Friday, March 15, 2013

Playoff Game Preview: Game 1 at Chilliwack Chiefs

Prince George's Shayne Morrissey (12) battles with Chilliwack's
Keifer McNaughton in a preview of what is expected
to be a physical series between the two teams.
(photo courtesy Garrett James)

The Prince George Spruce Kings start their post season tonight with the first game in a best of five series against the Chilliwack Chiefs in Prospera Centre. This is an interesting matchup with both teams have ties to a long standing rivalry against each other. The Chiefs are in essence a hybrid extension of the Quesnel Millionaires after that team folded two seasons ago and merged with a fractured arm of the Langley Chiefs to take up occupancy in the Fraser Valley.

When you look at the Chiefs roster you can still see three players that had their start in the Gold Pan City. Playing in his final season of junior hockey, David Thompson is the Chiefs captain who played a full season in his rookie year (2010-11) in Quesnel before moving to Chilliwack. Keifer McNaughton is the other defenceman with ties to the 2010-11 Millionaires team, although he did play the next season with the Vancouver Giants before returning to the team with his Junior A rights.

Spencer Graboski has much deeper roots with the Millionaires being from Quesnel and having played parts of three seasons for his home town team before they folded and headed south. Over the years Graboski has had some memorable moments against the Spruce Kings and this season has contributed for 3 goals and 4 assists against Prince George. When looking at secondary threats for the Chiefs, Graboski is for sure one of them.

The Langley Chiefs contributions to the Chilliwack team include the team's leading scorer in Austin Plevy and Josh Hansen. Of course the biggest contribution from that Langley Chiefs team will have to be Harvey Smyl, the team's General Manager and Head Coach. Smyl has a total of 15 years of experience as the bench boss of the Chiefs team as he was with the original team in Chilliwack that moved to Langley to make room for a WHL franchise.

Although he is the first one to admit that the season series on paper is more lopsided in his team's favour then it should be, Smyl will have his team ready to go and not to fall in a trap of complacency. It might sound like cliche and there is a lot that going around at this time of the season as all teams start with a clean slate looking to be the first team to stake three wins in a short series.

The eight teams in the two divisions of the Coastal Conference will actually play one more round and potentially more games than their counterparts playing out of the Interior Division/Conference. That is just an anomaly that is created by the geographic layout of the BCHL. Certainly that could make for a very interesting series if this one goes the distance because there is only one off day scheduled in the series and that comes between game two in Chilliwack and game three in Prince George.

This series could come down to attrition on the road and with two teams expected to play each other tough in the early going, nobody from either teams wants to see this one get to a fifth and deciding game.

After finishing off the regular season with a total of seven scratches, the Prince George Spruce Kings are looking healthy and ready to go. Justin Rai remains the lone scratched player on the squad after suffering a lower body injury. Everybody else is back in the lineup having been able to use the time off this week to get rested up for the playoffs.

While talking with the coaching staff and players over the past couple of days, it has become readily apparent that everybody is on the same page with three keys coming out in all conversations. Certainly it comes as no surprise that both teams are looking to their goaltenders to be the ace up their sleeve.

Kirk Thompson and the rest of the Spruce Kings are prepared
for this series and believe they know what it is going to take
to claim home ice advantage from the Chiefs.
(photo courtesy Garrett James)

"I think this could easily come down to goaltending," says Spruce Kings assistant coach, Brad Rihela. "Mitch Gillam and Kirk Thompson are two of the top goaltenders in the BC Hockey League."

By the numbers, Mitch Gillam finished higher than Kirk Thompson with 27 wins in 46 games and a goals against average of 2.53. Thompson was right there however and has top caliber numbers as well with a franchise best 24 wins, 2.84 goals against average and 91.5 save percentage.

Thompson is a driven individual this season and will be just as motivated in the post season. In his final season of junior hockey, Thompson doesn't want the ride to end any time soon and knows just how important every game is and what it means to take control of home ice advantage. The Spruce Kings two regular season wins over the Chiefs both came in the Prospera Centre in Chilliwack (Feb 9 3-1 and Feb 23 5-3).

"It is very important for us to take away their home ice," said Thompson. "Not only take away their home ice advantage, but we have to capitalize on ours too.

The second key will be to win the battles, especially the physical battles to gain puck possession and create or take away scoring chances.

"This is going to be a real physical series," predicts Spruce Kings video coach, Colton Buffie. "To have a real good chance here, we're going to have to match their physicality."

Two of the most physically dominating players in this series come from the Spruce Kings blue line with team captain Trevor Esau and NHL Central Scouting ranked defenceman Kevin Guiltinan. Both players have been forces to deal with and both are looking forward to this series.

"Looking forward to some old school hockey with lots of physicality," says Guiltinan. Committed to Harvard University along with two of the top three Chiefs, Guiltinan knows that it is job to help shut down Luke Esposito and Philip Zielonka from the top line.

Coltyn Hansen (10) has the ability to turn a game
and the Spruce Kings will be counting on his speed in this series.
(photo by Garrett James)

The third key comes from the Spruce Kings General Manager who wants to see two things in this first game of the series.

"Attention to detail," is the top priority for Mike Hawes. "It's those little things that can win or lose a game for you."

One of those little things might very well be the powerplay and the penalty kill. In the regular season, the Chiefs came out on top in both those categories and also led the League in short handed goals scored. The Spruce Kings were not out of the running in either category and have shown to be effective on the penalty kill scoring the League's second highest number of short handed goals.

"This series will turn on special teams," says Spruce Kings assistant coach, Jason Garneau. "We have been doing a lot of work in both of those areas and I think our penalty kill will win the day."

This is sure to be an entertaining series and certainly the Spruce Kings appear to be ready, willing and able to get this one started tonight against the Chilliwack Chiefs.

"We've been waiting six months for this series," says Spruce Kings Head Coach, Dave Dupas. "It's been a long season with some ups and downs. We're all excited to get going so the puck drop can't come soon enough for us."

Game time is 7:00pm from the Prospera Centre in Chilliwack with the game broadcast live on 93.1 CFIS-FM beginning with a pregame show at 6:30pm. The game will also be available online with a free audio feed from the Spruce Kings channel and also as a pay-per-view webcast from

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