|Dave Dupas pleads the Spruce Kings case to the officials|
after a missed blow to the head on Cam Lawson
The Prince George Spruce Kings suffered their first regulation time loss of the season Saturday night, 6-2 to the Merritt Centennials. The loss for Prince George was almost the exact opposite of the win for the Spruce Kings just one night prior with powerplays being the difference.
After trading goals with the Merritt Centennials and even building up a 2-1 lead early in the second period, the Spruce Kings were given a series of consecutive penalties that resulted in three straight man advantage goals for the Centennials in the middle frame. The Cents would add one more late to seal the deal and improve their record to 4-1-1-0.
The Centennials opened the scoring in the first period with a point shot that appeared to be tipped in front. John Saunders started the play on the left point getting the puck deep only to have it come back to him. With a pair of players (Lamont for the Centennials and Butcher for the Spruce Kings) battling for position and moving through the left faceoff circle to the slot, Saunders stepped into a shot that whistled past Thompson at 8:04.
The lead was short lived with the Spruce Kings line of Sean Landrey, Bryant Christian and Jake LeBrun getting the puck deep into the Centennials zone. With puck possession in the corner, Landrey was able to dish off to Christian while heading to the net. The puck came out to Landrey who was able to sneak it past Tyler Steel for his second in as many games and second of the season.
That's how the first period would end with both teams scoring once on their ten credited shots on goal. In the second period, Jake LeBrun pounced on a loose puck in front on a play that was setup in the neutral zone by Karan Toor. Although he won't get any credit on the scoresheet, the play started with Toor blocking a clearing attempt with the inside of his left ankle.
With a grimace on his face, Toor got the puck up to Christian and then hobbled to the bench. Christian stepped over the blue line and left the puck for Trevor Esau who took a shot that bounced around in the top of the crease with LeBrun standing on the doorstep to bury for his first of the season and second in the BCHL (he scored his first as an AP with the Spruce Kings last season).
Unfortunately for Prince George, that lead would be short lived as well with the Centennials answering back 58 seconds later. With the puck deep in the Spruce Kings zone it looked like it was coming out when Brent Fletcher got his stick on it and spotted Jeff Wight all alone in the high slot. Wight wasted no time with a quick wrister that beat Thompson tying the game up 2-2.
Things started going from bad to worse on the next play for the Spruce Kings when Kirk Thompson was charged with a delay of game penalty at 4:54 of the second period. Although the Spruce Kings would kill off that man advantage, they wouldn't have the same luck on the next three penalty calls.
Brent Fletcher found himself in behind the Spruce Kings D and going in on a bit of breakaway. Trevor Esau was able to close the gap and catch Fletcher before he got a shot away knocking the puck off his stick and bringing the Centennials player down in the process. After some discussion, the referee assessed an interference penalty to Esau giving Merritt their fourth straight power play opportunity.
The Spruce Kings were only seconds away from going 4-0 on the penalty kill when Sebastian Pare spotted Derek Huisman in front. With five seconds remaining in the penalty to Esau, Huisman fought off a check and slipped his third of the season past Thompson.
Minutes later the referee's arm was back up in the arm on a questionable slash charged to Tyson Witala. Nick Swaine used an animated two handed swing motion to indicate what he saw as a axe style chop by the Spruce Kings forward. With Witala in the penalty box the top ranked powerplay unit in the BCHL went back to work and made short order of the man advantage with a goal mouth scramble. Sylvan Harper was able to slide one past the maze of bodies in the crease.
Less than a minute later the Spruce Kings were back on the penalty kill this time with Lyndon Martell getting the call for slashing. Huisman would be the trigger man 27 seconds into the man advantage with a perfect shot to the top corner over the shoulder of Thompson on the short side. The goal would spell the end of the starter in net for Prince George and bring out Liam Mcleod to finish the final five minutes of the second period and all of the third.
In the third period, Prince George just couldn't get anything to go their way despite being credited with 19 shots on goal. The Centennials final goal was a solo effort by Sebastian Pare that started from deep inside the Merritt zone. Pare took the puck off a Spruce Kings stick and started heading up ice picking up speed as he went. By the time Pare crossed the blueline he had only one player left to beat that he did with a quick inside outside move sliding the puck under McLeod.
With seven power plays in succession, the Merritt Centennials did to the Spruce Kings what Prince George did to the Vernon Vipers just a night ago bringing the Spruce Kings undefeated streak to an abrupt end. The Spruce Kings record is still tops in the Mainland Division with four wins, a tie and an overtime loss good for ten points.
For Prince George they will now have to turn their focus to the Penticton Vees who won their home opener on Saturday night with a 4-0 shutout win over the Powell River Kings. It will be the second and final meeting this season between these two with Prince George leading the season series 1-0 after posting a 4-2 victory over the Vees on September 15th back in Prince George.