With five games to go in the regular season, the Spruce Kings are poised to mark their return to the post season for the first time since 2009. All that stands in their way is a third consecutive three game weekend road trip with stops in Trail Friday and Saturday night and Vernon Sunday afternoon. To make it to the post season, the Spruce Kings need to pick up one win (two points) in their final five games or to see the Vernon Vipers lose once (even if it is in overtime).
The road trip to Trail is not an easy one and consumes most of one day just to drive there from Prince George. The Spruce Kings headed out on the road early Thursday morning, arriving at their hotel in Castlegar late Thursday night. Having been on this very same road trip just three weeks ago, the Spruce Kings hope they are in the same routine that saw them post back to back wins in a double header against the Smoke Eaters on February 10th and 11th.
The Trail Smoke Eaters have been out of the playoff picture for some time now, but maintain the belief that they can play a role in the post season by playing spoiler for teams looking to secure a playoff spot from 2nd through 4th place in the Interior Division. Currently sitting four points ahead of Prince George in second are the Merritt Centennials who had to come back against the Smoke Eaters to force overtime before being able to leave the Cominco arena with two points.
The Spruce Kings are perfect against Trail so far this season and they certainly hope to see that trend continue. The two teams are basically polar opposites in the Interior Division both in points and location. The Spruce Kings go in to the Comico Arena with a record of 30-19-24 to face a team that has six games left to play and currently holds a record of 11-37-1-5. In the five previous meetings the Spruce Kings have held their opposition to two or less goals every time but still need to earn those wins if they hope to sweep the season series against the Smoke Eaters.
On Wednesday night a depleted Trail roster jumped out to an early 3-0 lead on the visiting Merritt Centennials, but found they didn't have enough to go the distance with only 13 skaters going. It's not entirely clear what led to the five holes on the Smoke Eaters bench although the group has missed the last three games. The Prince George Spruce Kings are close to healthy with Cody Bardock now skating with the team during team practices; although he traveled with the team, Bardock is not expected in the lineup. There are a few other bruises, but nothing that should impact the twenty man game day roster.
Heading in to the contest, Paul De Jersey holds down top spot on the BCHL Leaderboard with 92 points (40G, 52A), but even he acknowledges the five game goal-less streak is having an impact on the sniper's confidence. If De Jersey can find a few more goals and a couple more helpers, he stands to take over three long standing Spruce Kings records. Bill Collins currently holds the mark for most goals in a season at 50 scored in 2001-01, Keenan Hopson finished the 2003-04 season with 100 points (34G, 66A) and Chris Stevens scored 8 game winning goals in 2004-05 - De Jersey has 7 GWGs.
For as much as De Jersey has fallen off his pace, the Fitzgerald triplets have done the opposite. Gerry scored both game winners during the last double header in Trail, while Leo and Myles Fitzgerald have maintained a point a game pace each for the past eight games. Jarryd Ten Vaanholt has also been contributing with 7 goals and 10 points in his last six games. Defensively Chase Golightly has contributed a point a game since the middle of January while helping to keep opposition shots down, along with the rest of the Spruce Kings blue line squad.
The beneficiary of the strong defensive presence has been Ty Swabb who has seen his numbers improve to become the third best in the league. With a goals against average of 2.44 and a save percentage of 91.8, Swabb is expected to get the start in goal Friday night against the Trail Smoke Eaters.
Game time is 7:30pm and can be picked up on the BCHL Pay-Per-View webcast from the BCHL website or for free with the internet game audio only feed accessible from the BCHL scoreboard page just before puck drop. The Spruce Kings road trip will continue with the second half of the double header in Trail Saturday night at 7:30pm and wrap up Sunday afternoon at 2pm in Vernon against the Vipers.