Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Top Ten - Part Two

Now its time to unveil the top five stories of 2012 ... this is where the discussions are sure to pick up as different people will be wondering how a story could rank higher than all the rest. The criteria that I have used is based on the Spruce Kings as a team, but as we have already seen, even in a team sport there will always be individual achievements and successes, but lets start with a trio of players in the number five slot.

Fitzgerald Triplets
The Fitzgerald Triplets could make things happen

It is safe to say that in the one season that Gerry, Leo and Myles Fitzgerald spent in Prince George they were fan favourites and rightfully so. Fans loved to see these three players hit the ice as a single line and start their magic. They played with a chemistry that defies explanation and executed plays as if they knew precisely where each other was.

That chemistry alone allowed the Fitzgerald triplets, despite their smaller stature, to cause untold hardship on the opposition. They could physically wear down the other team just by making them try to keep up, this in turn allowed other lines to jump over the boards and take advantage of the tired players on the ice. As we know from a previous entry in the Top Ten, at least one Spruce Kings player benefited by the play of the Fitzgerald triplets and went on to win the Brett Hull Leading Scorer Trophy.

In a story that has its beginnings in the summer of 2011, the Fitzgerald triplets were happy to come to Prince George. Playing together in Nanaimo the previous season, the triplets were told that they weren't the right fit for the new direction the Clippers were going to be taking under their new coach. Mike Hawes spent many hours on the phone trying to work out a deal that would bring the triplets to Prince George and was finally successful.

At first the triplets were seen as a novelty act - when was the last time that triplets had played hockey and had that ever been with the same team? These questions and so many more along the same theme turned the triplets into a bit of sideshow. It didn't take long for the three to show that they were much more than that on the ice.

In their first game with the Spruce Kings they combined for five points including three goals and helped Prince George to a 6-3 season opening win over the Merritt Centennials. But this is about the calendar year 2012 and what happened during those months. From January til March, the triplets played in a combined 72 games, scored 32 goals and registered 32 assists for a total of 64 points. But again their real strength was in wearing down the opposition which allowed the top line to go out their and get even more points (for comparison, De Jersey, Khaira and Colantone collected 91 points).

The reason this story enters the 2012 Top Ten list in the fifth spot is not because of what happened on the ice in 2012 but rather off the ice as the season came to an end. The Spruce Kings knew they were going to be in tough heading into the next season losing the likes of De Jersey, Khaira, Colantone and Jarryd Ten Vaanholt up front as well as a couple of big defencemen. The plan was to built around the Fitzgerald triplets and give them the support they would need so they could be the top line.

Those plans changed quickly when the triplets let the Spruce Kings organization know that, although they loved their time in Prince George, they were homesick and would like to play closer to their home of Port Alberni. This was a huge blow to the Spruce Kings as you can imagine just how difficult it was going to be to work a deal that would include the triplets. Mike Hawes had done it once before, but now he would have to do it again only the other way.

Discussions carried on for quite some time through the summer until almost by magic the key was unveiled in Victoria with the announcement that Bill Bestwich was returning to the BCHL as the head coach and general manager of the Grizzlies. Bestwick was the first to see the potential of the Fitzgerald triplets and had introduced the BCHL to them while in Nanaimo.

Bestwick made it clear that he was interested in getting the triplets back on his team and spent the next few weeks working out the details with Hawes. The deal was finally struck and the Prince George Spruce Kings were able to grant the triplets their wish of playing closer to home and would get some good talent back in return. The deal was Gerry, Leo and Myles Fitzgerald for Coltyn Hansen, Cameron Lawson and David London with London being a defenceman that would help fill one of those vacancies on the blue line.

As it turned out, London never got into a regular season game with the Spruce Kings after suffering a shoulder injury during the preseason. Interesting enough however David London ended up becoming Justin Rai and that in itself is an interesting twist on the whole triplet line. Playing with Jeremiah Luedtke and Chad Staley, Rai completes the Cascade Express line which many people have compared to the triplets in their ability to cycle the puck, create plays, wear down the opposition and of course score timely goals.

When looking at the whole triplet trade, it does appear that it became a win-win for everybody involved. The triplets are leading the Grizzlies in scoring, Coltyn Hansen and Cameron Lawson are doing the same in Prince George and both Spruce Kings forwards have picked up scholarships in 2012 and of course there is the creation of the Cascade Express line that many people see as being the future of the Spruce Kings.

Show Home
2012 Show Home Lottery House at 2668 Links Drive

Simply put, the Spruce Kings could not continue to play in the British Columbia Hockey League if not for the annual Spruce Kings Show Home Lottery. Every year the Prince George Spruce Kings put together the lottery to generate much needed revenues for the hockey club and give people a chance to win a gorgeous show home and many early bird prizes.

The Prince George Spruce Kings Show Home Lottery is the longest running house lottery in the Province of British Columbia and it is the work of the Spruce Kings lottery that has helped to establish the rules, regulations and policies for all other major lotteries in BC. The work that Jim Young does with all of the business supporters that step up every year to build and contribute prizes to the house itself and the lottery as a whole goes beyond words.

As 2012 started up the 32nd annual Spruce Kings Show Home Lottery was at the mid point of its run. Ticket sales had been brisk and there were a few prizes still to be awarded. Under the guidance of Jim Young the Lottery took off and it became apparent to everyone that the tickets would not last until the draw date of April 15th. In fact the tickets sold out almost a complete month ahead of schedule.

On April 15th it was announced that Justin Francoeur won the house. A young couple with a young boy that needed medical attention and another baby on the way, it just seemed perfect that this was who won the house. The couple was in disbelief when they received the call that evening and decided to check it out despite having to be at work early the next morning. The couple took possession of the house stating that this would help to alleviate some of the financial pressures they were facing with bills and medical expenses.

The Show Home Lottery typically runs through the winter months and this year is no different except that Jim Young and the Spruce Kings decided that it was in the best interests of the community to wait until the other house lottery had ran its course before starting up again. The current edition of the Spruce Kings Show Home Lottery is the 33rd annual and tickets first went on sale in mid November with a little twist added on.

This year marked the introduction of the Mega 50/50 Lottery, a chance to buy a single ticket for $20 and a chance to win $40,000 if all 4000 tickets were sold. Well sell they did and on December 24th all 4000 tickets were sold meaning that one ticket will win the cash jackpot of $40,000. The draw will be made on May 15, 2013 at the same time that the grand prize in the Show Home Lottery is made.

Be listening in early 2013 for the introduction of a second Mega 50/50 Lottery and a second chance to buy tickets to win a cash jackpot of $40,000. By the way, it should be mentioned that the Show Home Lottery tickets have also been selling very fast with 5000 tickets already purchased leaving only 3500 tickets as we turn the calendar to 2013.

In keeping with some of those rules that the Spruce Kings have helped to shape let me just take a moment to remind you that ticket purchasers must be 19 years of age or older. Know your limit, play within it.

Jujhar Khaira
From the Spruce Kings to the NHL

Every once in awhile a player comes along that has the ability to dictate a game and play beyond anybody's expectations. The Spruce Kings were fortunate to have just such a player in Jujhar Khaira. The story of Jujhar goes back to when he was 15 years old and was waiting to hear his name called at the Bantam Draft by a Western Hockey League team. It never did and it left this youngster heartbroken and questioning whether or not hockey was even a sport he wanted to play anymore.

Raised with an old world sense of loyalty and dedication, Khaira knew that he had to play out the rest of the season and would make a decision after that. Fortunately for the Prince George Spruce Kings, Khaira was spotted by a team scout. Kirk Starr looked over his notes and couldn't find anything about this tall kid that could make plays happen when there looked like there were no options.

Starr started talking to Khaira and his family and urged him to try out for this BCHL team that he was scouting for in Prince George. Khaira wasn't sure that was what he wanted to do but eventually gave in to the repeated demands to at least give it a try and see what might happen. Starr also had to convince the Spruce Kings coaching staff that this unknown player was the real deal and should be given an opportunity to skate in the team's main training camp in August.

In the 2010-11 season there was a BCHL rule that stated every team needed to have one sixteen year old player on the roster, so the door was open and the invite was granted and accepted. Jujhar Khaira showed up in Prince George and found comfort being back on the ice. The game seemed to come to him easy and he stood out among all the other sixteen year old players. Khaira was offered a spot on the team and accepted, he wanted to make the most of this opportunity and before the end of October hit he had already secured himself a scholarship to Michigan Tech University.

During his sixteen year old season, Jujhar Khaira was playing at a level that was seen in 18 and 19 year-old players. This trend continued onto the next season when he was selected to represent Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge. Khaira saw himself playing out another dream of his to wear the Canadian jersey and win gold doing so.

His play again stood out from amongst the crowd and Khaira found himself listed by NHL Central Scouting for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. As a 17 year old, Khaira was showing his sheer physical strength and precision passing setting up his team mates to the tune of 50 assists in the season. He also chipped in when he had the chance and registered 29 goals. As the season progressed, NHL scouts started arriving at the Prince George Coliseum to assess the play of this diamond in the rough.

It isn't unusual to see NHL scouts at the many BCHL rinks around the Province and its not unusual to see them in Prince George attending a game at the CN Centre. It was a little more rare to see them booking flights to Prince George specifically to see a Spruce Kings player in action. After a game the NHL scouts would wait until media members had finished their interviews and then sit in the Spruce Kings office talking about this 17 year old player that could very well become the first player since Brad Fast in 1999 to be drafted directly out of the Spruce Kings dressing room to the NHL.

In 2012, Jujhar was invited to the NHL Draft Combine where he took part in a series of physical and aptitude tests and placed in the top ten. There were a number of teams that showed serious interest in Khaira comparing him to Milan Lucic on the ice. Heading into the draft, Khaira was ranked 74th among North American skaters - that doesn't factor in the European draft selections or goaltenders.

As the names were called out from the stage, Jujhar Khaira's name rang out through the Consol Engery Centre in Pittsburg as the 63rd overall selection was made by the Edmonton Oilers. Khaira was the highest picked BCHL'er in 2012 and third pick of the Oilers behind 1st overall Nail Yakupov and Mitchell Moroz.

Not yet 18 years old, Khaira had gone from somebody left out to making it onto the biggest stage in the NHL in just two short years. The Spruce Kings still hold Khaira's Junior A playing rights but the Everett Silvertips made a bold move to acquire his major junior playing rights in the hopes that he might want to make the jump to the WHL. That wasn't a part of Jujhar's plans and he stayed the course heading to Michigan Tech to study and play there with the start of the 2012-13 season.

As he had done when he was 16 and then at 17, Jujhar Khaira has worked hard to be at the top of his game despite his younger age. Khaira is listed today as 6' 3" and 195 lbs and has been playing at a level that makes others see him as being over the age of 20. I first had some NCAA stats for Khaira in an earlier entry in this Top Ten list, but those numbers can now be updated to 19 games played, 4 goals and 11 assists after this weekend. Oh and you can add another championship to his resume as the Michigan Tech Huskies won the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament on Sunday night December 30th after posting a pair of 4-0 wins.

Streak Breaker
Celebrating the streak breaking goal

There are games that stand out above all other games for their significance to a player, to an organization and to the community as a whole. The Spruce Kings have had a few in recent memory including the one that needed six overtime periods to decide. In 2012 there was one game that may very well have eclipsed that semi-final game against the Camrose Kodiaks at the 2007 RBC Royal Bank Cup.

During the 2011-12 season the Penticton Vees ran roughshod over the rest of the league and seem to be unstoppable as the season progressed. Early on in the season the Spruce Kings had defeated the Vees 5-4 but that was when the season was just getting into double digit games. The win on October 8, 2011 was a big win coming at the 4:59 mark of double overtime on a buzzer beating shot from Michael Colantone who had been setup by Chase Golightly.

Now speaking of rivalries through the years, I can tell you without question that any win over the Penticton Vees is a big win and that one was no exception but it pales in comparison the the one on March 10, 2012. The game itself was the last game of the regular season and was also the back half of a double header played in the Coliseum. The night before Prince George had built up four separate leads only to see the number one team in the country come back every time and eventually take over in the third period to win 8-5.

The Vees had gone through the season watching the wins pile up to the improbable total of 42 consecutive wins. In fact prior to March 10th, the Vees had only 3 regulation losses and 2 overtime losses with the last one of those coming on Saturday November 5, 2011. To the rest of the League, the Vees were an unstoppable force and found ways to win as they showed in the third period the night before. Prince George was okay with their effort and told themselves they could do it on the last night of the regular season.

The Coliseum was packed to the rafters some believing they were going to see the seemingly impossible happen while others wanting to see history being written. Two minutes into the game and the home town fans were given something to cheer about when Jarryd Ten Vaanholt opened the scoring on a play set up by Paul De Jersey and Tyson Witala. The Penticton Vees stayed the course and as they had done the night before, answered back to tie the game 1-1 at 8:46. That's how the first period would end.

To start the second period the Penticton Vees came out strong and would get the go ahead goal from Bryce Gervais a little over 2 minutes in. Trailing the Vees at any point in a game is a difficult task to overcome and sometimes you need a little puck luck in times such as those. That puck luck would come in the 14 minute mark of the second period when Ben Woodley's screened shot found the back of the net and let the Spruce Kings fans erupt again. Paul De Jersey and Michael Colantone picked up the assists on the tying goal.

For the remainder of the second period both teams were denied the go ahead goal and as the buzzer sounded and the fans took a collective breath, the teams headed to the dressing room tied. The difference in the third period was simply a focused effort on the part of the Prince George Spruce Kings who capitalized on three of their eleven chances.

At the 7:16 mark of the third period, Myles Fitzgerald would score what turned out to be the eventual game winner. Two minutes later, Michael Colantone would add an insurance marker on the power play leaving everyone in the building asking the question “could this be happening?” The answer, was yes as Colantone would add an empty netter to seal the deal. After some rough stuff, including a tilt between Sean Landrey and Dexter Dancs, the buzzer sounded and the streak was officially broken.

That is something that can never be taken away from that group of players, fans or the team itself. Whenever anybody talks of the longest winning streak, it will always be heard that the Spruce Kings ended the Penticton Vees streak at 42 games and I hope it will also be said that you were there!

The Buzz
The Spruce Kings played in front of packed houses in 2012

This look back at 2012 started with "The People" in the Honourable Mentions section, but here the top story of 2012 is all about the fans and the buzz around town surrounding the Prince George Spruce Kings. A community owned team that has survived 40 years and is now into its 41st consecutive season in Prince George, the Spruce Kings have had some glorious seasons and a few we would rather not mention but through it all the fans have been there.

In 2012 the fans were there in numbers and have been very vocal in their support of the team, its players and those involved with the operations of the club. The buzz has included almost every player from the Fitzgerald triplets to the Cascade Express line this season, from Jujhar Khaira and Paul De Jersey to Kirk Thompson and Mitch Eden. Shayne Morrissey is another name that is generating some buzz as can be seen by the fan voting for the CNC Challenge Cup.

As well as the fans, businesses have stepped up and provided a level of support that hasn't been seen in quite some time rallying groups of people to help out in any means possible. In 2012 we have seen the unprecedent support shown by the four locations of Save On Foods as well as countless other community businesses including those that help out solely with the Show Home Lottery like the Northern Hardware and Brent Scheck.

Media attention around the team is there almost on a daily basis as everybody wants to know about the players and the makeup of the team. It seems that fans can't get enough about the Spruce Kings as can be seen by their Facebook page which averages a reach of 2000 people daily. The twitter account has in excess of 1000 followers and then there is this blog. The Spruce Kings Crusader has jumped dramatically over the course of 2012 to the point where there have been 100,000 views of the blogs posted during 2012.

Playing the game of hockey in the premier junior league of Canada isn't easy and it isn't cheap. The BCHL has become an elite league and that means that all of the teams must operate at an elite level in order to survive and maintain that status. In recent years we have seen the Williams Lake Timberwolves and the Quesnel Millionaires cease operating in the BCHL and that has put a tremendous strain on the Prince George Spruce Kings.

Throughout this past calendar year, the Spruce Kings have held their heads high in league meetings while other teams ask how we do it. The answer is simple, we are a community team and the community supports us. Prince George is a proud hockey community and their support of the Spruce Kings has pushed the players to work harder on the ice.

For the first time in many years, the Coliseum was not just packed, but it was sold out. On February 18, 2012 the Prince George Spruce Kings hosted the Nanaimo Clippers. All four Save On Foods locations got behind the game and brought out staff for an employee night. One employee and one fan each got to participate in a shoot to win a truck contest. The buzz in the building was unbelievable and carried over for the rest of the season with three consecutive sell outs.

There were fans lined up out the door and into the parking lot trying to get in but some had to be turned away. The City of Prince George was forced to find the occupancy load sign and dust it off to be displayed at the front entrance limiting the capacity to 2112 spectators. Attendance for the Prince George Spruce Kings in 2012 has been exceptional and we are now seeing other teams around the League trying to duplicate some of the efforts seen in Prince George.

The Spruce Kings game ticket is a hot commodity and the office receives requests almost daily for donations of tickets to various community groups. Not many are denied as the Spruce Kings have always shown their appreciation to supporters. This year the Prince George Minor Hockey Association has been welcomed into the games to put on a mini game of their own during the first intermission and meet the Spruce Kings players.

Part of the buzz is because of the community presence of the players who try and get out to as many events as possible around their busy hockey, school and work schedules. The players themselves are being recognized more and more while they are out in the public and it isn't just limited to within the city either. During the Christmas break, a few players have relayed stories of fans seeing them while they were making their way back home.

Whether it be of a goal, a game, a player, a line or something else with the team, one this is for certain and that is the pride we all have representing the Spruce Kings in Prince George and around the Province. We appreciate all the kind words and support being shown by you the fans. Thank you!

Well there you have it, the Top Ten stories of 2012. I hope you enjoyed the look back at the year and are looking forward to 2013. I know I am as there are so many more things on the horizon for the Prince George Spruce Kings and a few loose ends from 2012 to be tied up.

I'm not sure everyone can agree with my selection of the Top Ten stories, in fact I'm not sure I agree. Just minutes before posting, I rearranged two stories but I'm not going to tell you which ones. Please feel free to leave your thoughts as a comment on this blog or put them as a post on the Spruce Kings Facebook page. Keep that buzz going and show your support for the Prince George Spruce Kings any way you can - it's all appreciated.

I certainly can't wait to get back inside the Coliseum to see a Spruce Kings game; unfortunately that won't happen until January 18. There will be a few games before then on the road starting with the Battle of the Kings part two in Powell River on January 4th followed by a trip to Port Alberni to face the Alberni Valley Bulldogs on January 5th. On January 6th, the Spruce Kings will play their first game of the season against the Nanaimo Clippers.

All of those games will be available online with a free audio broadcast on the Spruce Kings MIXLR channel and also as a pay-per-view broadcast on

1 comment:

Ron Gallo said...

This has been enjoyable to recap some memorable stories from 2012. Thank you and Happy New Year.