When you look at the BCHL standings you are starting to see an 'X' show up on the left hand margin indicating that teams have secured a playoff berth. For the Spruce Kings that hasn't happened in a couple of seasons, but it could as early as Friday when the Spruce Kings start a three game weekend with the first game of a double header in Trail against the Smoke Eaters.
Prior to the start of this season the BCHL made a few significant rule changes including the number of teams that would make it into the playoffs, the proverbial second season. Over the years the league has toyed with different concepts and at one point all but one team made it to the first round of the playoffs when the league consisted of 17 teams. When the league was reduced to 16 teams, following the exit of the Williams Lake Timberwolves, the league went with a system that saw a total of 14 teams make it to the playoffs. In that format seven teams from each division secured a playoff berth with the top team in each division receiving a first round bye.
This year the regular season was adjusted to start and finish later but that meant an adjustment to the playoff format. To accommodate the two weeks, the first round of the playoffs had to be dropped and that meant only the top four teams from each division would make it to the post season. This scheduling change is an absolute must in order to have a team come out of the league as BCHL Champions and be able to play in the Doyle Cup (scheduled to begin on April 20th) for the right to be the Pacific representative at the RBC Royal Bank Cup (May 5-13 in Humboldt, SK).
The task at hand for the Spruce Kings this season was to play better than .500 hockey and maintain a pace in the top half of the division. That is exactly what they have done to this date; with five games remaining, they have a record of 30-19-2-4 and have floated between 2nd and 5th in the Interior Division throughout the year. With tiebreakers taken in to consideration, the Spruce Kings need one win in their final five games or a Vernon Vipers loss in there final five.
The two teams will play each other Sunday afternoon in Vernon, but the Spruce Kings certainly hope it doesn't come down to that game to determine whether they make it in. Prince George starts this weekend with a double header in Trail against the Smoke Eaters, a team they have a record of 5-0 against this season. Vernon doesn't play until Saturday night and will have their hands full with the Westside Warriors.