Friday, September 27, 2013

Game Day at the Coquitlam Express

Jake LeBrun (8) will be looking to continue his lead of the
Spruce Kings offensively tonight in Coquitlam

With teams still in the single digit range for games played, it might seem a stretch to say that tonight's game has the makings of an early season turning point; but it's very true. Tonight's game is the first of three divisional match-ups for the Prince George Spruce Kings with two of the three being against the Coquitlam Express.

The Spruce Kings have played one more game than the Express and sit two points back of Coquitlam who are tied for second in the Mainland Division with Langley and one point back of first place Surrey. A Prince George win tonight and potentially three teams will be tied for second (Langley does have something to say about that with a game in Powell River). However, a loss will keep the Spruce Kings locked in that fourth spot, two points better than Chilliwack who would then have three games in hand on Prince George.

Mathematics aside, the bottom line is, you want your team to win every game they play so that you are always looking ahead and not behind. Ask any coach prior to the season how many games their team will win and very few, if any, will ever say "all of them." Ask that same coach before a game if this is one they want to win and the answer will always be "yes!"

The Spruce Kings are coming off a pair of home weekends where they won the first games, showing they know how to get the job done. The trick will be to maintain that consistency and not over manage a three game weekend. Long weekends take their toll on the players because of the grind of the travel. On this same weekend last year, the Spruce Kings started a three game road trip through the Interior Division with a win over the Vernon Vipers, but couldn't follow that up in the next two games. The difference this year is that the players will be in one hotel room - a home base - for the entire weekend giving them the same advantage that other teams in their division have.

The Coquitlam Express might be the early team to show the biggest turn around from last season after finishing in the basement of the Mainland Division. The Express have gone through an off-season coaching change bringing Barry Wolff back into the BCHL after a pair of short stints in the Alberta Junior Hockey League and in the KIJHL. Wolff came in and made a few changes throughout the lineup. Some of the notables include their twenty year old starting goaltender, Gordie Defiel who has had a perfect start to his season with 3 wins, 0 losses, 3.00 goals against average and a .902 save percentage.

Cody Boyd (0G, 6A) is a player brought in after playing the previous two seasons in the North American Hockey League, Bo Pieper (5G, 0A) is committed to play for the Quinnipiac Bobcats next season after playing the previous two in the USHL and the two before that with Shattuck St. Mary's. Bo didn't come alone, he brought his older brother Canon Pieper (1G, 4A) and together the pair are on a two point per game pace.

There are a few other new faces in the Express lineup but there are also a long list of familiar faces including Jace Hening (1G, 2A) who returns to Coquitlam after playing last season for the Spruce Kings. Hennig was very happy in Prince George and if it weren't for a family matter, has told me that he would still be wearing the Crown. Marc Biega is another former Express/Spruce Kings player that has returned to his original team.

At the trade deadline last year, the Express were involved in a big trade with the Chilliwack Chiefs to build up their blue line. One of those players included Benjamin Israel (0G, 1A), who may not have the numbers, but showed last season that he has the size and presence to cause issues for the opposition looking to setup shop in Express zone. Shay Laurent was another defenceman dealt to Coquitlam at the trade deadline, but was recently traded back to Chilliwack in exchange for future considerations (update compliments of Eddie Gregory, the voice of the Coquitlam Express).

The Spruce Kings headed out for the weekend with one extra body on the bus. Brogan O'Brien, who is already committed to play for Prince George next season, made the trek down with the team and is expected to suit up tonight with a couple of players not quite at a 100 percent and another who has one game left in his two game suspension. Who will be out and who will be in, won't be known until closer to game time as assessments are still being made on those players.

Another question mark for the Spruce Kings is who will start in net tonight. Fueled by nervous energy last weekend, Jesse Jenks posted his first BCHL win against the powerhouse Penticton Vees. This leaves the coaching staff wondering if they should go with the rookie to start the weekend and keep the rotation going through the early part of the season. With three games in two and a half days, seeing if Jenks will get the start between the pipes isn't the question, when is the question.

The Spruce Kings are being led offensively by local hockey product Jake LeBrun (7G, 0A) who scored a hat trick one week ago against the Vees and will be looking to maintain his better than a goal a game average again tonight. LeBrun has been the beneficiary of an increased role from his rookie season meaning the 18 year old gets a lot more chances in every situation to be on the ice looking for those opportunities around the net to pot his next one. His offensive production has taken some by surprise, but not by everyone.

Jake LeBrun is the son of another Prince George hockey product that had his fair share of glory days. Sean LeBrun was drafted 37th overall in 1988 by the New York Islanders after finishing the season with 125 points (52G, 73A) with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League. Averaging just over a point a game in his four seasons in the WHL, Sean LeBrun racked up 291 points (117G, 174A). Numbers that those who know would love to see be handed down a generation.

Ahead of Jake LeBrun on team scoring is Bryant Christian and Christian Weidauer, both have eight points to date and have been finding ways of contributing in all scenarios as well. Christian has been turning heads since arriving in Prince George after an off-season where he worked on his strength, physical size and added net presence to his tool box. A quiet contributor and Lady Byng candidate last season, Christian has an edge to him that puts him in the line of fire and in the blue paint as much as the goaltender for the other team. His feisty demeanour has already earned him a fly down visit to an interested NCAA school.

From the blueline, Weidauer has been able to get his shot through to the goal scorers parked in front on a number of occasions resulting in a goal and seven assists for the twenty year old from Keswick, Ontario. Brent Lashuk is an off-season acquisition that is starting to show why he was highly sought after by the team's general manager. When Mike Hawes first learned of the family situation for Jace Hennig, it didn't take him long to find a player from the Express roster that he wanted to bring to Prince George. Lashuk was that player and after missing a few games through the preseason, the speed of 19 year old player is starting to expose weaknesses in the oppositions defence.

The two teams will square off tonight in the "train station," the arena on Poirier Street in Coquitlam. Game time is 7pm with the Prince George Motors Spruce Kings broadcast set to start with the pregame show at 6:40pm with Ron Gallo. The game will be broadcast as a pay-per-video video stream on FASTHOCKEY with a free audio only internet broadcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr channel.

Besides always feeling better after a win, a win tonight will allow the Spruce Kings to keep pace and start what will be a tough weekend off on the right foot. Following the game tonight, the team will return to their homebase in Langley to prepare for their game Saturday night in Chilliwack and a return visit Sunday afternoon at 2pm to Coquitlam.

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