|Jeremiah Luedtke scores the game's pretties goal|
and gets the game winner as the Spruce Kings overcome all odds
The term "character win" has been overused and should now be filed away after the Spruce Kings provide the definitive definition of the term in a 4-3 win over the West Kelowna Warriors on Saturday night. The team was ravaged by the flu just prior to and even during the game to the point they were down to 10 forwards, 4 defencemen and only 1 goaltender for the better part of the game.
Just hours before the game Trevor Esau, Brad Ryan and Tyson Witala found themselves dealing with severe upset stomach aches and pains and had to be scratched for the game along with Justin Rai who remains out of the lineup with an unrelated injury. During the pregame skate three more players felt nauseous but still started the game. Liam McLeod was given the start between the pipes and was absolutely stellar in the first period.
The youngster played a perfect game along with the rest of the team who were on a mission to keep things as simple as possible. In the first period the Spruce Kings were outshot 11-2 but nothing got past McLeod who remained square to every shot and frustrated the offensive threats for the Warriors. Unfortunately for the rookie goaltender the flu bug had other plans for McLeod, leaving him suffering from the same symptoms as the others and unable to return to finish the game.
Shayne Morrissey and Coltyn Hansen also fell to the flu bug in the first intermission staking the odds even higher against the Prince George Spruce Kings. The home town team had a full roster at their disposal and the confidence to go along with that after posting a come-from-behind win over the Merritt Centennials. The Warriors did everything but score the opening goal in the game - that honour was saved for Ryan Keis.
The rookie forward who has spent his fair share of time in the stands watching the game below made the most of his additional time in this game and scored the game's first goal from the slot. Chad Staley and Jeremiah Luedtke had been cycling the puck below the goal line looking for an opportunity to create a scoring chance when they got it to Keis in the slot. Keis didn't hesitate and fired a harmless looking shot on net that found its way over the goal line at 5:49 of the second period for his first BCHL career goal.
The Warriors started to turn it on again and would turn to the team's leading scorer. In the first period Marcus Basara was denied three times by McLeod leaving the 19 year old forward from Port Moody wondering what he would have to do. Well he would have to be perfect and at 13:53 he was as came in off the left wing and from the top of the faceoff circle fired a high hard shot that found just enough room under the cross bar to put the Warriors on the board.
After holding off the Warriors on two man advantages, Prince George would get their first powerplay of the game in the late stages of the second period. With Dustin Cave in the penalty box, the Spruce Kings went to work with their man advantage. Mitch Eden started the play from the left point, carrying the puck down to the faceoff circle before taking a shot on goal. The rebound came back to Bryant Christian who was turned around in the slot and unable to get a shot off, so instead he passed out to Skylar Pacheco on the top of the right side faceoff circle. Pacheco scored his first of the season as he stepped into a wrister and found the hole low on the far blocker side with 8.8 seconds remaining in the period.
The Spruce Kings headed to the dressing room with their second lead of the game, a 2-1 lead built on just 12 shots while giving up twice as many through forty minutes. To start the third period, the Spruce Kings found themselves hemmed inside their own zone still trying to play it safe and protect the one goal lead.
From the right point Braxton Bilous tried to force another shot through on Thompson that was knocked down by Chad Staley who fed it off the wall for Sean Landrey. The imposing forward for the Spruce Kings won the puck battle over Bilous and broke free through the neutral zone. Skating down the left wing wall, Landrey waited until he crossed the blue line before letting go an offspeed shot that handcuffed Garrett Rockafellow. The goal, Landrey's third of the season, came against the flow of play at 7:04 of the third period.
The West Kelowna Warriors would get another two back-to-back powerplays beginning with Skylar Pacheco who was called for tripping after trying to play the puck and having a Warrior fall down after stepping on the defenceman's stick. The Spruce Kings were able to kill of the penalty clearing the zone just a second or two before Pacheco was released. As Pacheco stepped back on the ice, the puck was fired up to Marcus Basara who was able to pick it up behind the Spruce Kings defender and entered the Spruce Kings zone letting another riser that found that top corner on Thompson again.
Just a few minutes later Lyndon Martell was called for hooking as he went in on the forecheck and was called for the reach around trying to knock the puck off of the defender's stick. Without a powerplay goal in their previous three chances, the Warriors would tie the game up on this man advantage. From his own zone, Adam Plant carried the puck through the neutral zone stopping just inside the Spruce Kings blue line before giving to Basara who stopped off the half way and spotted Josh Monk in the high slot. Monk gathered in the puck and went straight down the pipe to the hash marks before letting go his shot tying the game 3-3 at 12:29 of the third.
The Spruce Kings would get one more powerplay before the end of regulation time and it would turn into the game winning goal. Simply put the prettiest goal I have seen in some time. One night early Jeremiah Luedtke was accused of scoring an ugly goal as he tried to center the puck and was able to celebrate a goal instead after it careened off the goaltender's skate and into the back of the net. This night his goal would become a thing of beauty.
With the puck on the left point, Mitch Eden got the puck down to Luedtke who stopped up on the half way and dished off to Chad Staley who was on his way around the net. With everybody heading to the opposite, Staley dropped the puck back to Luedtke who followed Staley to the net and found himself with the puck on his stick and a wide open short side of the net. Luedtke made no mistake and deposited his third of the season and second in as many nights with 4:15 remaining.
Both teams would use up their timeouts in the remaining minutes and the West Kelowna Warriors would pull their goaltender but the Spruce Kings stood tall blocking shots and forcing the Warriors to the outside. The final play saw the puck slide through the blue paint and diving Skylar Pacheco able to get the puck to the blue line and just over resulting in an offside whistle with just .9 of a second remaining.
The win was absolutely a character win with smart plays being made all around and sacrifices to keep the Spruce Kings in the lead the entire game. Following the game some emotions boiled over as a frustrated Warriors squad showed that frustration and the Spruce Kings showed their obvious emotion from the win. The Spruce Kings are expected to get some reinforcements in time for Sunday's game against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
There is also a feeling that some of those players that missed out on Saturday's win will be able to play. Expect an update prior to Sunday's 3pm afternoon game in Salmon Arm. By the way the game won't be on 93.1 CFIS-FM but will be available on a new ad free website called MIXLR.com and of course the game will be available on FASTHOCKEY.com pay-per-view.