It might not be "real bullets" but this is the next best thing and an excellent way to gauge what will be the 40th edition of the Prince George Spruce Kings. Looking nothing like recent versions of the team, this incarnation has both size and strength on the back end paired up with skill and speed up front. So far onlookers, evaluators, the coaches and the players themselves have only had each other to compare themselves against but tonight in 100 Mile House the Merritt Centennials will provide a new measure stick for the Spruce Kings.
Currently sitting with a preseason roster of 31 players, this first preseason game will give the Spruce Kings a chance to sit a few veterans, rest a few wary players and more importantly look at a few key prospects and promises for the season ahead. Like a regular season game, the Spruce Kings can only dress 20 players for the game but have elected to submit a roster of 21 with one player to become a game time decision to join the other ten in the stands watching the game in the South Cariboo Recreation Centre.
On that 21 man roster will be the familiar names of Jeff Earnest, Connor Tiechko and Jujhar Khaira. There will also be a few other names that Spruce Kings fans will recognize from their Prince George hockey career like Sean Landrey who dressed as an AP last season, Hayden-James Berra who is the younger sibling of RJay Berra, Jake LeBrun who is the son of NHL'er 2nd Round pick Sean LeBrun, Chase Astorino who helped the Cariboo Cougars to the BCMML finals and Marcus Beesley who played last season with the Nelson Leafs of the KIJHL.
Along with the familiar names comes the new names that the Spruce Kings traded for in the off-season with Ben Matthews and Dylan Tappe both coming from the Trail Smoke Eaters. A handful of players that were signed in the off-season will also see action in 100 Mile House including the McHaffie twins, Scott and Spencer, Cody Bardock, Skylar Pachecko and 16 year old Michael Klonarakis. There are also a few names that have survived through the grueling training camp that the Spruce Kings staff want to see play in a game scenario; Eric and Patrick Chore, Colby Braaten, Karan Toor and the young goaltender, Robert Friesen who is the sone of Spruce Kings alumni Rob Friesen (RMJHL 1994-1996).
The final name on that 21 player roster is Mattia Bortolotto and the Spruce Kings are wondering if the last five letters in his name will pay off after the 18 year old defenceman from San Mateo California was released by the Cougars earlier in the week. Looking good in practice through the week, Bortolotto will now get a chance to show what he can do in a game situation along with the rest of the cast of players set to represented the Crown in the neutral site game against the Merritt Centennials.
The Centennials are in the same position as the Spruce Kings after reducing down their preseason roster earlier in the week. The Cents will go with a mixed roster of returning vets and promising young prospects. Click here for a PDF copy of the team's 21 player roster. Game time is 7pm from the South Cariboo Recreation Centre in 100 Mile House. The local radio station will be providing play-by-play coverage but it is not clear at this time if that broadcast will be available for fans in Prince George or Merritt to listen to. The Spruce Kings will be providing information from the game on the Spruce Kings twitter feed which streams on the Spruce Kings website.