Sunday, August 26, 2012

Training Camp Day 3

Bodies all over the place for the tying goal

The big event for Day Three was the third and final Intra-Squad Game between Team Blue and Team White and true to my expectation, this game delivered!

The Training Camp this year was considered to be a small one with 38 players attending for the weekend. Many of the players were either returning players or players that had been carded in the off-season. The remainder of the camp consisted of players that were either looking for a chance to fill an available spot or knock someone out of contention. There were also a handful of players that are considered to be great prospects for the team but may be a season away from being ready to play Junior A hockey in the BCHL.

The teams were made up in advance by the Spruce Kings General Manager, Mike Hawes, who used his knowledge of the players coming in to make up two fairly balanced team. As the weekend progressed it is now safe to say that he nailed it as can be seen in the results of the three Intra-Squad games and even in the fitness testing and practice times.

On Friday night, Team Blue applied all the pressure early and only seemed to ease up when the game seemed to be well in hand. Final score in the first intra-squad game was 4-2 in favour of Team Blue. The following night was a completely different story with Team White applying all the pressure right to the final whistle. Although there was no scoring in the first period and Team Blue even scored the first goal early in the second, Team White won the game 4-1 on the strength of a three point night by Jeremiah Luedtke (2G, 1A).

With the three game series tied at a win a-piece, the game on Sunday had all the makings of a very competitive one. It was all that and more featuring some great goals, big saves, hard hits and a lot of fiestiness between the two teams.

Team White carried the momentum of the win the night before into this game and applied the pressure early with Liam Board getting the first really good scoring chance only to be turned aside by Liam McLeod. Moments later Skylar Pacheco carried the puck in feeding it up to Ryan Keis who in turn dropped it back from Pacheco. The shot from the right point was perfect finding the top corner on the short side at 4:36 of the first period.

Team White continued to carry the play and two minutes later Riley Hawes found himself crashing the net much to Rourke O'Briain's displeasure. The two were given coincidental minors for roughing. Team Blue started to rally shortly after this and caused some grieve for Team White who ended up taking a pair of penalties twenty seconds apart putting the Team Blue on a two man advantage.

Coltyn Hansen (9 Blue) tips in his first of three

The top line for Team Blue wasted little time in finding the open man on the right side of the crease with a perfect pass and perfect tip-in to tie the game up. The play was started by Lyndon Martell who left the puck in the corner for Cameron Lawson. From deep in the corner and through traffic, Lawson found the tape on Coltyn Hansen's stick at 10:49.

That's how the first period would end, tied 1-1 but with Team Blue coming on from the mid point of the period and it showed on the shot clock as they led that stat 12-6. The second period was another low scoring affair with teams trading goals before the goalie change. As they did in the first, Team White opened the scoring in the second period when Kirk Thompson saw nothing but white jerseys up the ice.

With Team Blue dumping the puck into the zone and going for wholesale changes, Thompson picked up the puck and quickly fed it up the ice to Chad Staley who in turn passed it up to wide open Jeremiah Luedtke as he crossed the opposition's blue line. The shot itself was nothing more than a quick snap shot that eluded Liam McLeod giving Team White their second lead of the game 2-1 at 5:28 of the second period.

Team Blue would answer back six minutes later with Rourke O'Briain's first of the weekend at 11:45 after Kirk Hards dished out a nice pass from behind the goal line. Cameron Lawson was also in on the play after keeping it in the zone knocking down the clearing attempt. Again the teams would head to their dressing rooms tied, this time 2-2 with Team Blue still leading on the shot clock 20-15.

I have to rewind here a bit to talk a little bit about a Prince George player that I can't wait to see in a Spruce Kings jersey full time. Kirk Hards is a small player that plays with a big edge and isn't afraid to cause a little commotion when he's on the ice. The agitator reminds me of a Zac Rasmussen with the buzzing capabilities of any one of the Fitzgerald triplets.

With about a minute and a half remaining in the second period, Hards followed the play into the crease and never let up getting in a little extra shot. As he skated away, the usually mild mannered Skylar Pacheco came over and grabbed Hards to let him know he can't do that. Unfortunately for Pacheco it cost him two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct at 18:39.

To start the third period Team Blue were all standing at the bench rallying the players on the ice with the familiar stick slap on the boards. The rally cry worked and worked quickly as Coltyn Hansen scored his second goal of the night again on the powerplay and again on the nice pass from Lyndon Martell with Mitch Eden getting the other assist.

The goal seemed to rejuvenate Team Blue especially the top line when they came out for the second shift of the period. Hansen picked up his hat trick goal and again it was Martell with the first assist at 4:00. The goal took the wind out of the sails of Team White and the next ten minutes of the game didn't seem to generate too many chances until Tyson Witala was sprung on a breakaway. Witala had everything going for him but just couldn't tuck the puck under Adam Griffith.

To make matters worse for Team White, the top line for Team Blue came back out and again Lyndon Martell was the setup man this time for Cameron Lawson who scored his third of the weekend to put the game out of reach at 5-2. Did I say out of reach? Apparently nobody told Team White or at least Tyson Witala wasn't listening.

Witala who had been robbed on the breakaway just a shift earlier made no mistake with the pass from Pacheco to bury his first of the game at 16:13. Team White called their time out, drew up a play and left the Witala line out there and it resulted in a fourth goal for Team White just 35 seconds later. Witala found the loose puck on a goal mouth scramble and buried it with assists credited to Liam Board and Brad Ryan.

Jeremy Matte with the save of the game

If the time out wasn't the Studio Cuts Crowning Moment of the Game, the save Jeremy Matte made off Lyndon Martell was. The setup man on four of Team Blue's goals found himself streaking down the left side on an uncontested 2-on-1 only to have his shot stopped by Matte. Spencer Schoech picked up the puck for Team White and went the other way finding the man with the golden touch. Tyson Witala's bid at a hat trick was stopped but Chad Staley was right there to put in the tying goal at 18:25.

Both teams tried to end it in regulation but there was no denying this one going to a shootout to determine a winner. Team Blue went first electing to go with Lyndon Martell who tried to sneak the puck in on the far side but somehow Matte kept it in front of the goal post even as it came off it's moorings. Chad Staley was given the first shot for Team White and he too would be stopped.

The second shooter for Team Blue was Cameron Lawson who tried to pull Matte off the far post. For a 5' 8" goalie, Matte has pretty good leg extension and was able to get a toe on the shot sending it wide. Team White sent Jeremiah Luedtke up next who went right down the middle. When Adam Griffith wouldn't give up the five hole, Luedtke just picked the corner, putting the pressure on Team Blue to score with their third shooter.

Team Blue elected to go with the defenceman Mitch Eden who came in tight on the forehand and was poke checked before he could get the puck over to his backhand side. The save completed the comeback for Team White who were down by three goals with less than four minutes remaining in the game. As Todd Doherty (Team White coach) said in a tweet after the game, "#teameffort."

It was an entertaining game to watch and the 350 plus fans in attendance showed their appreciation throughout the game especially in those final minutes as they watched the comeback. Also on hand to watch all the games, practices and fitness testing were the coaches and scouts who had the unenviable task of informing players afterwards if they would be staying or not for the exhibition season.

At the time of this blog, I only have an unofficial list of players so I will leave it until tomorrow. The players that will be sticking around for at least a few more days will be practicing on Monday and then heading to Chase for a pair of preseason games against the Trail Smoke Eaters on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Spruce Kings will also play a home-and-home series against the Grande Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League on Friday in Grande Prairie and Saturday in Prince George at 7pm.

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