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.

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