|Spruce Kings defeat the Merritt Centennials 4-1|
in a game that featured some physical play from both teams
The Prince George Spruce Kings have started the season on a winning note with a 4-1 victory over the Merritt Centennials in the first game of the season. Playing in the Prospera Centre in Chilliwack at the BCHL Showcase, the Spruce Kings lined up against the team that ended their season on March 20th. As Dave Dupas said in the pregame interview, that particular piece of history would fall on deaf ears with the new players on the squad so motivation would have to come from a different source.
Many of the players that played prominent roles for the Spruce Kings weren't even in the lineup at the end of the season. Coltyn Hansen, Cameron Lawson and Lyndon Martell led the way with three of the four goals while Tyson Witala had the other. Other play makers that made a difference in the game included Mitch Eden along with Trevor Esau and Skylar Pacheco.
The Spruce Kings created many scoring chances throughout the game but didn't really cash in until the third period with three goals unanswered goals. One scoring chance early in the first period belonged to Lyndon Martell who was setup by a good penalty kill forecheck from Cameron Lawson who sprung the pair on a two on one. After getting the puck from Lawson, Martell was able to come straight in on Tyler Steel pulling the puck from his backhand to his forehand. Steel was able to get a piece of the puck with his skate sending the puck just past the post.
A few minutes later it was Skylar Pacheco that was able to get the Spruce Kings moving in the right direction. Under a little pressure from the Centennials forwards, Pacheco used the back of the net to get away and find some open ice in the corner before using the wall to get the puck up to Cameron Lawson. From there Lawson found Coltyn Hansen through the middle and Hansen used his speed to get around a defenceman before cutting to the net. Hansen cruised through the top of the crease and just waited for Steel to commit before depositing his first of the season into the back of the net at 7:12 of the first period.
That's how the first period would end even though the Spruce Kings trailed 8-6 in the shots on goal stat. In the second period the Spruce Kings again created chances but were unable to capitalize on any of them. On an icing call in the middle of the second period both teams got a chance to regroup during the BCHL time out but it would be the Merritt Centennials that would eventually benefit from the break.
After winning the ensuing faceoff, the Centennials found themselves with a scoring chance. The puck was fired wide off the back boards where it was picked up by Brandon Bruce who just shoveled it towards the front of the net where it found Kirk Thompson's pads and ended up in front of the goal line against the goal post. Trevor Esau rode Bruce out of the play with a heavy check against the boards that drew the attention of Dylan Chanter who immediately dropped the gloves and went after Esau.
In the same stoppage of play, Karan Toor and Payton Schaefer also got into it with Toor getting the early edge in the fight before being tackled to the ice by Schaefer. Meanwhile Esau and Chanter had a pretty spirited battle of their own. When the dust settled, Esau was given two minutes for cross checking, two minutes for roughing and five minutes for fighting. Chanter was charged with an instigator to go along with his five minute major and Toor and Schaefer were both given five minutes for fighting and game misconducts.
The net result put the Centennials on the powerplay and would make short order of the Spruce Kings with the man advantage. Less than a minute after the scuffle, Sean Maktaak was able to find a loose puck and force it home past a down and out Kirk Thompson who thought he had it covered. The goal put the teams back to even tied at a goal a-piece and that's how the second would end.
The Spruce Kings found a new gear in the third period and were buzzing early again creating scoring chances. Even while inside their own zone, a good work ethic shone through and at 7:07 of the third period the Spruce Kings would take the lead for good as a result of the no quit attitude on the ice. From inside his own zone, Mitch Eden fought to get the puck out of the defensive zone including a last ditch dive and poke at the puck that setup Coltyn Hansen and the rest of the top line.
Hansen carried the puck through the middle and was able to get a shot on goal that left Tyler Steel looking for the bouncer. Both Lyndon Martell and Cameron Lawson got a crack it before Lawson got the last touch and was able to lob it up and over Steel to make it a 2-1 game.
Lyndon Martell for one wasn't done there and would get himself on the board a couple of shifts later and seemingly harmless looking play. After a D-to-D pass inside their own zone, Mitch Eden and Skylar Pacheco were able to get the puck to Martell cruising through the middle. At the tail end of their shift, Martell step over the blue line and instead of dumping it in decided to take a shot on goal that fooled Steel as it sailed in over his glove. The insurance goal was scored at the 14:37 mark of the third period putting the Centennials into desperation mode.
A line that has been working hard at developing some chemistry came together for the Spruce Kings fourth goal at 18:06 after Tyson Witala finished another one of those no quit type plays. Again it was just good solid work at trying to get the puck down low that resulted in the goal by both Bryant Christian, Liam Board and Tyson Witala all had a touch on the puck in the left corner before Witala was able to come out front and bury his first of the season.
The Spruce Kings did a great job in capitalizing on chances especially in the third period and if they can continue on the path they have set for themselves, could become a team that others will be forced to bring their 'A' game to play against. One area that the coaching staff will want to take a closer look at is the powerplay that came up empty on five chances. Although the penalty kill did allow one goal against, that special team did an effective job on the night.
The attention will now shift to the team that currently sits in top spot in the Mainland Division by way of their four goal victory over the Alberni Valley Bulldogs on Friday night. The Langley Rivermen are a much different team than they were last season when they finished with a disappointing 19-35-1-5 record last season.
The Rivermen did keep nine of their players from last season and also acquired Jakob Reichert from the Merritt Centennials in a two for one deal. For Langley, their strength looks like it will come by committee with a couple of rookies leading the way out of the gate. Ben Butcher (2 goals) and Matt Ustaski (2 assists) combined on two of Rivermen's seven goals. Scott Moyer was the only other multiple point player with a goal and an assist.
The Langley Rivermen have the longest break between games at the BCHL Showcase after opening the tournament format on Friday afternoon and will now play in the last game of the weekend. Game time is 6pm from the main rink in Prospera Centre Chilliwack. Something will give in this game and depending on two earlier games, the winner of this one could come out of the weekend with sole possession of first place in the Mainland Division.
All five teams have two points only difference is that the Chilliwack Chiefs have played both of their games. The Coquitlam Express will face the Cowichan Valley Captials at 2pm and the Surrey Eagles will play the West Kelowna Warriors at 5:30pm. The Express picked up their two points in a 1-0 overtime win over the Victoria Grizzlies and the Surrey Eagles needed overtime as well to claim their two points in a 3-2 decision over the Powell River Kings.
The Spruce Kings and Langley Rivermen game will be available on 93.1 CFIS-FM which can also be found online as an audio feed from the radio station's website or as a Pay-Per-View full broadcast on Fasthockey.com.