|Liam Board (19) dropped the mitts with Trevor Cope (16)|
after a questionable hit on Chad Staley (22)
The Spruce Kings suffered a disappointing 3-2 loss to the Langley Rivermen on Saturday night in Langley. In a fairly defensive physical battle, the Spruce Kings had leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in the third period but couldn't hold on giving up two late goals. The Spruce Kings will have an opportunity to earn the weekend split when the two teams meet again on Sunday afternoon at 2pm.
Time and space was at a premium for both teams Saturday night with a close checking and defensive strategy adopted by both teams. Langley was the more physical team on the night and took every opportunity to initiate and finish hits. Although the Rivermen controlled much of the play throughout the game, they had difficulty getting setup even when on the powerplay.
The Spruce Kings would open the scoring on a powerplay of their own late in the first period. On a play started by Tyson Witala with a dump in, Martell was able to fish the puck out of traffic in the right faceoff circle and get it into the slot where Coltyn Hansen was waiting. As Hansen got a piece of it he directed the slow moving puck off the far post and in at 18:16 of the first period.
That goal would be the lone marker on the board for either team for over 22 minutes as the teams continued to battle each other and not allow the opposition to set up anything of significance. That changed in a big hurry at the start of the third period with the Spruce Kings on their fifth powerplay of the game.
The Spruce Kings powerplay unit started off with the right idea, trying to collapse the four man penalty kill unit looking for the perfect shot on goal. Unfortunately, the setup pass through the top of the crease was picked off by Austin Azurdia who raced down the other end of the ice untouched.
With tons of speed on the clear cut breakaway, Azurdia went straight down the middle putting the puck into the pads of Kirk Thompson. The backward momentum of Thompson brought both the goalie and the puck over the goal line allowing the Rivermen to tie up the game 1-1 just 39 seconds into the final period.
The Spruce Kings would get that one back and restore their one goal lead with their second powerplay tally of the night at 7:33. With a D-to-D pass along the blueline, the puck went into the corner and came out on Tyson Witala's stick. The Prince George hockey product came around the faceoff circle and while trying to split a pair of defenders just lobbed the puck on net, squeezing one under the arm for his sixth of the season.
The Langley Rivermen did not give up nor did they change their physical approach to the game. On one Spruce Kings rush, Chad Staley was tracking the puck into the corner when he was tagged team along the glass. Liam Board was right there and immediately went after Trevor Cope. The pair dropped the gloves and exchanged a few blows, when the dust settled Board was given an extra minor for roughing.
That would be just what the Langley River needed even though they didn't officially score with the man advantage. As the penalty was coming to an end Bo Pellah took the puck and started to head behind the Spruce Kings net but before he got completely behind it, he was able to center the puck where Azurdia was standing and waiting to knock in his second of the game.
Throughout the game, both teams struggled with puck possession - errand passes, bounces and rolling pucks causing much of the problem. On one clearing attempt, the Spruce Kings were able to get the puck to the blue line not once but twice only to have the puck come off the heel of a stick and right onto the tape of Jakob Reichert.
The one time Merritt Centennial carried the puck to the top of the faceoff circle and let go a rising shot that was tipped past Kirk Thompson. The goal gave the Rivermen their first lead of the game with less than 3 minutes remaining. After the Spruce Kings had held the lead for over 30 minutes of the game, the Rivermen had found a way to come back and take over that lead with 2:39 remaining in regulation.
The Spruce Kings coaching staff tried everything to find even some of the chemistry that the team had one night earlier when they posted a 4-1 over the Surrey Eagles. Dave Dupas picked players from every line to try and find a combination that would even up the game, even pulling Thompson with well over a minute remaining in the game. The Spruce Kings would get a couple of chances, but like the chances earlier on, nothing was working.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Rivermen had upset the Spruce Kings and posted their fourth win of the season to really tighten up the Mainland Division standings. The lose coupled with a Chilliwack/Coquitlam tie, sees the Spruce Kings fall into a two way tie for second place with the Chilliwack Chiefs who have a game in hand on Prince George.
That will turn into two games after Sunday's return to the LEC and rematch of the Langley Rivermen and Prince George Spruce Kings. A 2pm game to finish out the three game road trip and an opportunity to pick up the split against their Mainland Division rival.
Sunday's game will not be broadcast on 93.1 CFIS-FM. A free online audio only broadcast of the game will be available from the Spruce Kings UStream channel. The game will also be available as a pay-per-view broadcast on Fasthockey.com beginning at 1:40pm. Following the game, the Spruce Kings will head back home to enjoy the rest of the Thanksgiving weekend and prepare for a home weekend with games against the Powell River Kings Friday night and Surrey Eagles on Saturday night.