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

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