Sunday, February 24, 2013

Game Preview: at Coquitlam Express

"Be ready to go!" is the message today.
Shayne Morrissey uses a BCHL timeout to retape his stick Friday.

It's the final road game of the regular season for the Spruce Kings and a chance to redeem themselves from Friday's loss as well as build momentum heading into the playoffs. Prince George is coming off a 5-3 win over the Chilliwack Chiefs in a game that saw the Spruce Kings make a complete 180 from the their game the night before. Everybody was going and sticking to the game plan of playing it close and putting players in the dirty areas. That will have to be the plan today again against a team that is still fighting for a playoff spot.

The Coquitlam Express played the perfect game on Friday night and were full value for their win over Prince George, but they must have been de-moralized when they realized within minutes of leaving the ice that they hadn't made up any ground on the Langley Rivermen who also posted a win Friday night. In fact the Express, who were idle last night, have now lost ground in the playoff race after Langley picked up two points in a 3-2 overtime win in Vernon Saturday night.

Coquitlam has to make the most out of every game they play til the end and hope that other teams do them a favour as they have no more games remaining against the Rivermen. Langley of course will be interested in today's game between Prince George and Coquitlam, but I wonder who they will be cheering for? A Prince George win and the Spruce Kings will have an eight point cushion on Langley with both teams set to meet each other in the Castle next weekend for a double header. A Coquitlam win and the Express will be just five points back of that final playoff spot.

That's just part of the excitement of the playoff race, but more importantly for Dave Dupas and the Spruce Kings is to string some wins together and build confidence on the bench that the team can beat any team by sticking to the game plan. Prior to last night's win, Dupas addressed the team, presenting a 101 approach that had to be taken with every player making those little sacrifices and winning all the battles. The players seemed to do exactly that winning most of the faceoffs, getting to lots of the loose pucks at both ends of the ice, finding spots in the dirty areas and also taking as well as giving hits to gain puck possession.

On Friday night it might have been bus legs or something along those lines, but the players all got off to a sluggish start and had to dig themselves out of a hole. In an earlier start today, expect to see the Spruce Kings be quicker out of the gate and carry their momentum over from last night's win.

Game time today is at 2pm with a pre-game show starting at 1:35pm. Please note that game will not be carried on the radio today due to Sunday programming on the community radio station. To listen to the game today click on the link for the free audio available online through the Spruce Kings channel or watch the pay-per-feed on Following the game, the Spruce Kings will head home (after a post game meal stop at the Mandarin Garden in Chilliwack) to prepare for their final four games of the regular season starting with three next weekend versus the Vernon Vipers Friday and a double header against the Langley Rivermen on Saturday and Sunday. The Spruce Kings will wrap up the regular season on home ice Saturday March 9th against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Spruce Kings Post a 5-3 Win Over Potential First Round Playoff Opponent

Kirk Thompson turned aside 45 shots as the Spruce Kings
post a 5-3 win over Chilliwack on Saturday night.
Photo courtesy Garrett James

What a difference a day can make as the Spruce Kings come up with a solid sixty minute effort against the Chilliwack Chiefs and were rewarded with a 5-3 win. The win came on the heels of a 5-3 loss to the Coquitlam Express one night previously.

After a slow start on Friday night, the Spruce Kings were ready to go Saturday night and came up with a couple of early shifts that generated chances despite not being credited with any shots on goal. That would change a little over five minutes into the open period when Mitch Eden came down the lane and fed a back hander in on the Chiefs goal. Mitch Gillam was able to get a piece of the shot but not enough to stop the puck from finding the inside of the post turning on the goal light at 5:17.

The Spruce Kings held onto the 1-0 lead for less than three minutes before the Chiefs were able to tie the game up at 8:05. Coming in to the game, the Chilliwack Chiefs head coach and general manager figured it was time for a change with the configuration of his top two lines. After the 5-1 loss to the Langley Rivermen on Friday night, Harvey Smyle moved Philip Zielonka off the right wing of the top line and slotted in Trevor Hills with Luke Esposito and Austin Plevy instead.

Hills made the most of his opportunity to play alongside the Chiefs top two goal scorers with a hard play in the offensive zone. From below the goal line, Hills spotted Plevy in the slot and gave the Chiefs sniper the puck who fired a shot through Kirk Thompson for his 30th of the season to tie the game at a goal a-piece. The two teams would trade a handful of shots on goal and a couple of high percentage scoring chances but the first period would end with the teams tied 1-1.

In the opening period the Spruce Kings came out hitting everything and as the first period came to an end the Chiefs defenceman Cooper Rush showed some of his frustration after being hit three separate times by Justin Rai. Giving up 9 inches and over 50 pounds to the NHL Central Scouting ranked player, Rai showed that he wasn't afraid to get in their and cause problems for the tall defenceman and the Chiefs as a whole.

It was more of the same in the second period with the teams trading chances until Cameron Lawson was able to break in on the Chilliwack Chiefs goaltender and let go a wrist shot that caught Mitch Gillam on the side of the exposed area the netminder's net. The puck fell down and rolled over the goal line as Gillam hit the ice in obvious discomfort. Lawson's 21st goal of the season gave the Spruce Kings a 2-1 lead but didn't give Prince George an opportunity to take the momentum that should have come as a result of a go-ahead goal. Instead the energy was sucked out of the building as everybody's attention turned to the Chiefs number netminder who lay on the ice and was attended to for almost three minutes before finally being able to regain composure and resume play.

As the play continued, it was the Chilliwack Chiefs that tried to rally around their goaltender and perhaps the Spruce Kings were guilty of not possessing a killer instinct as they didn't test the Gillam for some time with a hard shot or a high shot for the rest of the second period. The Spruce Kings did hold onto their one goal lead through to the BCHL time out but on return from that one minute timeout Chilliwack Chiefs forward Luke Esposito showed some speed and blew by a pair of Spruce Kings as he went through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone before whipping a shot from the right side face off circle that found the five hole on Thompson to tie the game 2-2 with nine minutes remaining int he second period.

The Spruce Kings would take a third lead on the Chilliwack Chiefs just as the scoreclock hit the one minute remaining mark. Shayne Morrissey from the left corner while on the goal line fired a shot in on Mitch Gillam that found the leg of Chad Staley and hole on the short side to get past Gillam. For Staley that was the rookie's eighth goal of the season and also rewarded Justin Rai for his work in the game with the goal's second assist. Unfortunately that third lead would be short lived as the Chiefs were able to cause some traffic problems down low all the way through the crease for their third tieing goal of the game.

Keifer McNaughton started the play with a point shot from the right side that deflected off Ryan Donohoe. Kirk Thompson made the initial save only to have it batted back towards him while he was down and out by Josh Hansen and then finally by Philip Zielonka who bunted the puck out of the air into the net at 19:31 of the second period. The goal erased the Spruce Kings third lead of the game and allowed the Chiefs to head to their dressing room on even terms with a team that most home team fans would agree were outplaying their opponents.

In the third period the Spruce Kings would find their fourth go-ahead goal of the game on the Studio Cuts Crowning Moment of the Game. Jake LeBrun was able to break up a play in the neutral zone in front of the penalty boxes and knock the puck up to Sean Landrey. Bryant Christian spotted the opportunity to turn it into an odd man rush giving Landrey the option of shooting or passing. Landrey went for the latter and it proved to be the right decision as Christian settled down the puck, hesitated for a split second which was enough to get Gillam to commit leaving the top half of the net open for Christian to pot his tenth of the season.

The goal would stand up as the eventual game winner as the Spruce Kings defence, headed up by Mitch Eden who had one of his best games. In the dying minutes, the Chiefs opted to pull their goaltender for an extra attacker giving the Spruce Kings the opportunity to double their lead with Lyndon Martell getting the puck onto the Coltyn Hansen's stick. The Spruce Kings leading scorer made the smart play gaining the red line before firing a shot into the open net for his 18th of the season at 18:40 of the third period. The Chiefs would try once again to pull their goaltender but as Mark Begert came up with the puck inside the Spruce Kings zone he was able to stare down Gillam and force the netminder to stay on the ice.

For Prince George this win was an important one to pick up as it becomes the team's 24th victory of the season, giving Prince George 56 points with five games remaining before the start of the playoffs. The win was also Kirk Thompson's 23rd of the season which ties a Spruce Kings franchise record for wins in a single season set by Kevin Genoe during the 2008-09 season. Thompson picked up first star honours in the game making 45 saves on 48 shots. On the Spruce Kings broadcast, Mitch Eden picked up the second star while Justin Rai was awarded the FortisBC Energy Player of the Game nod and Bryant Christian was recognized as the Dairy Queen Player of the Game.

It will be a short turnaround for the Spruce Kings now as they will have to be back on the ice at 2pm in Coquitlam and a chance to redeem their Friday night loss while really put the Express in a deep hole who are still in the running for the final playoff spot in the Mainland Division. Please note that the game will not be aired on 93.1 CFIS-FM due to programming conflicts. The Spruce Kings broadcast will air online only with a free audio feed on the Spruce Kings channel and a pay-per-view feed on

Game Preview: at Chilliwack Chiefs

Coltyn Hansen (10) and Cameron Lawson (7)
lead the Spruce Kings scoring race

The Spruce Kings head into Chilliwack tonight for their final regular season matchup. A divisional matchup that is expected to turn into a first round playoff preview. The Chiefs sit in second spot with 62 points (30-19-1-1) while the Spruce Kings hold down third with 54 points (23-19-1-7).

In the month of February, the Chiefs have had their fair share of struggles with a record of 3-5 including one loss to the Prince George Spruce Kings the last time these two teams met. The Chiefs are still a very good team and are especially dangerous when given the chance to put out their special teams unit. They are the best powerplay team in the Mainland Division (22.18% - 2nd in the League) and the best penalty killing team in the League (85.76%). They also have the most short hand goals for in the League with 9, although the Spruce Kings are second in this stat with 8 after last night's short handed tally by Bryant Christian.

Two of the three members on the Chiefs top line are challenging Mario Puskarich (38G, 40A, 78Pts) for the Brett Hull Trophy (awarded to the League's top scorer - Spruce Kings Paul De Jersey won it last year with 98 points). In second and third places are Luke Esposito and Austin Plevy with 69 (16G, 53A) and 68 (29G, 39A) points respectfully. The newest addition to that line, Philip Zielonka has a little more room to make up sitting in 13th spot overall with 54 points (32G, 22A).

Coltyn Hansen remains the Spruce Kings leading scorer with 42 points (17G, 25A) after adding two more helpers last night. Cameron Lawson, who missed the entire first period of Friday's game with an equipment issue, was held off the scoresheet but remains in second with 38 points (20G, 18A). Mitch Eden sits in third with 34 points (2G, 32A) with Shayne Morrissey closing in for a top three finish after scoring the Spruce Kings short lived go-ahead goal last night (17G, 13A). Rounding out the top five is Lyndon Martell (10G, 19A, 29Pts) who is also the best performing player against the Chilliwack Chiefs averaging a point a game in five appearances against the team.

Tonight marks the first time that the Spruce Kings will play in Prospera Centre without Jeremiah Luedtke in the lineup after he suffered an upper body injury as a result of a hit by Ryan Donohoe in the second period on February 9th. In that game Kevin Guiltinan was also assessed a game misconduct that resulted in a two game suspension after a first period hit on Mathieu Tibbet. In back-to-back games against the Chiefs, Guiltinan received majors that led to suspensions which puts him squarely on the radar for the Chilliwack Chiefs.

For the Spruce Kings to be successful tonight, they will have to play a disciplined but physical game as this matchup can be summed up with the three words that make League officials cringe - Old Time Hockey. Both teams will be fired up and ready to go after suffering losses last night and of course because of the history between these two teams. I don't think the job of the coaches tonight will be trying to find the gas pedal but rather it will be to keep the brakes on to make sure this very likely first round playoff matchup doesn't speed out of control before it even starts.

Game time tonight is 7pm from Prospera Centre in Chilliwack. Ron Gallo will have the broadcast beginning with the pregame show at 6:35pm on 93.1 CFIS-FM. The game will also be available for free on the Spruce Kings channel and as a pay-per-view feed on Following the game, the Spruce Kings will head back to their home base in the Lower Mainland to prepare for a quick turnaround and rematch against the Coquitlam Express that gets underway at 2pm Sunday.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Express Roll Past the Spruce Kings

The Spruce Kings found themselves under siege
for much of the game Friday night

The Spruce Kings came up short on Friday night dropping a 5-3 decision to the Coquitlam Express. Prince George was guilty of starting out flat in the first period but were perhaps lucky to get out of the first period only down 1-0 after being outshot 8-4.

Throughout the first period, the Coquitlam Express showed just how hungry they were to get to within striking range of the Langley Rivermen for the final playoff spot in the Mainland Division. The Express came at the Prince George Spruce Kings in waves and forced turnovers creating chance after chance. Kirk Thompson did what he could to keep the door closed.

The first period featured a massive hit by Kevin Guiltinan on Travis Stephens. Stephens released the puck from the bottom of the faceoff circle and was able to just get the shot released as Guiltinan laid out the forward with a heavy check against the boards. The hit left Stephens woozy and although he skated to the bench on his own, the forward never returned to the game.

Prince George had the first real chance to open the scoring when Sean Landrey found himself streaking down the left wing and was able to blow past the Coquitlam Express defenceman who blew a tire in the neutral zone. Landrey started to cut to the middle and let go a wrist shot that was labelled for the inside of the far post only to find a piece of Cole Huggins' glove and sail wide.

The Express opened the scoring at 17:19 on a play that saw Brandon Morley feed Malcolm McKinney with a perfect pass from behind the net to the slot. McKinney didn't hesitate letting go the one-timer from in close on Kirk Thompson for his fifth of the season. Coquitlam would hold onto that 1-0 lead even while short handed to end the first period.

The Spruce Kings started the second period on the powerplay and were able to get a couple of shots on Huggins during that time. After killing off the penalty, the Express went back on the attack and were looking to go up 2-0 when the Spruce Kings seemed to gain control of the game.

It came with a play initiated by Chad Staley to get the puck deep into the Express zone. The Spruce Kings started cycling the puck and working on getting some chances of their own. Adam Conti, an AP for the Express, ended up icing the puck allowing Prince George to put out their top line for the ensuing faceoff in the Coquitlam end. For almost a full three minutes, the Spruce Kings put the pressure on looking for the equalizer only to be turned aside by some unbelievable saves by Huggins.

Just as the Coquitlam Express were able to get fresh legs out on the ice, one pair of those picked off the puck in the neutral zone and skate into the Spruce Kings zone. Zac Pryzbek gave the home team a 2-0 lead with a shot from the right side wall that got past Kirk Thompson. With the missed opportunity to take over the game and instead now down 2-0, the fear was that the Spruce Kings would not be able to get back into this game.

That wasn't the case as the top line came out and made things happen. Coltyn Hansen started the play spotting Lyndon Martell on the left wall going through the middle with speed. Martell carried the puck deep into the zone pulling Huggins out of his net exposing the far side. Martell spotted David Stephens and was able to feed his linemate a perfect pass for a backhand tap in for Stephens, his third of the season.

Less than a minute later the Spruce Kings found themselves down a man with Sean Landrey in the penalty box on a boarding call. On the penalty kill, Trevor Esau broke up a play just inside the Spruce Kings blue line, Coltyn Hansen recovered the loose puck and with a burst of speed headed down the ice. Bryant Christian jumped up on the rush creating a two-on-one and providing Hansen with an option that he took allowing Christian to tap home an easy shorthanded tally for his ninth of the season.

The goal brought the Spruce Kings even and erased all that had gone wrong previously in the game. The teams would eventually head to the dressing room tied 2-2 but not before the Coquitlam Express applied one more full court press looking to restore their lead that didn't come before the end of the period.

To start the third period, it was the Spruce Kings that started strong and were able to create a couple of scoring chance. Chad Staley kept a play alive in the neutral zone and was able to win a puck battle just inside the Express blueline. Staley carried the puck below the goal line and then wrapped a pass around the net for Justin Rai who put the puck up the middle for Shayne Morrissey who was coming down the slot. Morrissey hesitated just enough to create an opening for himself that he found with his 19th goal of the season giving the Spruce Kings their first lead of the game.

On the ensuing play, Ben Israel changed the game for good with a solo effort that saw him get the puck through a couple of Prince George players and deep into the Spruce Kings zone before firing the puck across the top of the crease to Justin Georgeson. Georgeson leaned into the pass and was able to direct the puck on net and watched it go off Thompson's skate and just inside the short side post. Forty eight seconds after Morrissey gave the Spruce Kings the lead, the game was once again tied.

The next goal was a result of one of those plays that leaves coaches pulling their hair out. With an opportunity to use the glass to clear the zone, the wrong choice was made to spring a player on the opposite of the ice. Adam Rockwood intercepted the pass just inside the blue line and then worked the puck over to Will Cook in the left side faceoff circle who found a seam to the back of the net giving the Coquitlam Express a 4-3 with over twelve minutes to play in the third period.

The Spruce Kings could not find the equalizer and resorted to pulling the goaltender. That gave the Express the chance they needed for the equalizer that came when Malcolm McKinney and Zac Pryzbek found themselves moving into the Spruce Kings zone on a two-on-one with Mitch Eden doing what he could to prevent both the shot and the pass. Ultimately the pass was made, McKinney to Pryzbek and the Express had their 5-3 lead late in the third period. They would hold onto that lead despite picking up a penalty with 36 seconds remaining.

Coquitlam held their 5-3 lead to the final buzzer and headed to their dressing room knowing that they had pulled to within three points of the Langley Rivermen and that final playoff spot. By the time they got to an internet connection to check the BCHL scoreboard, their gain was as short lived as the Spruce Kings third period lead. The Langley Rivermen posted a 5-1 win over the Chilliwack Chiefs leaving the Express still five points out of that playoff spot and pulling the Rivermen to within six of the Spruce Kings.

Saturday night the Prince George Spruce Kings will find themselves in Chilliwack to take on the Chiefs and see if they can repeat what they did the last time they were in Prospera Centre. On February 9th, the Spruce Kings registered their first win of the season against the Chiefs with a 3-1 final. Game time is 7pm and will be broadcast on all the usual sources - 93.1 CFIS-FM, and

Game Day Preview: at Coquitlam Express

Former Spruce Kings, Bradley Ryan with the overtime winner
the last time these two teams met Jan. 27th in PG

The Spruce Kings start a three game road weekend - the last of the regular season - tonight in Coquitlam. The weekend will also include stops in Chilliwack in Saturday and a return visit to Coquitlam Sunday afternoon. Tonight's game is the fifthieth of the season for Prince George who head into the matchup knowing that the Express can't catch them for a playoff spot.

Althought Prince George has clinched a playoff spot at the expense of Coquitlam, that doesn't mean the Express dosen't have a chance to make a post season appearance. The host team tonight does have a chance to catch the Langley Rivermen making them hungry for the win.

Despite Prince George having the season series all locked up with five regulation time wins, the last time these two teams met it was the Coquitlam Express that came away victorious with an overtime win in Prince George. Since that game the Express have posted wins against both of the top teams in the Mainland Division (3-2 OT win vs Surrey and 3-1 win vs Chilliwack).

If the Spruce Kings are to start the weekend off on the right foot, they are going to want to get it done in regulation time. All five of the Spruce Kings wins over Coquitlam have come in the first sixty minutes. The Express have played seven overtime games and have yet to give away that extra point in the extra time. The Spruce Kings on the other hand have played eleven overtimes to this point in the season and have a record of 3-1-7.

Prince George will be a little short handed tonight dressing 19 players for the game. Kody Disher was an affiliate player called up from the Castlegar Rebels but has since been returned to his Junior B team for the start of their post season that begins tonight against the Spokane Braves in Castlegar. Jeremiah Luedtke remains sidelined with an upper body injury after being hit from behind head first into the boards in a game against the Chilliwack Chiefs. Karan Toor is the other scratch for this weekend and will miss his third consecutive game tonight with an undisclosed upper body injury.

The Coquitlam Express are as healthy as they have ever been, but that still leaves them four bodies short of a full roster. The Coquitlam Express have been running with a twenty one man roster, which is one less than the allowable limit of twenty two. On that list are two players out with season ending injuries and a player who has still to show after being traded to Coquitlam.

Alexander Kerfoot is the biggest injury for Coquitlam and one that single handedly started the team's descent into the basement of the Mainland Division. A draft pick of the New Jersey Devils and Harvard University committed player for the 2013/14 season, Kerfoot remains at home recovering from a season ending injury and surgery on his shoulder. Sam Majka is also out with a season ending knee injury while Lars Hepso is a scratch after failing to report to the Coquitlam Express after being traded by the Alberni Valley Bulldogs at the trade deadline.

Justin Georgeson is leading the Express with 8 goals and 22 assists. Sitting in second is the former Spruce Kings defenceman Bradley Ryan (7G, 19A) who scored the overtime winner for Coquitlam in Prince George on January 27. The OT winner for Ryan was the defenceman's second goal with the Express and seventh of the season. Ryan has a dangerous point shot as seen many times over while he played with the Prince George Spruce Kings.

The actual goal scoring leader in Coquitlam is Zachary Pryzbek with ten goals, two better than Georgeson. The Express have had difficulties scoring goals this season and have the third lowest goals for in the League with 137 in 50 games. They have also given up the second most goals against with only the Trail Smoke Eaters having fished the puck out of their own net more times this season.

Coquitlam is playing their fourth game of an eight game home stand tonight. Heading into the game, the Express are 2 wins and 1 loss in that home stand. Again a strong showing on home ice could do wonders for the team currently sitting in fifth in the Mainland division. With six games remaining in their schedule, Coquitlam is five points out of a playoff spot chasing the Langley Rivermen who have a game in hand on the Express.

Unfortunately for the Coquitlam Express, they have to count on others to help them as they have no games remaining against the Rivermen. The Spruce Kings also have the Rivermen in their sights, even though it is through the rear view mirror right now. Prince George has an eight point cushion on Langley and can make it next to impossible for the Rivermen to catch them with a win tonight and a good weekend overall.

The Spruce Kings are coming off a big 6-3 win over Langley a week ago in Prince George and will play the Rivermen twice more in the Castle next weekend. Cameron Lawson led the way with three goals including one on the powerplay, one shorthanded and one while at even strength. It was unfortunate that Lawson was overlooked for the BCHL Player of the Week honours after finishing a two game set that generated seven points including two short handed goals, a game winning goal and first star recognition.

Lawson, the Holy Cross Crusader committed player, can't let something like that bother him and instead will be a much bigger asset by trying to duplicate those efforts. It wasn't that long ago that Lawson and the rest of the Spruce Kings were struggling to find the score sheet let alone a spot light for their play.

Coltyn Hansen continues to lead the Spruce Kings charge with 17 goals and 23 assists but has given up the goal scoring lead to Lawson who now has 20 goals. Lawson also passed Mitch Eden on the team leader board and sits in second with 38 points (20G, 18A). Eden is in third with 34 points (2G, 32A). Another player making a charge for the Spruce Kings is Shayne Morrissey who has crept up into fourth spot with 16 goals and 13 assists.

Lyndon Martell, who missed a good portion of the season, sits in fifth spot with 28 points (10G, 18A) while Bryant Christian (8G, 17A) and Chad Staley (7G, 16A) are right there in the mix. A pair of defenceman have also seen their numbers inch up with good play and timely plays helping both Skylar Pacheco (2G, 20A) and Mark Begert (3G, 16A) make an impact from the blue line.

Kirk Thompson is expected to get the start tonight adding to his 2500 minutes already played this season. If Thompson plays the full game tonight, he will take over top spot among franchise goaltenders for minutes played in a single season. That title is currently held by Kevin Genoe when he played 2535 minutes in the 2008-09 season. If the Spruce Kings win the game, that too will see Thompson move to the top of the list for that single season franchise record. Tyler Euverman set a single season record of 23 wins during the 1998-99 campaign, Thompson currently has 22 wins this season.

At this time of the year, Kirk Thompson will be the first to tell you that it isn't about single player stats, but team stats. The Spruce Kings have been making their strides as of late but still have a way to go to be playoff ready. Three big wins this weekend will do wonders to get the team there before they return home for their final four regular season games, but lets do this one game at a time.

Game time tonight is 7pm from the Coquitlam Sport and Leisure Complex on Poirier Street. Ron Gallo will have the broadcast beginning with the pregame show at 6:35pm on 93.1 CFIS-FM. The game will also be available for free on the Spruce Kings channel and as a pay-per-view feed on Following the game, the Spruce Kings will head back to their home base in the Lower Mainland to prepare for their final regular season matchup versus the Chilliwack Chiefs on Saturday.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lawson Lights Up Rivermen

Cameron Lawson (7) scored the game winner and then some
in a Spruce Kings 6-3 win over Langley Friday night

Cameron Lawson showed off his playmaking pedigree in the first period and his goal scoring ability in the final 40 minutes collecting five points in a 6-3 Prince George Spruce Kings win over the Langley Rivermen.

Lawson assisted on the first two Spruce Kings goals, then collected a hat trick over the final two periods to bring his goal total to 20 on the year.

An easy choice as the Treasure Cove Casino first star of the game, Lawson's nicest goal was his first at 18:14 of the second period. Breaking in a on 2-on-1, Lawson looked like he might dish the puck off to Bryant Christian but instead found a few inches of space to the short side of Langley goaltender Darren Hogg to give the Spruce Kings a 3-0 lead. Trevor Esau and Jace Hennig picked up the assists.

With a 3-0 lead after two periods, the Spruce Kings looked to be in full control of the contest, but the Rivermen came on strong in the third and gave the home side reason to worry. First it was Jakob Reichert on the power play at 1:36 who spoiled Kirk Thompson's shutout bid. Assists went to James Robinson and Mario Puskarich.

Lawson gave the Spruce Kings their three-goal lead right back at 4:01, banging home a power-play rebound at the side of the net. Chad Staley and Bryant Christian got the helpers.

Just 37 seconds later Puskarich, who had a hat trick in a 6-3 Langley win on Thursday night, got the Rivermen right back in it with help from Evan Campbell and Matt Ustaski.

Campbell then made it a one-goal game at 12:10, finishing off a play after the Rivermen had been buzzing around the Spruce Kings net and Thompson had been doing his best Dominik Hasek impression trying to keep the puck out.

Langley kept the pressure up and a series of Prince George turnovers gave the home side grief, but the Rivermen were unable to beat Thompson again. The Spruce Kings goalie finished with 39 saves - 19 of those coming in the final stanza.

Shayne Morrissey, the Dairy Queen player of the game, gave the Spruce Kings some breathing room with his second of the night on the power play at 18:07 assisted by second star Coltyn Hansen and Skylar Pacheco. Lawson iced the game at 19:20 with a short-handed tally into the empty net after a nice give and go with Hansen. Third star Mark Begert also got an assist.

After having fallen behind 3-0 in the first period against Langley for the fourth time this year on Thursday night, the Spruce Kings came out flying on Friday.

Morrissey opened the scoring on the power play at 18:07, going short side on Hogg. Lawson and Pacheco got the assists.

The three Spruce Kings power play goals were a big confidence boost to the beleaguered unit which had been struggling in recent weeks and had dropped to 15th in the BCHL.

Lawson set up the second goal at 14:59 on a 3-on-2. Christian went hard to the net, drawing the attention of the Rivermen defenders and Hogg, but that left the trailer Hennig open. He took Lawson's pass and buried it, with the FortisBC Energy player of the game Trevor Esau also picking up an assist.

With the weekend split, the Spruce Kings move eight points up on the Rivermen in the race for third in the Mainland Division, but Prince George still trails second-place Chilliwack by six points.

The Spruce Kings hit the road for the final time in the regular season next weekend for games in Coquitlam on Friday, Chilliwack on Saturday and Coquitlam on Sunday.

Game Preview: vs Langley Rivermen

The Spruce Kings will need to find a way vs the Rivermen

It didn’t go quite according to plan last night as once again the Langley Rivermen jumped out to a three goal lead in the first period. The second period belonged to the Spruce Kings who outshot the visitors 28-5. In the third period, it was the affiliate player, Stephen Penner of the Cariboo Cougars, that provided the spark for Prince George with a nice assist and an even nicer goal scored from the right point.

The Spruce Kings will have to figure out the Langley Rivermen as they still have three games remaining against their Mainland Divisional rival. The Spruce Kings sit firmly in third place, six points behind the Chilliwack Chiefs and six points ahead of Langley. The Coquitlam Express still have something to say about playoff positioning and continue to hold the Spruce Kings magic number at four.

Mario Puskarich showed his offensive touch around the net last night adding three goals to make him the undisputed leading scorer in the BCHL. The hat trick gave Puskarich the League lead with the most goals scored (34) and brought his season points total to 69.

Perhaps a bit of a surprise performance last night came from Mark Whiteley who jumped up three spots in team scoring with his four assists for the Langley Rivermen. The Spruce Kings did get goal production from Bryant Christian, Cameron Lawson and the AP Stephen Penner who scored his first BCHL goal in his first BCHL game.

With Kevin Guiltinan, Karan Toor, Jeremiah Luedtke and Justin Rai all sidelined for tonight’s game, the Spruce Kings will have three APs on the bench - Kody Disher, Stephen Penner and Braiden Epp. Disher, a call up from the Castlegar Rebels, will be playing in his seventh consecutive game while Penner will be playing in his second game as will Epp, who is committed to the Spruce Kings for next season.

The Spruce Kings have had good luck with the players they have called up as seen in recent games where Liam Blackburn scored his first BCHL goal in a game against the Surrey Eagles and last night with Penner scoring his first. Certainly tonight some of those Prince George chances that were turned away will need to go in to restore the Spruce Kings eight point cushion on the Langley Rivermen and lower the Spruce Kings magic number to clinch.

Game time tonight is 7pm with Ron St. Clair providing the play-by-play, Peter James and Ron Gallo will start it all off with the pregame show beginning at 6:35pm on 93.1 CFIS-FM. The game will also be available online with the free audio broadcast from the Spruce Kings and as a pay-per-view broadcast from

After tonight, the Spruce Kings will have seven games remaining in the regular schedule including another home ice double header against the Langley Rivermen, two in Coquitlam, a single in Chilliwack and home dates against the Vernon Vipers and the Salmon Arm Silverbacks to wrap up the 2012/13 campaign.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Rivermen Double Up Spruce Kings

Stephen Penner (20) left a lasting impression in his first
BCHL game with a goal and an assist for the Spruce Kings

The Prince George Spruce Kings dug themselves a hole too deep to get out from Thursday night, dropping a 6-3 decision to the Langley Rivermen at the Castle.

The visitors built a 3-0 lead which they extended to 6-1 by the middle of the third before the Spruce Kings clawed back to make a game of it at the end. Despite the score, Prince George actually outshot Langley 49-22 - including 28-5 in the second period alone - but couldn't get enough pucks past James Barr.

The loss means the Spruce Kings were unable to make up ground on Chiliwack for second place in the Mainland Division, still trailing them by six points. Langley has now closed within six points of the Spruce Kings for third place.

Mario Puskarich, the leading scorer in the BCHL, did the most damage scoring three goals for Langley, all on the power play.

He opened the scoring at 3:23 of the first, splitting the Spruce Kings defence and getting to a loose puck in front just before Prince George goalie Kirk Thompson could cover it up. Mark Whiteley and Tanner Johnson got the helpers.

Puskarich had a great chance to add to that three minutes later, breaking in on a 2-on-0 short-handed break but this time it was Thompson who was quick enough to get across his crease and make a big pad save.

The sniper couldn't be contained for long as he scored his second power-play goal at 15:25 of the first after a weird bounce off the face-off went to him at the side of the net. Evan Campbell and James Robinson got the assists.

Mitch McLain made it 3-0 at 16:15, banging home a rebound off a Derek Sutliffe shot. Nathan Craft also got an assist.

Down 3-0, the Spruce Kings came out hard in the second, but it was Langley who scored first. Evan Campbell took a feed from Austin Azurdia, got past a defenceman and slid a puck five-hole on Thompson. That was it for the Spruce Kings starter, who was pulled after allowing four goals on 13 shots. Liam McLeod came on in relief.

Prince George finally got on the board at 12:20 as Bryant Christian scored from the slot just as a Langley penalty expired to make it 4-1. Mark Begert and Cameron Lawson got the assists.

Langley extended its lead in the third, first McLain from Sutliffe and Whitely at 5:18 and then Puskarich from Jakob Reichert and Whiteley at 9:13. Puskarich was named the game's first star with his three goals and Whiteley, who had three helpers was named the third star. Barr took second star honours after making 46 saves.

The Spruce Kings did score a pair late, first Cameron Lawson breaking down the right wing short-handed was able to get one past Barr at 12:17, with assists going to Coltyn Hansen and Stephen Penner.

Then Penner, an affiliate player, scored his first BCHL goal at 15:42 with a blast from the point. Shayne Morrissey and Trevor Esau got the assists.

Penner's strong play, especially in the second half of the game as he got more ice time earned him Dairy Queen player of the game honours. Fellow blue-liner Mark Begert was named the Fortis Energy player of the game.

The Spruce Kings and Rivermen play again Friday night as the Castle at 7 p.m.

Game Preview: vs Langley Rivermen

Justin Rai (23) celebrates a goal
vs the Langley Rivermen
photo courtesy Garret James

Happy Valentines Day and Ladies Night … tonight the Langley Rivermen have arrived in Prince George to face the Spruce Kings for the first time in the Castle this season. All previous matchups, and there have been five of them, have been played in the Lower Mainland. The first of which Prince George was considered the home team at the BCHL Showcase in Chilliwack, the remaining four games were all played in Langley.

The Langley Rivermen have the season series edge with points in every matchup with a winning record of 3-0-0-2 versus the Prince George Spruce Kings. Four of those games have provided elevated levels of excitement with twists and turns taking fans to the edge of their seats right down to the final buzzer.

It all started with that first game where Prince George erased two multiple goal deficits to force overtime and eventually claim the win in the extra frame. Game two was more of defensive battle with the Spruce Kings enjoying a 2-1 lead late into the third period. A pair of goals in the final five minutes turned that game into a regulation time loss for the Prince George Spruce Kings.

The following night became memorable for all the wrong reasons for Prince George. In that game, the Spruce Kings erased a 3-0 deficit and were looking at taking the game to overtime when Austin Azurdia scored that memorable goal with less than a second remaining in regulation time to win the game 4-3.

In the fourth meeting of the season, the Spruce Kings answered every goal scored by the Langley Rivermen to force overtime where Mitch Eden was able to play the role of hero. Meeting number five didn’t go very well for the Spruce Kings with Prince George suffering their worse loss to the Rivermen on November 2nd.

Tonight’s game will be the first meeting since that 5-1 loss. Since then the Spruce Kings have landed in third place in the Mainland Division and are only four points (a combination of Prince George points gained or Coquitlam points missed) from clinching a playoff berth. The Langley Rivermen sit in fourth spot and are eight points back challenging for that playoff position.

The Langley Rivermen arrive with a full complement of players and will be able to dress twenty of their regular rostered players including the BCHL scoring leader, Mario Puskarich (31G, 35A). Evan Campbell (13G, 34A) and Austin Azurdia (17G, 15A) are next on the Rivermen’s leader board.

On the flip side, the Spruce Kings are a little thin in their roster and will be without Kevin Guiltinan who will be serving the first of a two game suspension for a check from behind. Also out of the lineup tonight will be Jeremiah Luedtke who is recovering after being the recipient of a dangerous hit in the Spruce Kings last game. Karan Toor is also out with an undisclosed injury which brings in Stephen Penner (’95) from the Cariboo Cougars to fill the vacancy on the blue line.

Game time tonight is 7pm with Ron St. Clair providing the play-by-play on 93.1 CFIS-FM. The game will also be available online with the free audio broadcast from the Spruce Kings and as a pay-per-view broadcast from These same two teams will be back on the ice in the Coliseum for the conclusion of this double header matchup Friday night.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Spruce Kings Chill the Chiefs

Mark Begert (2), Karan Toor (4), Coltyn Hansen (10) and
Bryant Christian (11) congratulate Kirk Thompson (1) after a 3-1 win

It took almost a full sixty minutes before anybody could comfortably say that the Spruce Kings had defeated the Chilliwack Chiefs, but they did just that with an empty net goal securing a 3-1 victory on Saturday night. Kirk Thompson was stellar again in net for Prince George turning aside 44 high calibre shots and almost as many scoring chances from a very potent and relentless Chiefs squad.

Prince George received goals from Bryant Christian (7), Coltyn Hansen (17) and Mark Begert (3) in a game they never trailed but also never felt they had a comfortable lead in. The game's first goal came after the Chilliwack Chiefs had already peppered Thompson with seven shots of their own while keeping Prince George from getting anything of consequence on Mitch Gilliam. The first shot was a long distance affair that Gilliam saw clearly but it was the second shot that upset that the goaltender the most and resulted in an officials only discussion.

After Cameron Lawson took a shot on net, the puck bounced into the air where Bryant Christian, who was just on the edge of the blue paint, gloved it down to the ice and was able to just get a stick on the puck before it crossed the line. With the play happening to the right and slightly behind Gilliam, the Chiefs netminder knew the PG forward had gloved the puck and argued that it was gloved into the net. Although the video replay is not of any use in making an official ruling, it clearly showed that the puck had been touched by Christian's stick before crossing the line and was never shown on the big screen again. The officials discussed what they had seen and made the right call with the referee signalling "good goal" and pointed to centre ice for play to resume.

That one goal lead would hold up for over 26 minutes before Chilliwack was able to tie up the game, during that 26 minutes there were five powerplays, four for Chilliwack and one for Prince George, with both teams getting a five minute major powerplay to work with. In the first period Kevin Guiltinan was assessed a five minute major for a check from behind and an automatic game misconduct after riding Mathieu Tibbet out of the play in the back corner. Tibbet did go down but was able to get up and head back to the Chiefs bench under his own power. After missing the remainder of the first period, Tibbet did return to the game in the second period.

In the second period the Chilliwack Chiefs Ryan Donohoe was given a five minute major for boarding and a game misconduct after a much more vicious and dangerous hit that saw Jeremiah Luedtke hit from behind and driven head first into the wall where he lay for some time without moving. Without hesitation or even regard for the play on the ice at the time, the Chilliwack Chiefs trainer was the first one to get to Luedtke who worked with the Prince George forward to ensure that everything was alright. After a few moments, Luedtke was up on his knees and then his skates and left the ice under his own power but was immediately taken to the Chiefs doctor and then the hospital where he was cleared to return home with the team. Luedtke may miss a few games with an obvious sore neck and few other bumps and bruises from the collision with the wall, but we can all be grateful that he will be able to return to full form soon.

Back to the game, which other than the score, was a lopsided affair with Chilliwack outshooting Prince George 21-10 after the first period and 6-1 to that point in the second period. On their five minute major, the Spruce Kings were able to get some shots through on Gilliam but the Chiefs number one goaltender wasn't letting anything through. The penalty kill turned into a four-on-four situation after a goal mouth scrimmage that resulted in Lyndon Martell being given a minor for roughing. A tactic that the Chiefs seem to be able to execute to the limit without crossing the line - crashing the net and getting in on the goaltender - saw the Spruce Kings penalized for an almost identical play. That penalty was killed off and then another to the Spruce Kings, but those two powerplays seemed to shift the momentum that Prince George had been building.

Shortly after killing off their fifth penalty, the Spruce Kings found themselves hemmed inside their own zone with the Chiefs top line pressing down low. In a play that had to be perfect to execute, Austin Plevey, from deep inside the Spruce Kings zone spotted Luke Esposito on the far side of the crease with a bullet pass that Esposito was able to power tip into the net behind Thompson. The Chiefs kept up the pressure looking for a go-ahead goal that would never come thanks to the sensational play of Thompson in net for Prince George.

Five and a half minutes after the Chilliwack top line tied the game, the top line for Prince George executed an equally impressive play that gave the Spruce Kings the all important lead back. With the play in the neutral zone, Lyndon Martell was able to get around a couple of forecheckers and lobe a floater deep into the Chilliwack zone that David Stephens picked up behind the net. With a fake to the left that Gilliam bit on, Stephens dished the puck up the opposite side into the slot for Coltyn Hansen to bury with a quick one-timer. Hansen had been having all kinds of chances in the game and was sprung on more than one break-away chance but this goal was his reward for the hard work and perseverance that had been showing all weekend.

The Spruce Kings started the third period with that slim 2-1 lead and found themselves inside their own zone for much of the first ten minutes of the final period of regulation with the Chiefs firing shots from all angles looking to tie the game for a second time. Prince George was able to quell the storm a little bit after Shay Laurent took the Chiefs third penalty of the game. After the penalty kill, the Chiefs were right back on the attack and it started to feel like January 11th all over again when the Spruce Kings had a 2-1 lead late in the third period only to be given a penalty with less than two minutes to go that resulted in the tying goal and then another penalty in overtime that led to the game winner.

With less than 90 seconds to go in the game, Mitch Gilliam was called to the bench for the extra Chilliwack attacker and the full court press was on. In the final minute of play another goal mouth scramble led to a Prince George penalty with Shayne Morrissey called for roughing. There was a little over 47 seconds left in the game and everybody was on their seats with baited breath. On the ensuing faceoff, the Chilliwack Chiefs top powerplay unit on the ice firing pucks at will on Kirk Thompson, the Spruce Kings veteran netminder turned aside sure goals from both Zielonka and Esposito. And then a defenceman who had played perhaps his best game on this night found the puck on his stick with the time to lift a riser up and out of the zone and down the ice. With the precious of a championship punter, Mark Begert split the goal posts with a perfect shot and gave the Spruce Kings a two goal lead with the shorthanded shot into the empty net with 16 seconds showing on the clock.

Those final seconds ticked off the clock with Karan Toor protecting the puck in his own zone and the Spruce Kings left the ice with a small congratulatory celebration. Coltyn Hansen was given third star honours for all his chances and eventual game winning goal, Mitch Gilliam was given the game's second star for keeping this one closer than it might otherwise have been even with the fewer shots that he faced of 27. Not a single person in Prospera Centre could argue who was the game's first star, turning aside 44 of 45 quality shots while playing in front of representatives from his future team - the AIC Yellowjackets - Kirk Thompson came out onto the ice to a round of applause.

After the game, Spruce Kings rookie netminder Liam McLeod tweeted that the game's Crowning Moment came when Chilliwack decided to make it Country night complete with bails of hay, a live band playing rockin' country tunes, cowboy hats and the works. "(You're) not going to beat @Kirkers29 when there is Shania playing #garanteedwin." Next up for the Prince George Spruce Kings is a double header in the Coliseum with the Langley Rivermen on Thursday and Friday. Thursday night will be Ladies Night with ladies receiving flowers and a chance to win a private shopping spree at Butterfly Threads with thanks to Tourism Prince George.

Game Preview: at Chilliwack Chiefs

A common scene between the Chiefs and the Spruce Kings
with Kirk Thompson being run is one aspect of the game
that needs to be stopped

The Spruce Kings kick off their final ten games of the regular season with a stop at Prospera Centre in Chilliwack and a date with the Chiefs. Prince George finds themselves six points back of second place Chilliwack in what is a very competitive Mainland Division in the BCHL. The Chiefs are the one team that has proved to be the Spruce Kings arch nemesis this season with a disappointing 0-5-0-1 record in six meetings so far.

Ask the Spruce Kings coaching staff though and they will tell you that most of the games have been much closer than the stat may otherwise lead you to believe. Certainly there is one game in particular that Prince George feels they should have won if not for a stroke of bad luck in the dying minutes of a game where the Spruce Kings were leading 2-1. To hang on the what-ifs is not going to serve any purpose tonight, instead the Spruce Kings are going to have to come up with an effort similar to that of the Surrey Eagles last night.

Heading into the game versus the Surrey Eagles, Prince George had already secured the season series win with a record of 4 wins and 3 overtime losses. The Eagles came out on a mission to end that trend and did everything in their power to do just that. Likewise, Prince George has to step onto the ice at Prospera Centre with the same mission in mind - nothing less than a complete effort.

The Chilliwack Chiefs are a tough team that have shown they are not afraid to go hard to the net and even gamble with the officials not calling penalties against them for getting in the goalie's crease. In previous meetings, it was no surprise to see one or even two forecheckers running Kirk Thompson and not paying the price for it. I guess when you have the second best penalty kill in the League (85.21%) you can afford to gamble a little more than other teams can.

The Spruce Kings will have to be mindful of their own discipline as the Chiefs do have one of the most potent powerplays in the League firing with a conversion rate of better than 1 in 5 chances (22.07%). In comparison, Prince George finds themselves at the other end of the spectrum with a 16.08% powerplay conversion. In the penalty kill department, the Spruce Kings have shown that they are very aware of the Chiefs and have done a pretty good job shutting them down.

Taking a page from the Surrey Eagles playbook, the Spruce Kings are going to have to get in the dirty areas and make that first save a tough one for Mitch Gilliam to make. If Gilliam is going to give up rebounds, Prince George is going to have to be ready to bang home the loose pucks and keep a strong forecheck going all night long. In last night's game, I don't think it was a case of bad play from the Spruce Kings but still Prince George will have to step it up another notch and get goal scoring from all over the depth chart.

The Spruce Kings will be without one of those key players that isn't afraid to get in the dirty areas as Jake LeBrun will be out of the lineup after suffering a lower body injury against the Eagles last night. Mitch Eden will be the other scratch tonight missing his second consecutive game also with a lower body injury. On the plus side, Sean Landrey and his big body will be back in the lineup and Dave Dupas will be looking to see him fill the role of the power forward looking to cause grief and make it tough on the Chilliwack Chiefs.

Kirk Thompson is expected to get the start tonight after getting a mercy pull last night. The Spruce Kings had just given up two shorthanded goals, both of them on bad bounces with the first one bouncing in off a defender's skate and the second one a bounce off the goal post that went right out to the neutral zone for a penalized player just stepping on the ice to pick up. Liam McLeod had come in as relief and was superb, even perfect, stopping all 18 shots he faced including a few on the doorstep.

Prince George will look to build on the positives from last night's game and put the bad bounces behind them as they take on the Chilliwack Chiefs tonight at 7pm in a likely first round playoff preview. The game will be broadcast on 93.1 CFIS-FM beginning with the Treasure Cove Casino pregame show at 6:35pm. The game will also be available for free online from the Spruce Kings channel and as a pay-per-view feed from Following the game, the Spruce Kings will return home to prepare for a double header against the Langley Rivermen on February 14th and 15th. The Thursday game will be Ladies Night in the Castle with flowers for the first 100 ladies and a first ever contest for one lady to win a private shopping spree at Butterfly Threads with thanks to Tourism Prince George.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Spruce Kings Grounded by the Eagles

Liam McLeod (35) robs Jordan Klimek in the third period

The Prince George Spruce Kings suffered their worst loss of the regular season to the Surrey Eagles on Friday night after the Birds handed the royal ones a 5-2 decision. It was the eighth and final meeting of the two teams and the Eagles were in no mood to let the Spruce Kings leave with even a single point this time. In the previous seven meetings, Prince George held a 4-0-0-3 record but couldn't keep that trend going on this night.

It started early for the Surrey Eagles, but as it had been in the previous seven meetings, Kirk Thompson was finding ways to turn aside the Eagles allowing Prince George to open the scoring. Jeremiah Luedtke picked up the puck from Chad Staley at the side of the net and pulled it to the slot before roofing a snapshot above the shoulder of Michael Santaguida. For Luedtke it was his seventh goal of the season, bur for the Spruce Kings it was a short lived lead.

On the ensuing faceoff at centre ice, the puck made its way into the Spruce Kings zone and a strong forecheck force a turnover that Joel Gaudet jumped all over. With the puck on his stick at the top of the faceoff circle, Gaudet wasted no time directing the puck on goal and he too found the top shelf to tie the game 14 seconds after Luedtke's goal.

From there special teams would be the undoing of the Spruce Kings as they gave the Surrey Eagles three powerplays to work with in the first period. The third man advantage would lead to a spectacular goal in the final minute of the first period. After dodging the full force of a Kevin Guiltinan hit in front of the Spruce Kings bench, Brady Shaw slid into the offensive zone and was able to fire a pass from his knees across the ice to Adam Tambellini. The newest member of the Eagles tapped in his 28th of the season to give Surrey a 2-1 lead heading to the dressing room.

To start the second period the Spruce Kings came hard at the Eagles and were outshooting them 5-0 through the first seven minutes of the middle frame before things changed in a dramatic fashion. On their second powerplay of the game, the Spruce Kings saw Brent Mulcahy find the puck and head in on Kirk Thompson on a shorthanded break away. Thompson was able to make the initial save with the paddle of his stick, directing the puck behind the net. Mulcahy stayed with the puck and recovered it from behind the goal line, brought it out front and then banked it into the net off a defender's skate.

The goal gave the Surrey Eagles a 3-1 lead but weren't done there. Minutes later the Surrey Eagles found themselves two men when Tommy Stipancik was called for boarding and then less than a minute later Michael Santaguida was called for delay of game after clearing the puck over the glass. The Eagles not only killed off those penalties but stuck a dagger into the heart of the Spruce Kings. As Stipancik's penalty expired the puck was cleared out to the neutral zone and found the released player who went in on Thompson. Stipancik went forehand backhand and snuck one through the Spruce Kings veteran netminder.

In an effort to spark the bench, Kirk Thompson was pulled bringing in the youngster - Liam McLeod. It didn't take long before McLeod was being tested and it was Tambellini that tried first only to be denied by the glove hand of the rookie netminder. McLeod would end up turning aside all 18 shots that he faced in relief earning himself the DQ Player of the Game.

Karan Toor had the best chance of the second period for the Spruce Kings jumping up on a rush with David Stephens and Lyndon Martell who fed the rookie defenceman the puck who found himself all alone on top of the crease but was turned aside by a sprawling Santaguida. The second period would end with the Surrey Eagles leading 4-1 and the Spruce Kings wondering what they needed to do to claw back into this one.

Coltyn Hansen was able to solve the riddle between the pipes for Surrey but scoring with 6:49 remaining proved to be too little too late. The Surrey Eagles solidified their win with an empty net goal from Brady Shaw. A player who has gambled and been rewarded is Shaw who once again waited in the neutral zone behind the Spruce Kings defender and was given the puck by Trevor Cameron who lobbed it up and over all the players on the ice. The empty net goal came a split second before the final buzzer giving the Surrey Eagles the lopesided win on the scoresheet and relief in the dressing room that they had excised the demon that was the Spruce Kings this season.

Prince George will now look to do the same thing to the Chilliwack Chiefs on Saturday night. In six meetings so far this season, the Spruce Kings have picked up only a single point in an overtime loss to the Chiefs. Chilliwack has a six point edge on the Spruce Kings and will be looking to spread that out some more while Prince George will be looking to pull away from the Langley Rivermen who have closed to within six after defeating the Victoria Grizzlies 6-3 on Friday night.

Game Preview: at Surrey Eagles

Kirk Thompson (1) stops the Surrey Eagles Brady Shaw
on a breakaway in their last meeting January 31

It is the final regular season meeting of the year for these two teams in a season series that must have odds makers baffled. In seven games played so far, the Spruce Kings have secured at least a single point in each game with four wins and three overtime losses. Of the four wins, two of them have been by shutout and in the other two Prince George only allowed one goal against.

Surrey has been a powerhouse in the Mainland Division since early on in the season after two key player acquisitions. The Eagles saw immediate dividends after picking up Brady Shaw in a trade with the Coquitlam Express. Shaw has proven to be an offensive force in Surrey and is leading the team with 28 goals and 24 assists. In fact, Shaw would be second in team scoring with just the points he has picked up in the 31 games with Surrey (22G, 21A).

At the end of the year the Surrey Eagles will have to flip a coin to make a decision on who has been their regular season MVP because as much as Brady Shaw has done to score on the opposition, Michael Santaguida has done to keep the opposition off the scoreboard. An import that was pulled from a US High School league a few weeks into the regular season, Santaguida has secured a NCAA Division I scholarship to the University of Vermont and picked up two BCHL Player of the Week honours in his time with Surrey.

Santaguida's numbers lead all goaltenders in the Coastal Conference with a 2.31 goals against average and .933 save percentage. Tied for the most wins this season at 23, Santaguida has played fewer games then the other two goalies that he currently shares that lead with. Kirk Thompson is right there in that same race with 20 wins so far this season which is good for fifth spot on the list.

Thompson, who recently secured a long overdue NCAA Division I scholarship, is without question the Spruce Kings MVP for the season and has kept the team in games they maybe shouldn't have been in, not to mention the wins that he has single handedly given Prince George. One such win came the last time these two teams met in the Eagle Nest, that game was played on December 16 and the Spruce Kings came away with a 2-0 win. Thompson had to stop 41 shots in the game and many of those were high calibre scoring chances.

Since then the Eagles went on a bit of a tear and landed in top spot in the Mainland Division. Eight days ago, they came to Prince George looking for a little bit of redemption against their divisional rival only to be denied to the tune of a 4-1 loss to the Spruce Kings. It seems that Prince George has an undefined advantage on the Surrey Eagles no matter where those games are played and certainly tonight the Spruce Kings will be looking to keep that trend going as they look to lower their magic number to 4 to clinch a playoff spot.

Coming into the game the Spruce Kings are currently sitting in third place in the Mainland Division with 50 points, eleven back of the Eagles who have a five point lead on the second place Chilliwack Chiefs. When looking at possible playoff matchups, it would be safe to say that Surrey does not want to play Prince George in the first round. That makes tonight's game an important one for Surrey as they want to keep some distance between themselves and the Chiefs and not find themselves looking at the possibility of finishing in second place and having to deal with a third place Spruce Kings team to start the post-season.

Although not technically too soon to be looking at possible playoff matchups, the Spruce Kings have to worry about themselves tonight and start stringing some wins together. The last time Prince George had anything resembling a streak going was back in December when they had back-to-back wins against the Cowichan Valley Capitals and the Surrey Eagles before heading into the Christmas Break.

Game time tonight is 7pm with a pregame show starting it off at 6:35pm on 93.1 CFIS-FM. The broadcast is also available for free online from the Spruce Kings channel and as a pay-per-view videocast on Following the game, the team will return to their home base to get ready for Saturday's matchup versus the Chilliwack Chiefs in Prospera Centre - talk about opposite ends of the spectrum. I'll explain more in tomorrow's pre-game blog, until then, enjoy game day everyone.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Spruce Kings Clipped by Nanaimo

Spruce Kings had chances ... all but one sailed by
photo courtesy Gary Dorland

The Prince George Spruce Kings let one get away Friday night at the Coliseum.

Leading the Nanaimo Clippers 1-0 heading into the third period, Prince George was unable to hold on to the lead eventually dropping a 2-1 decision to close out a four-game homestand with two wins, a loss and an overtime loss. Josh Bryan evened the score for the Clippers on a back door power-play goal midway through the third and Mason Mitchell scored the game winner. Cameron Lawson opened the scoring for the Spruce Kings in the first period.

Despite only getting the one goal, Prince George had ample chances against Clippers netminder Jayson Argue. In the first period a Lyndon Martell point blast on the power play rung off the post. In the second, again with the man advantage, Shayne Morrissey clanged one off the cross bar and in the third Coltyn Hansen found the iron.

Argue, who shut out the Spruce Kings in their previous meeting, turned aside 24 shots and was named the Treasure Cove Casino first star.

Lawson's goal came on the Spruce Kings first recorded shot at 8:28 of the opening period. Liam Blackburn's centering pass - likely intended for Morrissey - bounced off a Clipper defender and right to Lawson. The Spruce Kings leading goal scorer wasted little time in putting his 16th goal of the season in the net.

The Spruce Kings got into penalty trouble in the first, but escaped a two man disadvantage unscathed. In fact the penalty killing unit did an excellent job through two periods, killing off four infractions with ease. But it was the fifth penalty that did Prince George in.

The game's second star Greg Fraser set up the pretty goal with a cross-ice pass to a Bryan who was streaking in from his blue-line post. His quick shot beat Spruce Kings goaltender Kirk Thompson. Mitchell also got an assist on the play. Moments later Mitchell notched the game winner, again set up by Fraser with linemate Matthew Grant picking up the third assist.

Thompson, the game's third star, made 29 saves in a losing cause.

For the second game in a row the Spruce Kings captain Trevor Esau was named the Fortis Energy player of the game, while Jace Hennig took home Dairy Queen player of the game honours.

The Spruce Kings begin a stretch of seven straight games against Mainland Division opponents next week when they hit the road for games against Surrey and Chilliwack.

Game Preview: vs Nanaimo Clippers

It was tough to get anything to go in
the last time these two teams met

After an entertaining game last night, the Prince George Spruce Kings are ready to get right back to it. This time against the Nanaimo Clippers as the Island Division team makes its one and only regular season trip north. It will be the second and final meeting between the two with the previous meeting coming less than four weeks ago.

The Spruce Kings lost 2-0 to the Clippers at the tail end of the first road trip after the Christmas break. The game was scoreless through the first two periods of play and extremely close, thanks in large part to the play of Kirk Thompson who faced 40 shots in the game.

The Nanaimo Clippers arrived in Prince George last night after a full day of travel from the Island. The team arrived in time to watch some of the lone BCHL game Thursday as the Spruce Kings defeated the Surrey Eagles 4-1. In the game Thompson was key again, turning aside 31 shots en route to his twentieth win of the season.

In the game, the Spruce Kings got goal scoring from Lyndon Martell (power play goal), Chad Staley (eventual game winner), Shayne Morrissey and Liam Blackburn (powerplay goal). The affiliate player called up from the Cariboo Cougars Major Midget team was an impact player in the game throughout and battled hard wearing the Crown.

Defensively the Spruce Kings were strong and had to keep an eye on an ever roving Brady Shaw who found himself behind everybody else in the neutral zone a few times. On one of those occasions, Shaw was able to convert on a two-on-one play for the Eagles only goal of the night.

The challenge for the Spruce Kings tonight is to build on the win and duplicate the effort tonight against an equally strong opponent. The Nanaimo Clippers come in to the Coliseum looking for their first win in three games, but that stat might be a little misleading. Nanaimo is 6-4 in their past ten outings and have a season record of 23-17-0-2 with a record of 11-7-0-1 on the road.

The Clippers are a very potent team offensively with seven players having 25 or more points led by Kyle Kramer (24G, 19A). Also in that dynamic group is Greg Fraser (13G, 28A) and Matthew Grant (9G, 26A) who both have Major Junior experience and were factors in the win over Prince George.

A part of the game tonight is the recognition of Heart Month with the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Tonight the Spruce Kings will recognize the team trainer as the team’s Heart Hero. Bill Baldridge suffered a heart attack in December 2007 while on the bench during a game that resulted in a triple bypass. After a recovery time, Bill returned to the team as the trainer for the 2008/09 season and has been in the same position ever since.

Game time tonight is 7pm and will be broadcast on 93.1 CFIS-FM starting with a pregame show at 6:35pm. The game will also be carried online with the free audio broadcast from the Spruce Kings channel and a pay-per-view feed from The Spruce Kings next home game comes up on Thursday February 14th versus the Langley Rivermen, which will also be Ladies Night.