It is the first time and only time this season that the Spruce Kings will be in the Wesbild Centre or as some will have you call it - the snake pit - for being the home of the Vernon Vipers. I'm still getting used to the idea that the Spruce Kings don't play in the Interior Division with all the usual rivals like the Penticton Vees, the Merritt Centennials and the Vernon Vipers. Oh wait ... isn't that who they are playing this weekend?
I know I've covered this before, but just to do it again for the benefit of understanding it myself ... the Spruce Kings were moved to the Mainland Division of the Coastal Conference where they will play the Surrey Eagles, Langley Rivermen, Coquitlam Express and Chilliwack Chiefs a total of eight times each. They will play all remaining teams twice throughout the season with one small exception. The BCHL Showcase against the Merritt Centennials and Mainland Division rival Langley Rivermen were randomly selected games to make up the regular season total of 56 games.
As we close out the first month of the 2012-13 season, the Spruce Kings are yet to see a team from the Coastal Conference with the exception of Langley at the BCHL Showcase. So what does this mean to the Prince George Spruce Kings? I think it means a lot in the way of preparing for their early season games.
There is familiarity for the coaching staff especially with the opponents and their facilities. That familiarity can be passed down to the players ahead of the game so that the rookies and those that may not have played in the Wesbild Centre, Nicola Valley Arena or the South Okanagan Events Centre can be a little more prepared.
Yes the Spruce Kings traveled to Chilliwack for a pair of games in the BCHL Showcase but this is the first real roadtrip of the regular season for the Spruce Kings. Starting on the road with some familiarity in tow should take away from too many early game jitters and nerves, allowing both teams to play the type of game we've come to expect from these BCHL rivals.
First up is the Vernon Vipers Friday night at 7pm. The Spruce Kings rolled into the North Okanagan city Thursday night and almost immediately took up residency in their hotel rooms and even in their dressing room at the Wesbild Centre. Game preparation included getting enough sleep the night before and then taking a look at game video.
The focus for Dave Dupas and his coaching staff is more on his own team and improving on some key areas. Safe to say one of those areas is the powerplay which currently sits 12th in the league with a 14.29% success rate. This past week the coaching staff started seeing a few more bodies return to the practice ice from some nagging injuries. Which allows the team to work a little more indepth on their systems.
Earlier in the week the Spruce Kings signed Justin Rai and were able to get Sean Landrey back in the lineup. Tanner Fjellstrom is still out but is considered day-to-day now while David London is still on the long term injured reserve list but is expected to join the team as they play these three games near his home in Kelowna.
The opposition is a bit of wild card to start the season. The Vernon Vipers currently sit second in the Interior Division with six points in five games. Those five games have featured a pair of overtime losses and two regulation time wins with only one regulation time loss. Like the Spruce Kings, the Vipers have scored on average one more goal then they have allowed in their five games.
Leading the way for the Vipers is 18 year old second year forward Adam Tambellini with 7 points (3G, 4A) good for a share of 8th spot in the League. Tambellini (son of Steve and brother of Jeff) is committed to the University of North Dakota for the 2012-14 season. Also in the League's Top Twenty is Vipers' third year veteran Aaron Hadley with 4 goals and 2 assists.
The Spruce Kings top trio of Coltyn Hansen, Cam Lawson and Lyndon Martell as well as offensive defenceman Mitch Eden are all within striking distance of the League's Top Twenty. Also playing at or just under a point a game average are Brad Ryan, Jeremiah Luedtke, Chad Staley, Liam Board and Tyson Witala. Another player that will be looking to add to his numbers will be Justin Rai after becoming a carded player with the Spruce Kings.
The Vernon Vipers have been relying heavily on import goaltender Austin Smith who comes with major junior experience having played 31 games over two seasons with the Swift Current Broncos. Last season in 20 games, Smith finished with a record of 3 wins, 7 losses and 1 shootout loss. So far this season, Smith has earned both of the Vipers' wins and has a 2.03 goals against average to go along with his 91.3 save percentage.
Look for Kirk Thompson to get his third straight start for the Spruce Kings and fourth of the regular season. Thompson is off to a good start with three wins, 2.36 goals against average and 92.2 save percentage. To go along with those numbers, Thompson has also picked up back-to-back first star honours after stopping 66 of 70 shots he faced through 130 minutes of play.
The Vernon Vipers and the Prince George Spruce Kings have always had entertaining games and tonight's should be no exception to the norm as both teams will be looking to continue padding their points. Game time is 7:00pm with the game being broadcast on 93.1 CFIS-FM. Free audio will be available online as well from www.cfisfm.com and the pay-per-view broadcast on www.fasthockey.com with Ron Gallo providing the call of the game.