Coming off a 5-4 overtime win last night in Langley, the Spruce Kings turn their attention to the Coquitlam Express and the first meeting of the season with this Mainland Division opponent. The Spruce Kings and the Express have been battling each other for top spot in the Mainland Division since the opening weekend and currently share that top spot with the Chilliwack Chiefs (the only other Divisional opponent Prince George has yet to faceoff against).
The Coquitlam Express have started out the season strong opening with a pair of shutout victories to take early season leads in many categories. Currently sitting 13th in the CJHL National Rankings, the Express have been arguably the most consistent team in the Coastal Conference with a record of 8-3-1-0. The 17 points is one fewer than the Prince George Spruce Kings but they have also played two fewer games.
Averaging 3.17 goals a game, the Express have scored 13 more goals than they have allowed and are currently on a two game winning streak. If there is a concern with the numbers for Coquitlam, it comes on home ice. The Express have missed out on only a single point while on the road with a 5-0-1-0 record but are .500 in the Poirier Sport & Leisure Complex (3-3-0-0).
The home of the Coquitlam Express is the Poirier Sport & Leisure Complex located at 633 Poirier Street in Coquitlam, BC. The original building was built in 1973 and underwent a renovation in 2009 that saw the seating increase from 1700 to 2200 for the NHL size rink. The Express started in Coquitlam in 2001 but moved to Burnaby after four seasons due to concerns for the original building over parking and limited spaces.
The Express made Burnaby their hometown for five seasons, bringing home a National Championship during that time. Their most famous and recognizable player from that era was Kyle Turris who was the highest drafted player to come out of the BCHL selected third overall by the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Even with all of that the team did not find Burnaby to be a financially viable market and moved back to Coquitlam into the newly renovated arena.
The Coquitlam Express have a strong tie back to Prince George with minor hockey product, Darcy Rota still very much involved with the team as the President and League Govenor. Rota's start in hockey came in Prince George and although he never played for the Spruce Kings, some say the creation of the Spruce Kings hockey team was to provide a new level of hockey for Rota and the other high end players moving through the system.
As mentioned earlier, the Spruce Kings and the Express have been back and forth at the top of the Mainland Division this season. This parity has been going on for a few years including a couple of seasons where neither team made the post season to today where this game becomes a battle for top spot in the Division and potentially second overall in the League.
The strength of the Express may very well be between the pipes with Cole Huggins. The 20 year-old three-year vet of the BCHL has seen his numbers improve year over year going from a 3.55 goals against average two years ago to a 2.01 this season. His save percentage has also improved from an 89.9 to 94.3 and already this season has posted a pair of shutout wins to sit with a 7-1-1 record heading into tonight's game.
Leading the Express offensively is returning forward John Siemer with 5 goals and 11 assists in 12 games. Also up there is Alexander Kerfoot (6G, 9A in 15 games) who gained notoriety in the BCHL last season and was drafted in the fifth round 150th overall by the New Jersey Devils. Drafted by the Seattle Thunderbirds in 2009, Kerfoot opted for the educational route and is now committed to play for Harvard University in 2013.
Heading into the weekend, the Coquitlam Express were involved in a trade with the Surrey Eagles that sees Brandon Morley and Brady Shaw swap jerseys. Shaw played his first game with the Eagles last night and was instrumental in his new team's come from behind win over the Vernon Vipers scoring a pair of goals. Morley will play in his first game with the Express tonight carrying a record of 0 goals and 5 assists in 11 games with him. Morley is considered to be a strong physical player and has already played in a pair of games against the Spruce Kings.
Prince George comes into the game riding a three game win streak despite being short a handful of players in those three games. David London has yet to play his first game with his new team and Tanner Fjellstrom has gotten into one so far. Lyndon Martell has not been cleared to play since being hit in the head in a game against the Langley Rivermen on October 6th. Trevor Esau and Tyson Witala will miss their fourth consecutive game tonight and are resting back in Prince George.
The Spruce Kings will have a pair of affiliate players in the lineup tonight to help fill up the game day roster. Robert Zadra will suit up for his fifth game with the Spruce Kings on the blue line. Zadra has been able to fill the void on the back end and has been getting more comfortable every game out.
Matthew Bissett will join the Spruce Kings tonight as an AP from the Ridge Meadow Flames. In a game played last night, Bissett earned first star honours after scoring a pair of goals and adding an assist in a 4-2 win over the Richmond Sockeyes. The points improve the players stats to better than a point a game (6G, 5A in 10 games).
The Spruce Kings win last night was thanks in no small part to Coltyn Hansen and Justin Rai, who both scored a pair of goal, but also Sean Landrey who was instrumental on the game winning goal scored by Mitch Eden in the overtime period. Landrey's go-hard approach to the game last night led to the Spruce Kings third powerplay of the game and the fourth tying goal scored by Hansen 16 seconds after the penalty expired.
In the absence of some of the key players, many others have been stepping up and getting the job done for Prince George. To find the same success tonight, the same game plan will have to be used. Game time is 7pm with the game broadcast live on 93.1 CFIS-FM. A free online audio only broadcast is available from the community radio station's website - CFIS-FM.com and there is also a pay-per-view broadcast available from Fasthockey.com.
Following the game, the team will head home on a chartered bus from Premier Pacific Coast Coach. The charter bus company based out of Burnaby has been able to get the team around this weekend after the Spruce Kings team bus was involved in a minor accident. The team bus will have to stay down in the Vancouver area for a complete inspection but is expected to be cleared to drive back to Prince George later in the week.