Sunday, September 30, 2012

Too Little Too Late

Studio Cuts Crowning Moment of the Game
was this non-goal call

It will be a split in the season series after the Spruce Kings came up just short in a 4-3 decision to the Penticton Vees on Sunday evening. Playing the third game in as many days, the Spruce Kings made it interesting late with a pair of goals 30 seconds apart. Unfortunatley that just wasn't enough to erase a three goal deficit that the Vees built up with a powerplay goal, lucky bounce, disallowed goal and penalty shot.

The Penticton Vees were coming off a 4-0 shutout win in their home opener. Despite the Vees win, it was obvious to see that Penticton came to the arena with a measure of respect for the Spruce Kings who were responsible for the only blemish on thier otherwise perfect record. During the pregame interviews, Vees head coach and general manager, Fred Harbinson drew attention to the fact that Prince George was well on their way to building up a winning hockey program and were responsible for Penticton's last two regular season losses.

The Spruce Kings came out with some jump in the pregame skate and to start the first period. Unfortunately the penalty problems that had plaqued them the night before showed up just 15 seconds into the game. Lyndon Martell found himself in the penalty box on a slashing call.

The Vees went to work early with the man advantage and started firing pucks on Liam McLeod as the 16 year old rookie got his second BCHL start of the season. One thing the Spruce Kings are starting to be known for is their fearless approach to blocking shots and keeping opposition to the outside. The Vees would get some shots through but could not open the scoring with their first man advantage.

Responding to their successful penalty kill, the Spruce Kings started mounting their own offensive and were rewarded with the game's first goal. On his second shift of the game Liam Board carried the puck in on the Penticton Vees goaltender and fired a hard shot that found the goal post. The puck bounced out to an open Cam Lawson who thought he was staring at a sure goal himself that bounced off the shaft of a defender's stick in front of an open net.

From there the puck went into the corner where Board picked it up. The Ontario player acquired in the off season from the Oakville Blades, came in on Chad Katunar again but this time picked off the top corner over the should of the netminder who committed early to a low shot. The goal at 3:43 of the first period was only the second shot on goal for Prince George and Board's third of the season.

The goal gave the Spruce Kings a sense of relief after having killed off that penalty to Martell but perhaps that sigh gave the wind to the Penticton Vees as they started applying pressure looking for the tying goal. That would come at 7:20 when James De Haas, the Detroit Red Wings draft pick from this past summer, stepped off the point and found a path to the far side goal post past a screen and McLeod`s glove.

The Vees would get seven more shots over the next ten minutes including a couple on a second powerplay with Chad Staley in the penalty box for tripping. The Spruce Kings killed off that one too and as the time started ticking down on the opening period, Tyson Witala found himself cruising through the left point. With a shot labelled for the top shelf again Witala rang one of the cross bar. The period would end in a 1-1 tie with the Vees leading 14-3 on the shot clock.

The second period started almost the exact same as the first with Lyndon Martell getting called for the trip just 13 seconds in. This time the Vees would not be denied on a nice setup that started from the half way. Michael Rebry spotted Scott Mellor in the slot, McLeod came out to challenge the shooter but got caught up in traffic on the top of the crease as the puck found the back of the net 18 seconds into the powerplay.

After Bryant Christian was put in the penalty box on a hooking call, the Spruce Kings seemed to settle down and after killing off the penalty started applying pressure of their own. Getting a couple shots through on Katunar, the Spruce Kings seemed to be working at getting the momentum to swing their way when the unluckiest goal I have seen rolled into the Spruce Kings net.

With the new no-change icing calls players will work a little harder to get to the red line before sending the puck down the ice. Just past the mid-way mark of the second period with Prince George applying the pressure, Wade Murphy came up with the puck and was able to skate out to the middle getting to within inches of the Spruce Kings blue line before dumping it in for a line change.

It seemed harmless enough and McLeod came out of the net to play it off the back wall. The problem was the puck fell awkwardly into the apex of the boards and the ice and bounced right to the net hitting McLeod in the back of the legs and falling to the ice in his feet. In an effort to recover from the awkward bounce, the momentum of the goaltender allowed the puck to roll over the goal line putting the Spruce Kings in a 3-1 hole at 10:36 of the second period.

An unbelievable goal to be sure, the Spruce Kings took a little while to recover from the shock of that one and it didn't help that a few minutes later Coltyn Hansen was called for a slashing minor putting the Spruce Kings down a man for a fifth time in the game. The penalty was a weak one but the call was made and the Spruce Kings responded with another successful penalty kill.

On Hansen's next shift he found himself busting in wide on the Vees defenceman and driving hard to the net. Hansen was caught and ridden into the back wall with a play that could have and maybe should have resulted in an interference call or boarding minor. When there was no reaction from the official, Hansen questioned the non-call and was immediately ejected from the game.

The Spruce Kings would finally get a powerplay after Louie Nanne was caught for a slash. While still playing under the delayed penalty call, Mitch Eden was able to turn an offensive rush and put the puck down the ice looking for Alec Butcher. Lawson was tagged from behind on what looked like a hit from behind. Tyson Witala didn't like what he saw and went after Rob Mann who initiated the hit.

When the dust settled, three players were sent to the penalty box - Witala for roughing after the whistle, Mann for interference and Nanne for the initial call of slashing. The Spruce Kings were unable to cash in on their first powerplay chance that was split between the end of the second period and the start of the third.

They continued to build up momentum but nothing seemed to be working for the Spruce Kings with yet another cross bar picked off leaving the visitors on the wrong side of the 3-1 score. A break would finally come mid-way through the third period when Wade Murphy was penalized on an interference call giving the Spruce Kings their second powerplay chance.

Dave Dupas decided to go with the young guns as the first unit powerplay and it would pay off with a two man advantage 30 seconds later. The penalty was a result of the hard work of Chad Staley who had two good chances with puck and was denied both times including a sharp angle shot that went between the goalie and the net across the open mouth of the goal.

Staley went hard for the puck on the opposite wall and checked hard from behind into the glass. The referee immediately signaled a penalty calling a boarding minor on Travis Blanleil giving the Spruce Kings a two man advantage to work with for 90 seconds at 10:26 of the third period. As the first penalty was coming to an end, Liam Board found the puck in his feet and kicked it up to his stick before slipping it under Katunar.

The referee immediately waved off the puck indicating that he believed the puck had been kicked in intentionally. Although video review is not part of the BCHL, the replay video at centre ice in the South Okanagan Events Centre showed that the puck was directed by a stick and appeared to go off the toe of a defender's skate with intentional kicking motion seen.

That would have made it a 3-2 game and changed everything with the Spruce Kings almost completely in control of the game's momentum. Instead it set up the next unfortunate circumstance when the puck got behind Cam Lawson and set Michael Rebry up with a short handed chance on a partial breakaway. In a panic, Lawson reached out and got a piece of the Vees jersey.

As the puck slid harmlessly into the corner, the referee signaled to centre ice giving the Penticton Vees a penalty shot. Rebry would take it coming out to the rightside before cutting back to the middle. With a little flip towards McLeod the youngster got a piece but not enough of the shot as it trickled in extending the Vees lead to 4-1 at 12:12 of the third period.

The Spruce Kings would not go away, but as the saying goes, it would be too little too late even with a pair of goals late in the period. The first would come off the stick of Chad Staley as he got his second of the season with assists going to Justin Rai and Skylar Pacheco at 17:19 of the third period.

The nicest goal of the night would come 30 seconds later setting up a frantic finish. The goal scoring play started with Liam Board leading the offensive rush over the blue line along the left side wall. As he put on the brakes at the half wall, he spotted Tyson Witala coming down the middle and put it in the slot. Katunar expected a shot and came out to challenge the shooter but instead Witala dished off to the right and Lynden Martell who had the whole open net behind Katunar and made no mistake picking up his fourth of the season.

The Spruce Kings would continue to apply the pressure and were able to get Liam McLeod out of the net and onto the bench for the extra attacker. With time ticking down the Spruce Kings went with Witala, Board, Staley, Martell, Eden and Pacheco. The five would fight for the puck and would get only one more shot on goal coming almost at the same time that the final buzzer sounded.

The 4-3 loss leaves the Prince George Spruce Kings with 10 points and holding onto second spot in the Mainland Division after a night when four of the five teams in that division played. The Coquitlam Express took over sole possession of top spot with 12 points after a 5-2 win over the Nanaimo Clippers. In a 4-3 overtime final, the Chilliwack Chiefs picked up two points while the Surrey Eagles collected one giving both 9 points on the season.

Next up for the Spruce Kings is another three game road trip through the Mainland Division with games against the Surrey Eagles Friday night and a pair against the Langley Rivermen on Saturday and Sunday. The three games in three days will be the first real test for Prince George against teams in their own division being proverbial four point games.

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