Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Top Ten - Honourable Mentions

It's always fun to look back over the past year and reminisce of what has happened. 2012 was a year that the Prince George Spruce Kings can look back on with fond memories and see great achievements. From the excitement of the fans in the rink to the excitement of a single player who heard his name called out during the NHL Draft, there were many moments that have shaped the team as it enters into a new calendar year.

In 2012, the Spruce Kings were a streak breaker, gained national recognition and saw old records broken and new ones set. The team went from the familiar to the unfamiliar and showed great resiliency when dealing with adversity. The character of the team shone through all of it, attracting a new fan base while re-invigorating those that had stayed loyal to the team through some lean times.

Not all of the stories from 2012 will make a Top Ten list, but that is the fun of just such a list - reading and remembering those stories that took place from January through December of 2012. While you go through my list, I hope you will take the time to leave your comments where you agree or disagree with the selections made. The Top Ten itself will be broken down into two parts but before that, here is a list of five stories that just didn't make the cut - they are the Honourable Mentions of 2012.

The People
John Abbott has been with the Spruce Kings for 30 years

As is the case with every franchise, its the people that make the difference. The Spruce Kings are certainly no exception to this rule with a number of people that step up and get the job done. Some are very visible and some not so much. John Abbott is one person who has been around the team for thirty seasons and has been the team's volunteer coordinator for many of those. His work with the volunteer crew is instrumental in ensuring that the game on the ice can be enjoyed by the fans in the stands.

Other people that have made a big difference in 2012 haven't been around for nearly as long. Glen Scott, Ron Edgar and Ron St. Clair are just a few of those that have signed on with the Spruce King this season. With Jim Young focusing more of his attention and time on the Annual Spruce Kings Show Home Lottery, the team brought in Glen Scott and Ron Edgar to be the team's marketing consultants. The pair have scoured the city for businesses that can provide financial support for the team through marketing partnerships and sponsorships.

The work of Scott and Edgar along with Ron Gallo saw an improvement in the game broadcasts that led to the introduction of Ron St. Clair as the voice of the Spruce Kings for their home games. With the broadcasts available on pay-per-view through and also carried on the community radio station, St. Clair's experience and professional delivery adds an all new level to the fan enjoyment of the Spruce Kings.

Another new person added to the mix was Peter James who moved to Prince George in the late summer to take a position with the Prince George Citizen. James stepped into the Spruce Kings broadcasts as the utility player and has delivered some timely hits filling in for both Ron St. Clair and Todd Doherty. James primarily sets the stage with Ron Gallo in the pre-game shows and then wraps everything up with the post game show and post game blog on the Spruce Kings Crusader.

Brad Lazarowich
Four man officiating crew at a BCHL game

In a series of circumstances that includes the NHL labour dispute and a "brutal call" during a game, long-time NHL official, Brad Lazarowich came to Prince George to provide some guidance and share some real life experiences for the officials in our city. Lazarowich has been working as a mentor with the officials throughout the BCHL and has been trying to make his way around the Province to monitor officials as they carry out their roles on the ice in real game situations.

Lazarowich once lived in Prince George when he was growing up and upon returning to the Coliseum recounted memories of scoring his first goal and breaking his leg in the arena we now call the Castle. His life experiences include officiating in the NHL for the past couple of decades and as he put it, that's the only way he knows how to officiate a game. He provided those ways to local officials in a workshop that was attended by some familiar names that wear the stripes during Spruce Kings games as well as a couple that officiate in other leagues and rinks around Prince George.

During his three days in our city, Brad Lazarowich watched three games and provided officials with valuable feedback and then also had indepth conversations with the Spruce Kings coaching staff. All of which was designed to provide a never before seen level of accountability and understanding. It is my belief that having a person with the credentials of Lazarowich taking the time to come to Prince George, and work as closely as he did with all parties, will do wonders for the game we love to watch.

Dealing with Adversity
The Spruce Kings bus ended up off the road

There are always hurdles to be cleared in a season, it is how those moments are dealt with that shapes a team's character. In 2012, the Spruce Kings dealt with a bus crash, an earthquake and an onslaught of the flu all within a month of each other. Through it all the Spruce Kings found ways to win games and minimize the adversity they faced. Starting in chronological order the first character builder for the Spruce Kings was fortunately a minor incident and didn't make the cut for being a Top Ten story of 2012.

While on a road trip to the Lower Mainland, the Spruce Kings team bus full of players, coaches as well as a trainer and a broadcaster ended up off the road. It was a dark and rainy evening as the team rolled along the Fraser Highway on a particularly dark and narrow part of the road without any shoulder markings. The back tire caught a soft part of the shoulder and it was just enough to pull the bus off the road.

Fortunately nobody was hurt in the incident. The following day all of the players were ushered through the hospital to be checked out and everybody was given full clearance to play. The team continued on and didn't miss a beat after being picked up by a Lower Mainland charter bus company. The Spruce Kings squared off against the Langley Rivermen less than 24 hours after the bus incident and pulled out a 5-4 overtime victory. Then they followed that up with a 2-1 win in regulation time over the Coquitlam Express the next night.

Perhaps the fans in the Coliseum will see this one as being a bigger story than the players themselves. A week after the bus incident while hosting the West Kelowna Warriors, the Spruce Kings found themselves shaking in their skates when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake occurred just after 8pm off the coast of Haida Qwaii. The earthquake was felt in the Coliseum leaving fans feeling queasy as they were rocked back and forth in their seats. The lights in the Coliseum were seen swinging back and forth for another five minutes after the initial shock wave was felt.

With a shortened bench due to the flu,
the Spruce Kings found a way to win

When looking back over different things that happened to the team, the flu that struck the team mid way through a three game road trip probably had the biggest impact on the team. The flu itself descended on the team with little warning and flashed through the team leaving players feeling the effects for up to 48 hours afterwards.

The first sign that there were problems came with the captain who wasn't feeling very good during the first game of the weekend. Trevor Esau was the first to go down and was unable to join the rest of the team for breakfast the following morning. As the day progressed, Esau thought he was feeling better and appeared ready to go during the pregame meal.

That's when everything turned. With the team getting ready to load the bus it was quite apparent that Esau was not going to be able to make it as he was quite sick. Brad Ryan and Tyson Witala also fell victim to the flu and were unable to board the bus. The rest of the team headed to the rink and all got dressed to take the pregame skate.

Liam McLeod was given the start in net and was sensational in the opening period turning aside all eleven shots he faced. However during the intermission he was unable to return to the game suffering from the flu. Shayne Morrissey and Coltyn Hansen also found themselves unable to leave the dressing room and unable to resume playing as the puck hit the ice for the second period.

Somehow without seven players (Justin Rai wasn't on this road trip out with an unrelated injury), the remaining players found a way to do the impossible and defeat an otherwise healthy West Kelowna Warriors squad. There is a saying in all team sports that injuries allow other players to step up and get the job done.

The unlikely heroes on the night included Ryan Keis who scored his first BCHL goal, Skylar Pacheco who scored his first of the season, Sean Landrey with his third of the season and Jeremiah Luedtke who scored a highlight reel goal on a nice setup from Chad Staley. Kirk Thompson who had to come in to start the second period of a scoreless game had to be sharp especially in the late stages of the game when the Warriors were doing everything they could to even up the score.

The Spruce Kings were unable to shake
the Merritt Centennials in 2012

Team success is measured by how a team does in the regular season but also how they fare in the playoffs. That's the reason why attendances increase as the season plays out and the post season nears. In the two previous seasons the Spruce Kings missed out on the playoffs but made great strides from the 2011 off season all the way through the 2011-12 season to ensure that wasn't going to be repeated.

Even with fewer teams making the playoffs in the 2011-12 season (only the top four from the Interior Division), the Spruce Kings secured themselves a berth to the post season finishing third with 72 points. That was one point better than the Chilliwack Chiefs and gave Prince George a first round playoff date with the Merritt Centennials who finished with 76 points in second place.

The post season itself wasn't so kind to the Spruce Kings and they unfortunately didn't make it out of the first round losing in four games to the Centennials who were in turn swept by the Penticton Vees in the Conference final. Not making it through to the next round is probably the reason this story doesn't make it to the Top Ten, but in another way it does contribute to at least a few stories that are in the Top Ten as it led to some changes with player personnel and the development of a set of core values for future editions of the Spruce Kings.

Chase Golightly was one of three players that left
the Spruce Kings early to play in the NCAA

Every season is highlighted by those players that graduate junior hockey either though age or through scholarships to NCAA schools. 2012 was no exception as the Spruce Kings wished seven players success with their future hockey careers including three players that still had eligible years of junior hockey remaining.

Jujhar Khaira, who had earned a scholarship to Michigan Tech when he was just 16 showed that he was ready to take on the next challenge in his hockey career at just the age of 18. Khaira was selected in the NHL Entry Draft and before that had his major junior rights secured by the Everett Silvertips. Khaira was able to stay his course and went to Michigan Tech - I'll have more on him later, but for this addition to the Top Ten the story that stands out is seeing three Spruce Kings graduates playing for the Huskies with Kevin Genoe in his senior year, Justin Fillion a sophomore and Khaira a freshman.

Paul de Jersey and Chase Golightly were also eligible to return to the Spruce Kings for this season but both secured NCAA scholarships. de Jersey, who led the Spruce Kings and the BCHL scoring race for much of the season secured a scholarship to Providence College in Rhode Island while Golightly headed to Pennsylvania to play for the Colonials at Robert Morris University.

Three other twenty year olds from last season were also fortunate enough to secure scholarships and continue their hockey career at the NCAA level. Michael Colantone went to University of Massachusetts Lowell to start play with the River Hawks mens hockey. Those previously mentioned scholarships were all earned prior to 2012 to start play with the 2012-13 season but the Spruce Kings also had a number of scholarships secured in 2012.

During the off season, Jarryd Ten Vaanholt picked up a scholarship to Elmira College while Ben Matthews secured a scholarship a little closer to his hometown with the Alaska Anchorage Seawolves. Another graduating player that was given an opportunity to see his hockey career carry on was Ben Woodley who actually finished out the 2011-12 season with the Evansville Icemen before ending up on the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears roster for the start of this season.

When it comes to scholarships, that is a driving force behind a lot of players ambitions and this season saw a number of players chose the Prince George Spruce Kings and the BCHL as an opportunity to get their scholarship. The first do so was Brad Ryan who packed up his bags and came out west to pursue his dreams. Ryan's scholarship is to the Unversity of Vermont with the start of the 2013-14 season.

Coltyn Hansen and Cameron Lawson also picked up NCAA scholarships before the end of the calendar year with Hansen securing his to Sacred Heart and Lawson to Holy Cross. In early December trades, the Spruce Kings picked up two more players with scholarships. At the age of seventeen, both Jace Hennig (Merrimack) and Kevin Guiltinan (Harvard) know that their future hockey careers will be heading down the educational path.

Althought that is it for scholarships in the calendar year of 2012, that certainly isn't the last of them for the Prince George Spruce Kings and the early part of 2013 should generate a few more. Names expected to be added to the list of scholared players include Mitch Eden, Kirk Thompson, Shayne Morrissey and Trevor Esau with a few more thrown in for good measure.

That concludes this look at the Honourable Mentions of 2012. The next blog post will start the countdown of the top stories of the year looking at number ten through six. Again feel free to leave your thoughts on this look back at the top Spruce Kings stories.

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