Saturday, September 8, 2012

Game Day - Merritt Centennials

The Spruce Kings will start the season without a number
of guys from last year, but that shouldn't stop them!

The Prince George Spruce Kings are in Chilliwack along with the rest of the BCHL for the inaugural BCHL Showcase featuring all 16 teams playing a pair of games over the three day weekend. The Spruce Kings first game will be at noon on Saturday September 8th against the Merritt Centennials. Yes the very same team that eliminated the Spruce Kings in their return to the post season just six months ago.

Although the team names are the same as they were when the Spruce Kings season ended on March 20th, many of the players are very new to this matchup with very few even familiar with the team they will be lining up against. The Merritt Centennials are bringing back ten players that played against the Spruce Kings at the end of last season while Prince George only has six returners.

The Merritt Centennials do have two additional players that know the Spruce Kings including one that knows it from the inside of dressing room out. After playing his rookie year as a 16 year old with the Spruce Kings, Stephen Ryan finds himself one day before his birthday playing against his former team. In 56 games with Prince George, Ryan helped set up nine goals. As a 17 year old he dressed for seven games and will be hoping for a lot more this season as an eighteen year old starting with game one against his former team.

Another player that the Centennials have added to their roster over the off season is Smithers hockey product and younger sibling to Spruce Kings alunmi Darcy Huisman. Derek Huisman started his BCHL career with the Quesnel Millionaires and moved last season with them to Chilliwack, In the offseason, the now twenty year old was part of trade that saw the Centennials trade the playing rights of Austin Plevy and Keith Hamilton to the Chilliwack Chiefs.

It could be said that Derek has played some of his best games against the Prince George Spruce Kings but he has had two good season in the BCHL doubling his offensive numbers last season while with the Chiefs. This season as a twenty year old, Huisman is expected to be an offensive leader and a leader in the dressing room for the Merritt Centennials.

With a healthy number of returning players (11), the Centennials should be a serious contender in the Interior Division. Those returnees include notables like ironman Silvan Harper who has missed only one game in the previous three seasons, nineteen year old Regan Soquila who led the Centennials last season with 70 points (16G, 54A) and Sean Maktaak with his physical style of play. Also in that mix is the netminder Tyler Steel who finished last season in the top three among the league's best goaltenders for both goals against average (2.60) and save percentage (91.60%).

The Prince George Spruce Kings have six returners and a seventh with an asterisk in Lyndon Martell who will be starting his third season with the team. Martell first joined the Spruce Kings in October of 2009. At the time Martell was lighting up the BC Major Midget League playing with the Cariboo Cougars and then moved over to the Spruce Kings putting up equally impressive numbers of 13 goals and 18 assists in 44 games.

The following season, Martell answered the call of the Kamloops Blazers and started the season with that WHL franchise. Early into the season, Kamloops made the decision to give him back to his Junior A team and then traded him to Regina in December where Martell finished out the season and played the next year as well. During the offseason Lyndon made the decision to play for his hometown Spruce Kings and will now play in his 62nd game Saturday afternoon.

Other returners for the Prince George Spruce Kings include the newly named team captain, Trevor Esau who is starting his third consecutive season wearing the Crown. Considered a stay at home defenceman who can punish opposing forwards with his 6' 4" 220 pound frame, Esau is expected to log big minutes on the blue line in his twentieth year with the Spruce Kings.

Another twenty year old starting his third season in Prince George is netminder Kirk Thompson. Picking up a 4-0 shutout win in his first preseason game, Thompson wants to improve on his numbers from last season and set himself apart from others that have wore the crown before him. Thompson already appears in four of the five stats in the team record book and is looking to climb up to the number one position in at least a couple of those.

Skylar Pacheco was last seasons Rookie of the Year and will be expected to be a key part of the team's defence this season. Latrell Charleson rounds out the defensive core of returning players although there was some concern that he would be playing this season in the WHL with the Moose Jaw Warriors. Perhaps the uncertainty surrounding the NHL can be considered good fortune for the Spruce Kings as the Warriors found themselves with an excess of defenceman.

Up front there are only two returning players that finished out the previous season with the Prince George Spruce Kings. Both are local products and both play with that tried and true characteristic that Prince George hockey fans call a lunch bucket work ethic. To go along with the hard nosed edge that Tyson Witala and Sean Landrey can bring to every shift is an ability to turn a seemingly innocent play into a scoring chance and points on the scoreboard.

Although the Spruce Kings may lack the actual number of returning players, they certainly don't lack Junior A experience with the likes of Cam Lawson and Coltyn Hansen who were both acquired from Victoria along with David London in the off season. It should be noted here that London is not with the team after being placed on the Injured Reserve List as a result of a broken collar bone that will keep him out of the lineup for up to twelve weeks.

Other players with Junior A experience, although not gained from the BCHL, are Brad Ryan and Liam Board who were acquired in the offseason from the Oakville Blades. Mitch Eden is another Ontario boy and one that is looking to turn the heads of scouts this weekend being NHL Draft eligible in the summer of 2013.

Perhaps this year's Spruce Kings squad will be better known for its rookie crop. Jeremiah Luedtke, Chad Staley and Alec Butcher who all played in the NAHL last season ... Luedtke and Staley with the Wenatchee Wild and Butcher with the Peaks Miners. Luedtke is an early season standout for the Spruce Kings and looks like a player that may be able to keep pace with the League leaders.

Another rookie to take note of is Karan Toor on the back end who came to camp looking like he went to the same gym as Jujhar Khaira packing on the muscle and becoming a bigger stronger played than anyone may have thought. Another player that has quietly made an impact with the Spruce Kings early on is Quesnel resident Ryan Keis.

A player looking to make a name for himself is the younger brother to Spruce Kings Rookie of the Year and BCHL's Interior Division Rookie of the Year award winner, Jordie Christian. Bryant Christian is following in his brother's footsteps only until he steps on the ice and from there he is looking to carve his own path through to the NCAA.

This year a total of five players come directly from Prince George and two of them come out of the BCMML Cariboo Cougars from last season in Tanner Fjellstrom and Jake LeBrun. For Fjellstrom he will have to wait at least another week before he might be able to be cleared to play after suffering a bit of a high angle sprain in the Saturday's preseason game in the Coliseum.

One Prince George player who wasn't expected to be on the final roster but whose play said otherwise is Jake LeBrun. At 17 years of age it can be said that he outplayed some of the signed guys on the team but for sure played well enough to pick up the final roster spot for the Spruce Kings.

The last player on the Spruce Kings roster is one that wants to be the "last line of defence." Liam McLeod comes into the BCHL as a sixteen year old rookie goaltender but has already shown a level of maturity ahead of his years. Picking up a win in his first preseason game in the BCHL, McLeod has been diligent about his approach to the game and has shown a deep desire to learn and more importantly be ready at a moment's notice to get in the game.

After going through the process of three Intra-Squad game, four preseason games and all the practices etc., it comes down to game number one in a 56 game regular season. That game is a noon start on Saturday September 8th against the Merritt Centennials. The game itself will be viewer from ... there will also be a Listen Live link on the Spruce Kings website as well as here on the Spruce Kings blog (upper right) to get you on the CFIS-FM free public streaming.

No comments: