Thursday, February 9, 2012

Stretch Drive

and Weekend Preview

With just 13 games remaining in the regular season it is safe to say that the Prince George Spruce Kings are well into their stretch drive towards the playoffs and, knock on wood, their first appearance in the post season in three seasons. With the team on the road for a double header this weekend against the Trail Smoke Eaters and a Sunday matinee affair in Salmon Arm before returning home, six points would be a nice touch.

I've already knocked on wood, but to be sure I'll do it again before previewing three games against teams that the Spruce Kings not only have a winning record against but an undefeated record against. A year ago it was the Spruce Kings that found themselves where there opponents are now and for a few on the roster they also remember how important it was for morale to go out and look for wins where they weren't otherwise found.

The Spruce Kings will have to be focused on the task at hand starting with the puck drop at 7:30pm Friday night in the Cominco Arena and the first of two in a row against the Trail Smoke Eaters. The Smokies may find themselves on the bottom rung of the Interior Division ladder, but they have been performing at a better than .500 pace since reeling off back to back 5-4 overtime wins against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks and the Surrey Eagles. They also picked up wins against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs and the Chilliwack Chiefs to start off the month of February before dropping a 3-1 decisions to the Vernon Vipers earlier this week.

One of the players that has been leading the Smoke Eaters of late is former Spruce Kings forward, Connor Tiechko. After starting the season in Prince George, Tiechko finds himself playing a prominent role for the underdogs this weekend but appears to have gained his confidence and scoring edge. With the Spruce Kings last season, Tiechko scored 13 goals and 13 assists in 58 games and after starting this season with only one assist in six games, Tiechko has equaled his goal output of 13 in just 31 games and also has 16 assists, good for second on the team scoring with the Smoke Eaters.

After the double header on Friday and Saturday nights in Trail, the Spruce Kings will head over to Salmon Arm for their seventh meeting of the season against the Silverbacks. Coming off back-to-back losses in Prince George last weekend and getting a scheduling favour with Saturday night, this game could be the most important of the weekend set. The Silverbacks feel that they were a few posts and some bad luck away from a better outcome in their games against Prince George. With the recent memory of playing them and being fresh themselves, the Silverbacks can be expected to come out fast and hard against a road weary team Sunday afternoon.

Although the Spruce Kings matchup favourably in every stat, they can't let that become a crutch for them this weekend with points at a premium. Currently sitting five points back of the Merritt Centennials, Prince George will end up playing both of their games in hand that they have on the Cents. The Merritt Centennials will be in Vernon to take on the Vipers on Friday night in a game that has a significant impact on the Spruce Kings desire to maintain or improve on their current position in the Interior Division.

Before the team headed out on the road for this road trip, I did catch up with the team's General Manager and talked a little bit about the season so far and the portion still remaining. I asked Mike Hawes to talk about the season so far and what lays ahead for the Prince George Spruce Kings.

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