Saturday, January 1, 2011

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

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