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