Friday, March 2, 2012

Spruce Kings Secure a Playoff Berth

Ty Swabb (35) helped backstop the Spruce Kings to a
playoff berth in a 6-1 win over the Trail Smoke Eaters

The Prince George Spruce Kings clinched a playoff spot Friday after defeating the Smoke Eaters 6-1 in Trail. The win was the team's 31st of the season giving them a 31-19-2-4 record with four games remaining in the regular season. The team now has eyes on finishing as high as second place but will have to work if they want to pass the Merritt Centennials for that spot.

"It's an exciting time for the organization anytime you can clinch a playoff berth," said Spruce Kings General Manager, Mike Hawes following the team's win Friday night in Trail. "When the season started our goal was to make the playoffs. So now that we have achieved that goal the second stage of our focus now is on the playoffs and securing a second or third seeding in the Division."

When looking at some of the aspects of change from the previous two seasons, perhaps the most notable is the number of wins. So far this season, the Spruce Kings have equaled the number of wins from the previous two seasons. Prince George started the year with that weighing on them as well as having the knowledge that only the top four teams would make the post season.

"We went in to the off season knowing that we had a lot of work to do to bring in players to make this a competitive team," said Hawes. "We maybe got lucky with a few players. We knew Paul De Jersey for example was going to be on the first line, but did we think he would be scoring leader in the League at this point in the season? Probably not, no, but that has been very beneficial for us."

"There are many other key acquisitions throughout the season," continued Hawes. "Michael Colantone has worked out well. The Ben Matthews trade we made last summer has worked out very well for us. The Fitzgerald triplets have turned into great assets for us and have improved their defensive game immensely with us. The Ty Swabb deal has really solidified our goaltending. The trade deadline deals (for Jarryd Ten Vaanholt and Zack Rassell) have made us an extremely deep team."

That depth showed on Friday night with six different goal scorers for the Prince George Spruce Kings and four players with multiple points including Jujhar Khaira and Chase Golightly with a goal and a pair of assists each. Paul De Jersey and Ben Woodley both added a pair of helpers in the game while eight more players contributed with single points in the 6-1 win.

After a scoreless first period, the Spruce Kings responded with five goals in the second period starting with Gerry Fitzgerald's 15th of the season two minutes in to the middle frame. That opening goal was followed up with three straight powerplay tallys including the eventual game winner that came off the stick of Chase Golightly from the point. That goal was scored 7 seconds after the Spruce Kings went on their second powerplay chance.

Michael Colantone was the recipient of a perfect pass from Jujhar Khaira who was set up behind the Smoke Eaters net. Colantone's 28th goal of the season came 48 seconds in to Prince George's third powerplay. Jujhar Khaira with two helpers to this point in the game, would get his 28th of the season 1:09 into the team's fourth powerplay after poking home a loose puck following a Paul De Jersey to Jarryd Ten Vaanholt scoring chance.

Myles Fitzgerald would add an even strength marker, his 17th of the season, before the end of the second period and Zack Rassell scored his 4th since becoming a member of the Spruce Kings in the third period to spot Prince George a 6-0 lead. A late penalty against the Spruce Kings led to the Trail Smoke Eaters lone goal of the game with less than two minutes to play in the third period. The goal ended Ty Swabb's shutout bid but wasn't enough to keep the netminder from improving his numbers in the BCHL.

The Spruce Kings have one more game in Trail on Saturday night and then a Sunday afternoon game in Vernon before returning home to finish off the season with a doubleheader against the Penticton Vees. As the General Manager puts it, the team can't be worried about what other teams are going to do, the players have to worry about what they can do in their final four games.

"Our work in the regular season isn't done yet," said Hawes. "Our first goal was to make the playoffs, now that we have done that we would like to secondarily finish has high as we can and get that second spot to gain home ice advantage."

"That's what we're thinking now sitting two points behind Merritt; we're going to have to do our work with a fairly tough schedule here on out. By no means is it going to be an easy task, but we have to put our nose to the grindstone and continue to play good hockey the way we have been and anything can happen."

Trail isn't about to go quietly knowing that Prince George is the only Interior Division team that they haven't been able to take points away from this season. The Vernon Vipers still have their eyes on a playoff spot and the Penticton Vees are going to want to run the table to the end of the season now that they are this close to doing just that.

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