For the third Saturday in four weeks, the Prince George Spruce Kings will play the Merritt Centennials in a BCHL regular season matchup. The first was the season opener for both teams on September 8th at the BCHL Showcase weekend in Chilliwack.
In that game the Spruce Kings opened a 1-0 lead in the first period with the Centennials answering back in the second period on the powerplay. Three unanswered goals gave Prince a 4-1 win. Two weekends later in Prince George it was the Merritt Centennials that spotted themselves a 2-0 lead in the first period forcing the Spruce Kings to answer back which they did leading to a 2-2 tie that overtime could not solve.
A week later the two teams are set to renew an interesting rivalry that will be shelved after tonight's game - the third and final time these two teams will see each other in this BCHL regular season. These two have formed an unique bond this season and over the past couple of seasons with post season meetings along with some interesting battles during the regular season.
Both teams are coming off Friday night wins - the Merritt Centennials defeated the Langley Rivermen 2-1 in the Nicola Valley Arena while the Spruce Kings built momentum off a strong defensive effort to defeat the Vernon Vipers 5-2 in Vernon. Both games were high shooting matches with the Merritt Centennials firing 42 shots at the Rivermen goaltender and the Spruce Kings getting 46 shots on the Vipers netminder.
The open ice on Friday night seemed to favour the Prince George Spruce Kings, but that will be a luxury they won't have tonight in the less than friendly confines of the Nicola Valley Arena. With an ice surface just smaller than the Coliseum, expect to see a physical affair designed to wear players down.
Look for the Merritt Centennials to try and use the smaller arena to their advantage who are known to use stretch passes to find a forward streaking through the middle. That however could become a quick negative for the Cents if the passes aren't on the mark with the new no-change icing rule in the BCHL.
The Spruce Kings defence, who shone last night, will have to be aware of those fast moving forwards looking for the break away passes. Mitch Eden and Brad Ryan played a ton last night and were rewarded with some hefty offensive numbers (Ryan - 1G, 3A and Eden - 3A). That places the pair in the League's top ten scoring race with nine points each and just three points shy of the Brett Hull Trophy leader, Evan Tironese (4G, 8A) of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs.
After their wins on Friday night, both teams will be carrying a little momentum with them into the game tonight. Puck drop is at 7:30pm with the Spruce Kings broadcast starting up at 7:10pm on 93.1 CFIS-FM Community Radio. The audio feed can also be found online at cfisfm.com and the pay-per-view video broadcast of the game is available from the Fasthockey.com website.
Following the game, the Spruce Kings will head to Penticton to prepare for their third and final road game of the weekend against the Vees beginning at 5pm in the South Okanagan Events Centre. Look to the Spruce Kings Twitter feed and Facebook page for updates from tonight's game and post game thoughts.