will be available next season as well. Gone are RJay Berra (34G, 21A), Nic DeSousa (13G, 29A) and Justin Fillion (14G, 27A) the top three goal scorers through three quarters of the season. Derek Henderson also found himself on the trading block going to Grande Prairie with Berra.

"It's a little bit different (in the room) without RJay, Deuce and Filly," adds Esau. "They were the go-to guys, but now we have other guys that are stepping up ... it is really different that's for sure."

Coming in return for those players, and a few others that were used as bargaining chips to sweeten the pot, are Sam Waterfield (D), Ben Woodley (D), Dustin Beairsto (F) and Todd Skirving (F). Waterfield was playing with the Dawson Creek Rage of the North American Hockey League (31GP, 3G, 11A), Skirving with the Vernon Vipers (34GP, 4G, 5A) while both Woodley (41GP, 6G, 26A) and Beairsto (37GP, 4G, 3A) were with the Grande Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

The team will look a little different, not just because of the players gone or the players coming in, but because of the new roles and the new opportunities for all the players.

"We lost a lot of offense," admits Spruce Kings head coach, Dave Dupas. "So we're going to have to play a little more defensively and try to shut teams down and get the goals against down. Hopefully we can win games 2-1 or 3-2, not 5-4 as we have been doing."

The Spruce Kings first test comes Friday night versus the Trail Smoke Eaters and then that will be followed up on Saturday night against the Vernon Vipers. Interestingly enough the Spruce Kings have had more success this season against the Vipers than they have against the Smoke Eaters. The Spruce Kings will have to figure out how to extinguish the fire that Trail started for themselves on Thursday night in Quesnel with an 8-2 win over the Millionaires.

The win means that Quesnel now only has one game in hand on Prince George with that six point cushion. That doesn't change the fact that the Spruce Kings have to win games in order to catch the Millionaires ... something they haven't done in five tries against the Smokies so far this season. This will be the final meeting between the two teams who played each other five times in less than a month including a pair of weekend double headers.

The biggest change since those five games is that Nic DeSousa will now be skating for the visiting team in the Castle. DeSousa, who scored a goal and had three assists as a Spruce King versus the Smoke Eaters, will now be wearing an orange and white jersey and looking to pick up his first points with his new team. Nic DeSousa was the only player deal that the Smoke Eaters made which is an indication of how happy the team is with their roster when all players are healthy.

Injuries have played a big role in a recent slide experienced by the Trail Smoke Eaters but, with almost everybody back, the idea is that they will be able to recover some of the lost ground on the top four teams in the Interior Conference. After Thursday's game, the Smoke Eaters are tied with the Westside Warriors with 51 points through 45 games played and eight points back of that top spot currently occupied by the Penticton Vees.

In the last few weeks of the season, the Smoke Eaters have a total of seven games to play between the four front runners so keeping pace or even gaining some ground now is vital to their cause before they lose at least ten players through scholarships and age restrictions at the end of the season. The list of graduates that the Smoke Eaters will lose includes Scott Jacklin, Sam Mellor, Travis St. Denis, Nic DeSousa and Paul Mailey (five of their top six goal scorers) and their twenty year old goaltender - Kiefer Smiley.

The Spruce Kings no longer have that situation weighing on them for next season with only one twenty year old (Faiz Khan) and one scholarship that starts in 2011-12 (Jeff Earnest). Right now the problem for the Spruce Kings is a full roster with only eighteen players on that list. The short bench will need to be filled with affiliate players when available and will also mean much more ice time for everyone. Staying healthy and ready for that type of ice time is something the team has been working on for awhile now.

"We've been working on getting the new guys comfortable," says Spruce Kings assistant captain, Trevor Esau. "I know now that I need to step up my game, we all have to do our part and make it happen and to make the most of our situation. I don't think anyone is prepared to give up."

That positive attitude will come in handy on Saturday night when the Vernon Vipers slither in to town. Vernon might be ahead of Prince George in the standings but they have had their difficulties with the Spruce Kings. The two teams have split the four meetings in the season series so far winning one in each other's barn and once each in their own. With the exception of one game ... neither team has been able to score more than three goals with two of them being decided by 3-1 scores and the other a 3-2 overtime win for the Spruce Kings in Vernon.

At the trade deadline, the final deal of the day was between the Spruce Kings and the Vipers. Vernon wanted Ryan Renz who was property of the Spruce Kings from a deal made earlier in the day. The Vipers agreed to trade Todd Skirving and future considerations for the 17 year old defenceman that had been off the ice since December 18th. Todd Skirving on the other hand has indicated that he wants to play and he is going to get a chance to do just that on the top line with Faiz Khan and Jujhar Khaira.

Sean Landrey will be AP'ed again this weekend by the Prince George Spruce Kings to help offset the short bench. In last weekend's pair of 5-4 overtime victories, Landrey didn't look out of place and got involved with some physical play in both ends of the ice. Landrey is a bigger body that can help wear down the opposition. In fact the Spruce Kings are now the second biggest and second tallest team in the BCHL while being the youngest team on average at 18.17 years in the League. In comparison the Trail Smoke Eaters are the fifth oldest at 18.68 years but that is still younger than the Powell River Kings that come in at an average age of 18.91 years.

This weekend look for the new guys and their new numbers ... Sam Waterfield #7, Ben Woodley #10, Sean Landrey #18, Todd Skirving #21 and Dustin Beairsto #25. The other thing to be looking for is the letters, with the departure of the captain and two assistants, the Spruce Kings will be handing out letters to a few new players who have worked hard and shown the leadership and character to wear a letter alongside the crown.

Game time both nights is 7:00pm at the Prince George Coliseum with the games being broadcast on 93.1 CFIS-FM and also online from the Spruce Kings website and the BCHL Pay-Per-View online webcast. Pregame show with Roland Ziprick and Todd Doherty along with Ron Gallo will start at 6:40pm both nights.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Trades and Related News

January 10th trade deadline can be an ordeal for players, teams and fans who wait for news on what will be. This past trade deadline was no exception but I think the BCHL got it right with its recommendation that all trade details be placed on a publication ban until 10am the following day ... by the way the AJHL did the same thing waiting until 9am Tuesday.

The reasons for this delay in releasing details is quite simply to allow the teams to contact players, both those being traded to another team as well as those coming in. It allows the team to have a chance to say thanks for the contributions and to start the process of welcoming in the new guys.

With the trade deadline, the Spruce Kings had to say their goodbyes and issue wishes of good luck to four players including three that had been playing together for the past three seasons and that was after playing together for many years prior to joining the Spruce Kings. Justin Fillion, Nic DeSousa and RJay Berra along with Derek Henderson were all informed of their fate and given the information of where they were heading to finish out their junior careers.

Justin Fillion was the first to learn that he was heading to Victoria to play for the Grizzlies. The deal with Fillion saw the Spruce Kings end up with Dylan Nowakowski and future considerations. Nowakowski was then package up with Mike Puddifant and the pair were traded to the Alberni Valley Bulldogs for Ryan Renz.

The next trade involved Nic DeSousa going to the Trail Smoke Eaters in exchange for future considerations.

The leading scorer in the BCHL and current BCHL Player of the Week was up next as RJay Berra was told that he was going to play in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the Grande Prairie Storm. Derek Henderson was also informed that he was heading to Grande Prairie. In return the Spruce Kings received forward Dustin Beairsto and defenceman Ben Woodley and future considerations.

In one final deal before the end of the day, Ryan Renz was traded to the Vernon Vipers in exchange for forward Todd Skirving and future considerations.

On Sunday, prior to the trade deadline, the Spruce Kings were able to ink Sam Waterfield to the roster. Waterfield had been a defenceman with the Dawson Creek Rage of the North American Hockey League.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Trade Deadline ...

Please be advised that all trades and the particulars of any deals made as part of the January 10th trade deadline will be withheld until 10am January 11th as per a British Columbia Hockey League policy endorsed by the Prince George Spruce Kings.

Although we understand the desire for this information to be available as soon as possible, we are dealing with players between the ages of 18 and 20. Ensuring that all players and respective teams are contacted is of the utmost importance at this time.

The British Columbia Hockey League will not be adjusting their website or listing any transactions until after 10am January 11th and the Spruce Kings will be following the lead of the BCHL.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Weekend Preview - Mills and Dogs

This weekend the Spruce Kings will hit the three quarter mark of the season when they play game number 44 and 45 against the Quesnel Millionaires and the Alberni Valley Bulldogs on Friday and Saturday respectfully. It will be the seventh meeting of eight this season against the Mills and the second and final meeting against the 'dogs.

Starting first with the Quesnel Millionaires, this is an opportunity for Prince George to pick up the proverbial four points in a divisional game while Saturday night's game is a chance to pick up a pair of important points in an inter-divisional game. At this point in the season, all games and their points are that much more important as games remaining become fewer leaving less opportunities to move up in the standings.

Eight points back of the Millionaires for the final playoff spot, the importance of this one game is not lost on anybody - a win and the Spruce Kings are three games back, but a loss puts the Spruce Kings down by double digits. In their last three meetings against their Friday night opponent, the Spruce Kings won twice and more importantly kept the Mills to only five goals total and only three against in the previous two.

"For us we have to build on the three goals against in the last two games," said Spruce Kings head coach, Dave Dupas. "If we can keep our shots down under thirty against and keep the goals against down, then we'll have a chance to win every night. We just have to start scoring."

Still sitting as the top goal scorer in the league, RJay Berra is two points from moving back in to the top ten among the league's most offensively productive players. On December 11, Berra tallied a hat trick and set up another in a 4-2 win over the Millionaires. In the six previous head-to-head matchups the Spruce Kings captain is the team's leading scorer against the Quesnel Millionaires with 7 goals and 2 assists.

"Anytime you have success individually against a team it is always good," said RJay Berra. "But the last two games they have been able to keep me off the scoresheet for the most part. I think the team as a whole has to get back to outworking them in the offensive zone, getting in on the attack from there and then we have to get the pucks in the net even if they are ugly goals."

With a week off since their last game, the Spruce Kings have had lots of opportunities to practice systems and come up with a game plan for their first game of 2011. Dave Dupas characterized the week as a mini-training camp with all players going through intense practice and fitness routines.

"We used this week to get them used to what they are going to be doing here," said Dupas. "Which is going to be hard work. They're going to go to practice, they're going to work hard. They're going to go to the gym, they're going to work hard. That's just the way it is going to be here and we used this week to get that point across to these guys and I think they were very accepting and willing to do what we asked."

"We worked on everything that we think that we need to touch on," continued Dupas. "For us, we have to keep working on things on a daily basis and just try to keep getting better little by little."

When asked about the specific opponents, Dupas mentioned that there have been areas of concern with the Quesnel Millionaires finding ways of getting odd man rushes. He also talked about having to match their work effort and keeping their go-to guys contained and off the scoresheet ... something the Spruce Kings have already had some success with.

Since the Christmas break, the Millionaires are .500 with one win, one loss and one overtime loss in three one goal games. In their last ten games dating back to December 3rd, the Mills are only one game below .500 with a 4-5-0-1 record having kept all games close scoring 25 times while limiting the opposition to 31 goals in those ten games.

Players to pay attention to on the Millionaires roster include their top three scorers of course - Spencer Graboski, Skyler Smutek and Malcolm Gould - but there are three others that have been adding scoring depth. Leading the way is Chris Blessing who has 4 goals and 4 assists in his last ten games and has registered five points (2g, 3a) in four games versus the Spruce Kings.

A pair of rookies also have numbers worthy of note - Derek Huisman is a point a game guy with 3 goals and 2 assists in the past five games while Daryl DeVries had a three point (1g, 2a) game against the Merritt Centennials on New Year's Day. As for a starting goaltender, Doug Hedley and Brian Kozak can't be blamed for going with Adam Harris who is perfect against Prince George with two wins in his two games against the Spruce Kings while Bryton Udy is 0 and 2 with a 4-2 loss and 3-2 loss in overtime.

For the Spruce Kings rookie tandem between the pipes, Cameron Large registered his first BCHL career win on December 29th in that 3-2 overtime victory and Kirk Thompson couldn't be faulted the following night in a 1-0 regulation time loss. Dave Dupas has been evaluating his goaltenders on a daily basis and will likely term it a game time decision which will be as much as who he wants to put in for Saturday's game against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs as it is for a starter Friday night.

The Coastal Conference Alberni Valley Bulldogs are on one of their longest road trips of the season that dates back to December 28th when they first came off the Island to start a seven game in twelve day tour of the Province. The Bulldogs started with a win against the Coquitlam Express but have gone without a point in four straight including a pair of games played early this week on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Bulldogs will get a chance to rest up for the Spruce Kings and scout both of their opponents on Friday night in the Coliseum. Prince George won't have that luxury but at the same time there are certain parts of the game already in the books that they will be able to draw on including coming to within one goal before time ran out in regulation time ... and then there's the salmon incident.

Early on in the game played in Port Alberni on October 9th, the Spruce Kings stayed right with the Bulldogs and were tied 1-1 early in the first period and trailing 3-2 early in the third period. Trent Murdoch (yes the Spruce Kings forward now) scored his second of the game to make it 4-2 and then just past the midway mark of the third, Casey Bailey would score the eventual game winner.

With time starting to tick down in the Weyerhauser Arena, a seemingly scripted interruption of the game took place with the Spruce Kings moving in to the offensive zone with purpose. Earlier in the day, Port Alberni was named the Salmon Fishing Capital of the World and in celebration of that honour somebody decided they would throw a good sized frozen salmon on the ice. The fish, pardon me ... the salmon, was flung over the glass narrowly missing Jeff Earnest as he skated into the offensive zone.

With the fish laying on the ice, the Spruce Kings took advantage of the time out and came up with a play that payed immediate dividends with Nic DeSousa scoring at 16:28 off the faceoff. The Bulldogs were able to hold off the Spruce Kings attack and were rewarded with a powerplay to end the game with, but it would be the visitors that scored. Again it was Nic DeSousa finding the back of the net leaving the Spruce Kings one shot short of tying the game and the fans quiet in their seats wondering if the salmon had jinxed their team.

"We have to just win games whether its revenge or whether we lost down there or we beat them, to us it really doesn't matter," said Dupas after he was shown video of the salmon incident and asked about the first meeting since then. "We have to try to win the games in our building and we have a lot this month. So we have to start taking care of our home territory here and whoever comes in here, we're just gonna try to play as hard as we can and win some games."

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 Top Ten List (five big stories)

2010 is now in the record books and at this time in the year reflection is commonplace and usually results in some sort of list of achievements, highlights and stories. I thought I would try my hand a similar venture looking back at a year that saw the Spruce Kings generate its fair share of conversation pieces. Thoughts, feelings and emotions were discussed among team members, players, fans, media, the hockey world and people in general in response to many of events involving the Spruce Kings in 2010.

My list could just as easily be presented in chronological order, but that would leave out another opportunity to participate by agreeing or disagreeing with the order in which I feel the stories have had an impact on the Spruce Kings past, present and future. There is also a good possibility that not everybody will agree with the inclusion or exclusion of certain stories from this list and for that reason I encourage everyone to submit their thoughts with the "comment" option located at the end.

No matter what, I just hope you enjoy spending a few minutes looking back at the year that was 2010 for the Prince George Spruce Kings.

10. Alumni ... the glue that binds a team's past with its present and also provides the leadership and direction for the future. The Spruce Kings have a great group of alumni that date back to the very first year of the team captained by Keith Peterson through the 2010 team captained by Sam Muchalla. The graduation and the achievements of former Spruce Kings is always a thing that brings a sense of pride to the team and fans who remember cheering for those former players.

Perhaps the largest single gathering of Spruce Kings alumni happened in Fort St. John during the month of April and the 2010 Allan Cup Championship. The Peace Region city won the right to host the longest running Canadian Hockey Championship that sees six regional teams from across the country compete for the Canadian Senior AAA Hockey Championship. On the rosters of those six teams were the names of eight former Spruce Kings with six of them suiting up for the Fort St. John Huskies and two others for the Powell River Regals.

Along with Troy Dalton (1993-96) and Mike Stutzel (1997-99) with the Regals were David Alexander (1996-97), Gerard Dicaire (1998-99), Adam Loncan (1995-97), Tyler Loney (2002-05), Matt Shuya (2002-06) and Chris Stevens (2002-05) on the host team roster. The eight combined for a total of 8 goals, 8 assists and 42 penalty minutes with Chris Stevens potting six of those goals to help pace the Fort St. John Huskies to their first ever national amateur title.

With a list of over four hundred players that have donned the crown between 1972 and 2010, there simply is no way I can find or highlight all of those alumni. Alumni that have graduated on to play hockey after their games with Prince George ended in 2010 include: Brad Bourke - Augustana Vikings, Jeff Datoff - Nipawin Hawks, Jonathan Gibson - Georgetown Raiders, Luke Hannas - Battlefords North Stars, Lyndon Martell - Regina Pats, Wes McLeod - University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves, Sam Muchalla - Northern Michigan Wildcats, Zac Rasmussen - Thompson Rivers University Wolfpack, Brooks Robinson - Quinnipiac Bobcats, Riley Spraggs - Revelstoke Grizzlies, Andrew Walsh - Dawson Creek Rage and Marcus Watson - Stockton Thunder. This list isn't inclusive and if you know of a player that was with the Spruce Kings in 2010 and is now playing elsewhere, please feel free to pass along the information.

9. Missed Playoffs ... without a doubt, the goal of every player and every team at the start of a season is to win it all or at least go as deep as possible into the post season. The pressure to make it to the playoffs starts showing itself early on and is quite often referred to the real season or the second season ... a time when everything that went wrong or went right means nothing and every team has new life. To miss out on the playoffs leaves an empty feeling that runs deep through a team and just as deep into the community.

When you look into the rafters of the Prince George Coliseum a number of banners are seen showing off the successes the team has had during its time in the Rocky Mountain Hockey League, Pacific Cariboo Junior Hockey League and the Pacific Northwest Hockey League. There is also one banner for the host team of the 2007 RBC Royal Bank Cup National Junior 'A' Championship where the Spruce Kings won silver on the ice, but won gold in the hearts and minds of Prince Georgians after defeating the Camrose Kodiaks in the eighty-sixth minute of overtime in the semi-final game.

In its fourteen year history in the British Columbia Hockey League the Spruce Kings missed out of post season play for just the third time. In 2001-02 and 2002-03 the Spruce Kings finished with 40 and 41 point seasons respectively. In the 2009-10 season the Spruce Kings again finished with 41 points and fell short of opportunity to make it into the playoffs. It was February 15th when the Spruce Kings were mathematically eliminated from postseason leaving three games in their regular season that they finished with a 2-1 record.

8. Trade Deadline ... there are a few important dates that are used to set a team's roster with none being more important or stressful for everyone than the January 10th trade deadline. On that date hockey teams from across the country have one last chance to build a roster for the impending post season or perhaps become the proverbial sellers and build for next year. On January 10, 2010 the Spruce Kings became those so-called sellers offering players a chance to be traded to contenders elsewhere in the country.

In the poker game or crap shoot or whatever game of chance you prefer to equate the business of hockey to, the Spruce Kings organization made a conscious decision to begin the process of building for the future and give some key players that chance to finish out their seasons with another team. The biggest name in the lot was that of Wes McLeod who had played in the World Junior A Challenge, the Canadian Junior A Challenge game and the BCHL All Star game. Committed to the University of Alaska Anchorage for the 2010-11 season, McLeod found himself traded to the Spruce Grove Saints of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

There were four other players traded before the dust settled and the final bell sounded on January 10th. Brooks Robinson who came to the Spruce Kings in the off season from the Fort McMurray Oil Barons found himself heading back to Alberta to finish out his Junior 'A' career with the Grande Prairie Storm. Marcus Watson spent the least amount of time with the Spruce Kings, only 11 games, was traded to the Oil Barons of the AJHL. Steve Papciak also headed back to Alberta and the Camrose Eagles after being acquired in October of 2009 to fill the void left by the departure of Alex Wright to the Cougars. Twenty year old defenceman, Josh Pineiro stayed in the BCHL after being traded to the Surrey Eagles.

7. Spring Camp and Main Camp ... as much as trades are used to inject a player now in to the roster, perhaps the most important way of identifying talent and evaluating that talent is with the camps that are held twice a year. The biggest camp is the Spring Camp that is used to bring in players that the team's network of scouts have been keeping an eye on and giving them a chance to be evaluated in a series of practices, training sessions and scrimmages against each other.

In 2010 the Spring Camp was held at the Prince George Coliseum from April 9-11 and drew a total of 150 players. Of the talent on hand, some players were there just to show their future potential being too young to be able to join the team for the season. Others were there for the main purpose of a camp - to compete and show off what they could bring to the team for the season.

The Spring Camp Top Prospects game featured a number of players that went through the process and got them on to the current roster including Cameron Large, Kirk Thompson, Stephen Ryan and Isaac Davies. The Top Prospects game was also a chance to short list the younger players and get them invitations to the team's Main Camp in August. The Main Camp is the all inclusive invite only camp with all players invited, signed in the off season or returning from last year to come in and make the opening day roster for the Spruce Kings.

6. Thanks and Gratitude ... whenever a player stops and takes a moment to recognize the Prince George Spruce Kings or a member of the organization for where they have gotten today is a big deal. The biggest shout out was issued by the soft spoken Scott Neidermayer during his retirement press conference in late June. During the acknowledgments one name perked up the ears of the Spruce Kings organization as Scott thanked Ed Dempsey from his junior days with the Kamloops Blazers. The mention left the organization beaming with a sense that in a way they were associated with the NHL great. In the recruiting of players it was a validating comment that allowed scouts to talk to players about the opportunities of playing junior hockey with the Prince George Spruce Kings.

The influence of Ed Dempsey had on at least one other NHL player came through later in the summer when Dan Hamhuis came to Prince George to be a part of the first Alumni Golf Tournament. Other signs of those thanks were given by the likes of Ryan Howse, Sam Muchalla and Vinny Muchalla all of which helped instruct during the annual Spruce Kings Hockey School. Most recently both Jujhar Khaira and Justin Fillion expressed their thanks to the Spruce Kings after committing to Michigan Tech University and NCAA hockey with the Huskies.

Read more with some Honourable Mentions and the Top Five Stories of 2010

2010 Top Ten List (honourable mentions)

Honourable Mentions ... are an interesting entity in themselves as these are stories that generated interest but on a slightly smaller scale but were important none-the-less to the overall year that was 2010 for the Prince George Spruce Kings. Think of an honourable mention as a single powerplay or penalty kill or one of the blocked shots or saves made in a game that contribute to the final outcome. So with that here is a short list of the honourable mentions from 2010.

The annual hockey school this year brought kids of all ages and abilities together on the ice and paired them up with former Spruce Kings that instructed them in week long sessions. In the end both students and the instructors were appreciative of the opportunity to get on the ice and have the great Canadian game become a daily dose of inspiration and growth. Working from a basic practice plan, the instructors were able to adjust the drills and routines to best suit the growth and development of the students.

Consisting of a morning ice time, a mid-day off-ice activity and an afternoon ice time, the students were given all they could handle and learned the fundamentals of the game and also team play. From the basics of balance and stride to stick handling, passing and positional play, the students also learned what it meant to be a part of a team off the ice as they went to different off-ice activities everyday. Introduced for the first time with the Spruce Kings Hockey School in 2010 was an educational and interactive visit to the Exploration Place to go along with the bowling, swimming, indoor sports day and of course the final day game.

Traveling with the Spruce Kings can be a lot of fun and it can also be a source of stress when things don't go the way they are supposed to go. As you can imagine, with arguably one of the most grueling travel schedules in the BCHL, the Spruce Kings come across their fair share of travel diversions on the way to the rink or even on the way home. There is a long list of incidents that have led the Spruce Kings from known routes to unknown detours, but in this case the thing that didn't go the way it was supposed to go was the rental car I was driving for the preseason exhibition games in Dawson Creek.

With the overloaded exhibition roster and all the player gear and team equipment, having an extra vehicle to take a few people and for running around in the destination city makes good sense. Sometime during that final game in Dawson Creek it started to rain quite heavily which everybody knows makes night driving difficult and on this night, I was the driver back to Prince George. We loaded up the bus and the rental vehicle, made a pit stop and started on our way.

With a full vehicle including three other passengers, we hit the road and started on our road back to Prince George. Things were going good, traffic was light and the road seemed to unfold nicely in front of us. For those that have ever driven this route you know there is nothing between Dawson Creek and Chetwynd except for a major switchback and then the drop in to Chetwynd. So you can imagine the concern as we saw lights in the distance as we were making our descent, the problem was nobody remembered the switchback. It became all to clear what had happened as we crossed the big iron bridge over the Peace River and had to turn around in Taylor and start our trip home all over again.

The importance of individual games is usually measured in the final score and it is tough to find a single game so important that it should be included in the top ten. There are two games that are worthy of being mentioned here for - one for building team confidence and the other for building an individual's confidence. The first game of note was a 3-2 overtime win over the Vernon Vipers and the second a 4-1 loss to the Powell River Kings.

Perhaps a loss is a strange addition, but at the time the Powell River Kings were the number one team in the nation and rolling right along over their opposition. Having won six consecutive games including two by shutout and three others holding their opponents to just one goal. With impressive defensive numbers, the Powell River Kings have allowed the fewest goals against while residing in the middle of the pack as far as goals scored is concerned.

Perhaps I was expecting a more reserved game spent a lot in the middle of the ice with the defenceman blocking shots and preventing the Spruce Kings from getting anything setup. Was I ever in for a surprise as the Powell River Kings established a dominant offensive zone presence and began peppering the Spruce Kings netminder with shots from every angle. That netminder was Cameron Large in his first BCHL start living up to his last name turning aside 48 of 52 shots. This is one of those games where the final score was not indicative of the play and that was because of the performance of Cameron Large between the pipes.

The 3-2 overtime win against the Vernon Vipers is perhaps easier to see because it comes against the two time defending national champions and in their home building. The parts of the story that are missing is what was before, during and after the game.

The game played on October 24th was during a time when wins were few and far between for the Spruce Kings, it also came on the heels of a double header played in Trail against the Smoke Eaters. The road trip that weekend saw the Spruce Kings travel all day Thursday before they arrived at their first home away from home base in Castlegar. Then came the two back-to-back games against the team that was seemingly winning at will and leading the Interior Division.

Both those games were 7:30pm starts finishing closer to around 10:00pm and when the loading of the bus and post game meal are factored in, the team wasn't on the road until almost 11:00pm. The winding road from Trail to Vernon never put the team in their hotel shortly after 3:00am for a game that was scheduled less than twelve hours later. A tired and banged up roster with a long list of excuses available to them was about to hit the ice against a well rested and confident team.

The first period ended in a scoreless tie providing a glimmer of hope for the Spruce Kings that was quickly extinguished in the second period as the Vernon Vipers built up a 2-0 lead and to add insult to injury was a questionable offside call that resulted in a no-goal called after Connor Tiechko wired one low glove side beating the Vipers goaltender.

The Spruce Kings would get that one back and cut the lead in half when RJay Berra came out of the corner and one-timed a pass from Zac Ashdown one second after a Vernon Vipers penalty expired. The Studio Cuts Crowning Moment of the Game came at the 18:15 mark of the second period when Trevor Esau was speared after blocking a puck in his own end. The double minor call led to an unsportsmanlike call also being assessed giving the Spruce Kings a full two minute two-man advantage. Fourty-four seconds into the 5-on-3 man advantage it was Justin Fillion who one-timed a Trent Murdoch pass from the top of the faceoff circle tieing the game at two.

There was no scoring in the third period leaving the game to be decided in extra time. On an odd-man rush just over a minute into the first overtime period, Zac Ashdown was hauled down leading to another Vernon Vipers penalty. On the ensuing faceoff taken by RJay Berra the puck bounced off of the skate of Chris Bodo back to Berra who fed a streaking Ashdown on his way to the net who buried five seconds after the faceoff giving the Spruce Kings their first road win of the season.

That win provided a boost for the Spruce Kings that led to another 3-2 overtime win against the Merritt Centennials followed by a 3-1 win over the same Centennials team and then a 4-1 win on the road in Salmon Arm. Unfortunately the four game winning streak that started in Vernon also ended the following night in Vernon. During those four games, the mood in the dressing room and around the team changed and there was a sense of confidence.

Read more with the top ten list starting with Five Big Stories and the Top Five Stories of 2010

2010 Top Ten List (top five stories)

Determining the top stories of the year has to be measured against some sort of criteria. In the case of this list that criteria is not necessarily measured with hard numbers as much as it is measured by the level of emotion or feelings that the story generates. A story whether it be good or bad that makes changes is a story that shapes individuals and groups of individuals both in the present and in the future. The top five stories of 2010 are all instrumental in shaping the team and will have a lingering effect on the future of the Prince George Spruce Kings.

5. Scholarships ... the reason players choose the Junior 'A' route and ultimately the Prince George Spruce Kings is the ability to secure a post secondary education and the opportunity to play hockey at the next level after the junior career comes to an end. Over the years, the Spruce Kings have seen a high number of its players earn scholarships to NCAA and CIS schools as well as semi-pro careers. In story number ten there is a list of players that moved on from the Spruce Kings to the next level in 2010. That list includes one semi-pro player, one major junior graduate, two players now playing CIS hockey and three into the NCAA ranks.

Scholarships can come at any time in the calendar year, but there are two key time frames where schools can spend time recruiting players. Those time frames are early in the season and the other in the late stages of the season and into the off-season. In the early part of the season, scouts are interested in finding those diamonds in the rough and typically the younger players are the centre of attention when it comes to committing to a school. A perfect example of this is Jujhar Khaira, a sixteen year old rookie that had scouts salivating early in the season and led to the previously unknown entity to secure a four year scholarship to Michigan Tech.

As the season progresses scouts and the schools they represent start identifying more immediate needs and the older players that can step in sooner than later and make an impact at the NCAA level. In December Justin Fillion fit that bill and made the decision to commit to the Michigan Tech Huskies for the 2011-12 season. Players like Nic DeSousa and RJay Berra are prime candidates to start showing up on the radars of schools looking to add some offense and, in the case of Berra, some grit in front of the net too. In the end scholarships are as much coveted by the players as they are protected and carefully distributed by the schools that issue them.

4. Century Club Members ... every point is important to a player whether it be their first goal or their 100th point. In the month of December the Prince George Spruce Kings saw three players join the exclusive Century Club after tallying their 100th BCHL career point and all with the Spruce Kings. First up was the defenceman Justin Fillion followed by RJay Berra and Nic DeSousa who both tallied their 100th on the same goal.

At the time the Spruce Kings found themselves trailing the Coquitlam Express and in desperate need of getting back in to the game. Earlier in the first period the line combination of RJay Berra, Nic DeSousa and Faiz Khan combined on the powerplay to open the scoring on Berra's 30th of the season. The goal put both Berra and DeSousa on the doorstep of the Century Club but as the game progressed, the Express took over the lead leaving the Spruce Kings more worried about restoring their lead.

Another powerplay opportunity would present itself in the second period, the Express were unable to clear the zone as Chase Golightly kept the puck onside and fired the puck on net. Khaleed Devji was in goal for the Express when he made the unbelievable faux pas of putting the puck onto the stick of Nic DeSousa who redirected the puck over to an open Berra who one-timed a quick snap shot into the vacated net. After the game RJay told me he didn't even realize that was his 100th point but it was and it was also Nic's 100th point as well.

The two joked the day after about that goal and long list of other goals scored this season and over the seasons with the Spruce Kings saying they were the Prince George version of the Sedin twins. Breaking down the numbers, that claim is not as far fetched as it first sounds ... RJay Berra had 55 goals and 45 assists while Nic DeSousa had 45 goals and 55 assists in their three years with the Prince George Spruce Kings.

There's an argument to be made that it is harder for a defenceman to find himself as a member of the Century Club simply because their job is to eliminate scoring chances for the opposition while feeding the puck up to the forwards. The Spruce Kings have been long known for churning out offensively gifted defenceman and every previous season has had one - Wes McLeod, Zach Davies, Jeff Forsythe, Ryan DeVries and Jeff Herman and before that Tyler Loney who was moved to forward.

When it comes to defenceman, Justin Fillion is just one of five members of the Century Club sitting with 105 points with games still left to play. Zach Davies sits in fifth spot with exactly 100 points, Ryan DeVries is the next player that Fillion can catch with the former captain sitting in third with 115 points. Carolina Hurricanes draft pick Brad Fast who was selected off the Spruce Kings roster in the summer of 1997 holds down second place with 126 points. Perhaps never to be caught is David Keough who sits as the defenceman with the most points with the Spruce Kings at an even 200 earned over the course of four seasons from 1996-2000.

3. The Power of Recruitment ... a key component to shaping the future and the depth of a team comes in the recruitment of prospects and ultimately its players moving forward. The Spruce Kings have a strong network of scouts based in key points around North America including spots in the hockey hotbeds south of the border in California, Minnesota, Alaska and closer to home on Vancouver Island, in the Lower Mainland, the Okanagan and of course the Central Interior and points North, West and East of Prince George.

Seeing players come to Prince George in the spring for the Spring Identification Camp is always a treat when you see the large geographical area covered by the attendees at the camp. Along with the players so do most of the scouts show up to continue the process of watching the players that they have identified and brought to Prince George.

One particular example of a recruit that has turned into a gem was an unknown before the season started and had a name that few people could pronounce correctly when they first saw it. As a bantam draft eligible player in the Cloverdale hockey system, this player was passed over by every WHL team leaving the player and his family wondering if the game of choice should be changed in favour of another sport that came easily to the quiet youngster.

Kirk Star, a lower mainland scout with the Prince George Spruce Kings, convinced this player that the Prince George Spruce Kings would be able to provide ice time and opportunities for exposure. So sure of the potential of this player was Star that he argued to have Jujhar Khaira added to the list of camp invites claiming that the Spruce Kings would not be disappointed by what a yet to turn sixteen year old could do. Star wasn't wrong and as they say the rest is history.

Jujhar Khaira finds himself being compared as a player possessing the skills and maturity of players two years his senior. With an ability to find, fight for and distribute the puck in the dirty areas, Khaira has earned 30 points with 8 goals and 22 assists. That pace keeps Khaira in the top five among his teammates and places him sixth for points among rookies while topping the list of sixteen year-olds in the league.

One of only six 16 year-olds to earn a NCAA scholarship this season, Khaira has committed to the Michigan Tech Huskies and has continued to play himself into a place where he stands to gain even more recognition down the road. It is not a stretch to find Jujhar Khaira's name on some elite lists next year that could include: a roster spot for Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge, a roster spot on the annual Canadian Junior A Top Prospect Game and a spot on the NHL Central Scouting List.

2. The Show Home Lottery ... the game simply would not be possible if it weren't for the long standing tradition that is the single largest annual fundraiser for the Prince George Spruce Kings. In 2010 the grand prize in the 28th Annual Show Home Lottery was made and the groundwork started for the 29th Annual Show Home Lottery. The 28th edition was the third consecutive sell out of the lottery with the last ticket being purchased almost two weeks before the grand prize was to be drawn.

The current Show Home Lottery that started in October of 2010 is still underway with a total of seven early bird prizes and the grand prize still to be drawn in 2011. In the three months of 2010 that the 29th Annual Show Home Lottery tickets were available for purchase, over 5800 tickets were claimed putting the lottery on pace for a fourth consecutive sell out. With the additional expenses associated with the Show Home Lottery, specifically the HST, it is still expected that a sellout will provide approximately 75% of the projected hockey operations expenses for the Spruce Kings.

The seven early bird prizes that remain to be won in the 2010 Show Home Lottery include a season ticket package valued at $900, a Las Vegas Get-Away valued at $3000, a Mexican Riviera Cruise for two valued at $5000, a Disney Family Vacation valued at over $6000 and two cash draws worth $2500 each. Then comes the grand prize of the Show Home built by Fair value Homes and valued at $392,500 and includes all the appliances from the Northern Hardware. All tickets purchased are eligible for subsequent draws and all winning tickets are put back in the draw barrel making them eligible to win again.

For more information on the Spruce Kings Show Home Lottery, call the Prince George Spruce Kings office at 250.564.1747.

1. Ed Dempsey relieved of his duties ... is easily the top story of 2010 from the Prince George Spruce Kings. After joining the Spruce Kings in January 2004, Dempsey guided the Spruce Kings from the bench and from the hockey operations office as the head coach and general manager until the announcement was made early in the day November 23rd. The longest continuously serving head coach of the Prince George Spruce Kings, Dempsey's record was 171-192-13-37 through 413 games spanning eight seasons in seven calendar years.

With his journey through the game of hockey that included playing at the Junior 'A' and collegiate levels along with coaching at the Major Junior and Junior 'A' levels, a vast network of hockey people is arguably his biggest legacy. Ed Dempsey could be seen talking with NHL, semi-pro and collegiate scouts in every arena he visited. The talk was always the same and Ed used those impromptu meetings to continually promote players, the Spruce Kings program and the city of Prince George.

Following the dismissal of Ed Dempsey a long list of former and even current players both from the Spruce Kings and other teams voiced their shock over the news. Many players understood his competitive nature and respected his hard work at promoting players and the team. That promotion saw a number of players get that elusive opportunity to play the game whether it be with a scholarship or the chance to play either with the Spruce Kings or another team that would best suit the player.

There were also those voices heard saying that it was about time citing the old cliche that coaches are more often than not hired to be fired and sometimes when wholesale changes are no longer an option, the only choice that remains is a change behind the bench. That change was made and heralded in the return to the BCHL of Dave Dupas who was behind the bench of the Williams Lake Timberwolves at the start of the 2009-10 season.

Stepping right in to the fire, Dupas found himself four games behind the eight ball before he could even hold a team practice with all of the players. Some personnel changes were made on the roster and it seemingly took longer than expected for some of the new systems to prove themselves. If the last two games of 2010 are any indication, the Spruce Kings may be ready to start putting all of the pieces back together again and start moving forward.

The only question that remains is whether or not this is a case of too little too late. Of course that question will be answered in the first two months of 2011 but the current situation that the Spruce Kings find themselves in leaves a lot to be desired with little or no time remaining in making the biggest decision of the season - are the Spruce Kings going to be sellers or buyers on January 10th.

I hope you enjoyed this top ten list, it was an interesting albeit tough exercise to complete because there were the stories that people would prefer to forget. I think the better option is to what every player hopes to do from year-to-year on the ice and that is be better than the year before. It is also important to know that this entire list and its contents were written from my perspective and may not necessarily match the opinions of the team and team personnel.

I remain very optimistic about the future of the Prince George Spruce Kings and see a number of glittering diamonds in the organization. I like the direction that I've been shown and see that as being a strength moving forward in helping to shape the team for seasons to come. The glue that is the alumni continues to strengthen the bond between the memories of past seasons to the leadership being provided for current and future players. The vision of the board of directors will help keep the game in focus while still showing off the strengths of the individuals.

On behalf of all the Spruce Kings organization, I would like to wish you and your family a very Happy New Year and all the best in 2011.

Read more with the start of the top ten list Five Big Stories and some Honourable Mentions from 2010