Sunday, September 9, 2012

Character Win

Spruce Kings celebrate an overtime win Sunday night

The Prince George Spruce Kings came out of the BCHL Showcase with the full allotment of their four points after posting a 6-5 come-from-behind overtime victory on Sunday evening against the Langley Rivermen. The win capped off a big weekend in Chilliwack for the Spruce Kings who opened with a 4-1 victory over the Merritt Centennials Saturday afternoon.

Although the Spruce Kings ended up with two wins and four points in their two games, it certainly wasn't looking that way through much of the game Sunday. Against the Langley Rivermen, the Prince George squad never led the game and twice had to erase multiple goal deficits to get the game to overtime.

As the game started out the two teams traded chances with neither team able to capitalize on their limited chances. At the BCHL timeout midway through the first period the two teams had three shots each in a scoreless tie. After the time out, the Rivermen came out with a physical game and started creating chances for themselves that included a power play opportunity that produced seven shots on goal.

On the first goal a collision in front of the net that should have at least led to a stoppage in play if not an interference call against the Rivermen, was allowed to continue. Kirk Thompson was sent sprawling into the net with players laying on top of him as the puck came out to the point for Tyler Vanscourt to find the top half of the net and the game's opening goal at 15:12 of the 1st period.

The unfortunate circumstances continued for Prince George a couple of minutes later when Latrell Charleson was given a minor for boarding. The call was made by the back official even though the referee that was right beside the play saw it and looked away without raising his arm. The powerplay for the Langley Rivermen was potent early for them.

The Rivermen poured on the pressure with Charleson sitting in the penalty box and were able to double their lead at 18:48 of the first period. The teams headed to the dressing rooms with Prince George down 2-0 on the scoreboard and trailing 14-3 on the shot clock. To make matters seemingly worse, the second period would start the way the first ended.

Forty seconds into the middle frame, Brad Ryan was given a two minute minor for tripping and the Rivermen went to work on their third powerplay. Again pressure was applied but it would be a lucky bounce for the Rivermen this time when Vanscourt's shot from under the blueline went off Karan Toor's stick. The deflected puck took the flight of a three point basketball shot as it lobed up and over four players including Thompson and fell into the back of the net. Vanscourt's second of the game gave Langley a 3-0 cushion 1:47 into the second period.

Cue the first comeback for the Spruce Kings as they started getting small little doses of momentum-building plays. It started defensively with a couple of timely saves and blocks before the top line started getting some chances. Coltyn Hansen was the first Spruce Kings to get a shot on goal in almost 15 minutes of play and although it was stopped it was still something.

On the same shift Hansen found himself with another opportunity to take a shot and this time made no mistake taking a hard shot that took flight about five inches off the ice beating James Barr to the far side. It was just the fifth shot on goal but it put the Spruce Kings on the board and gave Hansen his second goal of the season at 4:12 of the second period.

Just four minutes later on the most unselfish play I have ever seen, the Spruce Kings got to within a goal. The play started on an offensive opportunity for the Rivermen, Thompson stacked the pads to keep the puck out. A redeeming heads up play from Toor saw the defenceman feed the puck up to Liam Board at centre and behind the five Rivermen who were all playing far too up the ice. Board headed straight down the middle on a clear breakaway with Tyson Witala trailing.

Board made only one move after getting to the deep slot and that was to give the puck to Witala. The play surprised everybody in the building and allowed Witala to walk around Barr and give the Prince George forward his second goal of the season. More importantly that put the Spruce Kings within a goal of the Langley Rivermen trailing 3-2.

The Spruce Kings continued to apply the pressure with their next best scoring chance coming just before the second period BCHL time out when Coltyn Hansen and Cameron Lawson found themselves on a two-on-one down low. Hansen fed the puck through to Lawson who was streaking to the net only to have Barr come up with his best save of the night slamming the door shut on the far side.

With momentum on their side the Spruce Kings continued looking for the even up marker which would come at 17:20 on a two man powerplay. The goal itself was a result of a series of related events that started with a huge hit by new Spruce Kings forward Alec Butcher on Bo Pellah. The hit left Pellah groggy and drew an immediate reaction from the referee and Pellah's team mate, Mario Puskarich who dropped his gloves and immediately went after Butcher.

Surprisingly it was the Spruce Kings that came out shorthanded as a result of the original call on Butcher's hit and the lack of an instigator penalty and the Rivermen forward. The Spruce Kings killed that off successfully and shortly after Pellah was seen back on the ice taking his frustrations out on Brad Ryan, two handing the 6' 5" defenceman across the side of the shin. The referee saw the infraction and assessed a two minute minor for the slash.

Twenty seconds later with the Spruce Kings on the powerplay and applying pressure, Trevor Cope was caught for closing his hand on the puck in the crease resulting in another penalty to Langley. With the Spruce Kings on the two man advantage, they worked the puck around the zone until finally Mitch Eden was able to step into a shot in the very high slot. The bullet shot went through everybody and found the back of the net pulling the Spruce Kings even with the Rivermen with a 3-3 score at 17:20 of the second period.

The Langley Rivermen were able to settle down after the tying goal and went back on the attack. Into the final minute of the second period, Cameron Lawson was cross checked into Kirk Thompson sending both Spruce Kings onto the ice and into the back of the net leaving the top open for Trevor Cope to restore a lead for the Rivermen. The period would end with Langley leading 4-3 and enjoying a 21-12 shots on goal lead, although the Spruce Kings outshot the Rivermen 9-7 in that middle frame.

The Rivermen would build up their lead to 5-3 with an early third period powerplay goal scored by Cope at 2:23. Again the Spruce Kings found themselves back in a hole and needing a bailout. That would come with a heads up play while shorthanded. Coltyn Hansen found himself looking to get around a defender on the left side, put on the brakes and fed the puck across the ice to Brad Ryan. Ryan walked in and fired a shot hard along the ice that was kicked out by Barr coming right out to Liam Board who just flipped an easy one up and over the goaltender for his first in the BCHL.

On their next shift the pair that played together last season with the Oakville Blades would setup the Spruce Kings second tying goal. Tyson Witala was the recipient of more hard work and determination getting the puck from Board and Ryan in the corner and coming out front to slip his second of the game past Barr. With 10:08 remaining in regulation time, the teams were tied 5-5.

The remaining time in regulation would end with both Thompson and Barr forced to keep their teams alive. Shots on goal in the third ended even at 7 giving the Rivermen 28 through sixty minutes to the Spruce Kings 19. In overtime the Langley Rivermen had the better of the chances and directed four more shots on Thompson but in the end it was the hockey gods that showed they had been watching the entire game and corrected all of the inconsistencies from earlier on.

With just the Spruce Kings second shot in the extra period, Lyndon Martell came in from the half wall on his backhand. With a simple and harmless looking half flip, Martell's shot fluttered up and over the glove hand of Barr and into the back of the net. The Spruce Kings bench erupted and the players poured over the boards to celebrate the completed comeback and a four point weekend at the BCHL Showcase.

The team's focus will now shift to the Trail Smoke Eaters and the Spruce Kings home opener on Friday night September 14th in the Coliseum. As Brad Rihela (Spruce Kings Assistant Coach) said in the post game show, "I want to see the fans come out, fill the rink and see these guys play!" The Spruce King ended last season with three consecutive sell outs and are hoping to see the same to start the 2012-13 season.

Advance tickets, punch cards and season tickets will be available prior to the game at the Season Opening Tailgate Party sponsored by Save On Foods beginning at 5pm Friday evening. Along with a hot dog bar-b-que, chips and drinks for $3 with proceeds going to Big Brothers Big Sisters, there will also be ticket give-aways for the Stone Temple Pilots concert and Charlie Daniels Band later in the month. A $10,000 "Shoot To Win" will also take place in the first intermission.

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