It has been a feel good couple of hours for the Prince George Spruce Kings who were all smiles and chuckles while still ribbing Karan Toor over the breakfast table about his first BCHL goal. The 19 year old defenceman found himself on an odd man rush up the ice with Jake LeBrun and the recipient of a loose puck at the side of the net as he poked in his tally of his BCHL career.
After the meal, the coaching staff pulled out the video highlights and low lights of the game from the night before and reminded the players that they will have to play a solid game tonight on a bigger surface against a well rested and hungry team. But to keep the spirits high, even Dave Dupas recognized the need to end the video session with the replay of the goal that showed how Toor read the play and reacted to the play of Brent Lashuk chipping the puck off the wall.
Certainly the showing of the goal was as much of a gamble as the goal itself was, but the coaching staff want to make sure the boys take as much of Friday night into tonight's game as they can. The Spruce Kings have had success on Friday nights, but that success hasn't carried over to the following night so far in this young season.
The Spruce Kings head into tonight's game in a three-way tie for second place in the Mainland Division, just a single point back of the Surrey Eagles and four points ahead of the Chilliwack Chiefs. The Chiefs do have three games in hand after sitting idle for the past two weeks.
The last time the Chiefs played a game was back on Saturday September 14th in the Prince George Coliseum where they found a way to steal two points away from the Spruce Kings. The game was decided in the first minute of overtime after the Spruce Kings outshot the Chiefs 43-21 through 60 minutes, but could only muster up the single tally from Bryant Christian.
The extended layoff for the Chilliwack Chiefs makes them a very big unknown heading into tonight's game. Was the time alone a chance to make a stronger more cohesive unit or has it let to a situation that puts the Chiefs at a disadvantage heading into their home opener? Spruce Kings fans will be hoping for the latter
The pressure of wanting to catch up might be the opportunity that the Spruce Kings are looking to capitalize on. As many of the players on the squad know from last year, Prospera Centre is a large rink with lots of room to move and make things happen. If the Spruce Kings have their legs going early and get quality shots on net and take an early lead, that might be all it takes to leave the Chiefs deflated.
Those are some mighty big ifs and not something anybody should ever think will come easily against the Chilliwack Chiefs. The more likely scenario is that the Chiefs have been working hard every day preparing to make an impression on their fans when the doors open and the lights come on for the team's home opener.
The Spruce Kings have been in some great games over the years playing against the Chilliwack teams and being in the same division has only intensified the rivalry between the two. The ties that bind these two teams goes way back with the origins of this current Chiefs franchise residing in Quesnel as the Millionaires. There is one last remnant of the team that played in the Vault - Kiefer McNaughton is a big (6'3" 244lbs) tough defenceman that can punish you and, as he showed the Prince George fans in overtime on that Saturday night two weeks ago, hurt you on the scoreboard.
Shay Laurent is another player that is known for his size on the blue line. Laurent has returned to the Chiefs lineup after being traded back to the Fraser Valley by the Coquitlam Express earlier in the week. Those two defenceman may provide the spark alone for the Chilliwack Chiefs and the Spruce Kings forwards will have to figure out how to extinguish that spark.
Offensively is where the Chiefs may be the scariest tonight. After scoring just better than a goal a game in their first four games, Harvey Smyl and the Chiefs coaching staff will have been working on that part of the game with the forwards. None of the star recruits from the off-season have very much to show on the score sheet, expect players like Zack Diamontoni, Andrew Silard, Jordan Kawagutchi and especially Austin Plevy to be looking for break out games tonight.
The Spruce Kings are still looking to get more secondary scoring out of their own forwards but are enjoying the contributions so far from Bryant Christian, Jake LeBrun and Brent Lashuk on the top line. Those three sit one, two and three in team scoring and are on the edge of cracking the double digits for points. In fact once the scoresheet is corrected to give Lashuk and LeBrun their assists on the game winner from last night, Lashuk and LeBrun will both have ten points already.
The line of Cole Todd, Matt Painchaud and Mitch Barker are turning into this season's bright light for the team. Once this team finds a way to turn on the red light, I think it is going to become awfully hard for other teams to turn it off. Cole Todd has missed the previous two games due to a suspension, his return will be one of the sparks the Spruce Kings will be looking for tonight.
The players that seem to be having the most fun right now are the defenceman under the guidance of assistant coach Colton Buffie who seems to be giving them just enough freedom to find the right play to jump up offensively. The team defence first policy seems to be keeping all positions on the ice occupied and not giving up too many chances the other way. Christian Weidauer, Skylar Pacheco, Caleb Thompson, Danny Kiraly and now Karan Toor all have goals for the Spruce Kings while Mitch Eden has five helpers.
A nice addition to the Spruce Kings roster has been the rookie netminder, Jesse Jenks who now has two wins and two first star honours to go along with his play in last two starts. The coaching staff will go with their rotation plan in net giviing Alex Murray his chance tonight to get his second win of the season.
A win tonight, gives the Spruce Kings the chance to leapfrog the Surrey Eagles into top spot in the Mainland Division. The Eagles are at home to the Vernon Vipers, however. The Langley Rivermen continue their Island Division swing tonight with a stop in Port Alberni and the Alberni Valley Bulldogs while the Coquitlam Express sit in wait of the Spruce Kings return to the train station on Sunday afternoon.
Tonight's game is the first of six Prince George Motors Games of the Month on 99.3 the Drive. Ron St. Clair will provide the play-by-play call of all the action with Ron Gallo sitting in as colour commentary. This will be the first time since the RBC Royal Bank Cup tournament the Spruce Kings games have been on the major sports radio station in Prince George. The game tonight will also be available from it's usual online sources: pay-per-view on Fasthockey.com and the free online audio only option from the Spruce Kings Mixlr channel.