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

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