|Alex Murray and the Spruce Kings were under siege in the|
third period but held on for the 3-2 win Saturday
The Prince George Spruce Kings did the unthinkable tonight in defeating the West Kelowna Warriors 3-2 in their own rink. Basically limping in to Royal LePage Place, the Spruce Kings came in four players short including two of the top scorers.
Jake LeBrun (8G, 5A) missed his fourth consecutive game and linemate Brent Lashuk (2G, 8A) missed his fifth. Defenceman Caleb Thompson missed all three games and Mitch Barker played Thursday in Merritt but was a scratch for the other two games this weekend.
After losing the first two games to the third place team (4-1 Merritt Centennials) and the second place team (2-0 Penticton Vees), the odds did not favour the Spruce Kings as they faced off against the West Kelowna Warriors, the number one team in the Interior Division and the BCHL. The Warriors were riding a 9-0-0-1 record in their last ten games and were undefeated on home ice to start the season.
A similar scenario had played out a year ago when the Spruce Kings came in missing seven players, but were able to sneak out with a 4-3 win. In that game, Justin Rai was one of the scratches leaving Chad Staley and Jeremiah Luedtke with a stranger on the wing. Staley and Luedtke used that game as their breakout game annoucing their arrival in the BCHL with a highlight reel goal that stood up as the game winner.
With the team struggling to find offence, coach Dave Dupas used the memory of that game to change up his forward lines moving Rai up to play with Bryant Christian and Colin Chmelka. Brogan O'Brien was moved onto the wing with Staley and Luedtke to try and add a spark for those two,
As it played out, it was Justin Rai that provided the spark for the Prince George Spruce Kings, setting up the game's first goal and then scoring his second of the season less than twenty seconds later. As the game approached the midway mark of the first period, Mitch Eden started a play inside his own zone spotting Bryant Christian at centre ice. Christian took a hit to make a play getting the puck up to Rai who continued into the Warriors end. As the defender approached, Rai got the puck back to Skylar Pacheco who quickly fired a shot from the top of the faceoff circle that beat the West Kelowna netminder.
Off the ensuing faceoff, the trio went right back to work in the offensive zone creating an odd man rush. Once again it was Christian finding Rai with a pass to the left side and the highly motivated second year forward took it from there. Rai moved in and wired the perfect shot short side above the blocker, giving the Spruce Kings their 2-0 lead and stunning the home crowd into an eerie silence.
The West Kelowna Warriors used the BCHL timeout to settle down their players and it seemed to work. They would get the next scoring chance when Jason Cotton came down the left wing, threw the brakes on and in one movement looked off the defender and goaltender while whipping a wrister that rang off the crossbar. A few shifts later, the Warriors were back on the attack led by Liam Blackburn and Seb Lloyd. In a broken play that saw two PG defenders get crossed up and fall to the ice, the puck deflected back against the flow of play to a wide open Lloyd who made no mistake, firing a shot into a wide open net to close the gap to one goal.
Instead of gaining momentum, the wheels came off the bus for the West Kelowna Warriors with a parade a players making a trip to the penalty box. Earlier in the period, Ambrose Frickus blocked a Pacheco point shot and spent a long time on the ice unable to move. He ended up being helped off the ice and was taken immediately to the dressing room for observation and repairs. Firkus did return, but appeared to be tenative and ended up taking a lazy penalty as he turned his back to a rushing Justin Rai and stuck his leg out tripping him up.
Thrty seconds later the Warriors were called for another violation, this time it was Matt Anholt for a slash putting the Spruce Kings on a two man advantage for 1:22. This whole series became the Studio Cuts Crowning Moment of the Game as the Spruce Kings would find the back of the net 40 seconds later. From the right side wall Luedtke fed the puck back to the right point where Pacheco set up a one-timer for Christian Weidauer. The Spruce Kings leading offensive defenceman let go a blast from the left point that got through everyone restoring Prince George's two goal lead at 3-1.
Thats how the first period would end with the Spruce Kings out shooting the home team 14-5. The teams would trade chances in the second but again the Spruce Kings would limit the Warriors to just five shots on goal. The highlight of the second period would be the continued parade to the penalty box, five of the seven penalties going to the Warriors. While the Spruce Kings weren't completely innocent, it did appear that the officials were less inclined to make the calls against the visiting team.
In the third period it certainly looked like the blown chances in the middle frame were going to come back and bite the Spruce Kings. Not content with their limited shots in the first two periods, the Warriors pulled out everything they could looking to get back in the game. At one point both teams would trade breakaway chances on back-to-back plays. Brogan O'Brien would get the first one as he was fed a stretch pass and sprung from centre ice. On the very next play Carl Hesler slipped between a pair of Spruce Kings on the blue line to bust in on Alex Murray who came up with the save of the game.
Unfortunately for Prince George, the rebound would make its way back to Hesler who snapped home the puck pulling the Warriors to within one at 6:12. The Warriors kept up the pressure forcing turnovers in the offensive zone and keeping Prince George hemmed up in their own end. With eleven minutes still to play in regulation time, Dave Dupas called his timeout to calm his players down and remind them not to panic and stay aggressive instead of sitting back.
The Spruce Kings did just that and although they never really got anymore chances, they certainly minimized chances for the Warriors by clogging up the nuetral zone, keeping them to the outside, blocking shots and winning battles along the walls. That continued for almost the entire final ten minutes of the third period with the intensity rising as the clock ticked down. The Warriors pulled their goalie with 90 seconds remaining but still couldn't manage anything of consequence on net.
As the final seconds ticked down, Chad Staley made the last big defensive play diving in front of a point shot and then slapping the loose puck out over the blue line to kill off the clock. It truly did turn into deja vu all over again as the Spruce Kings came in against all odds to pull off an improbable victory. The win puts Prince George back above .500 with a record of 7-6-0-1, good for third place in the Mainland Division, one point back of the Coquitlam Express and four back of the front running Langley Rivermen.
Justin Rai was by far the best player, for either team in the first period and his play through the remaining forty minutes earned the second year player first star honours. Skylar Pacheco also factored in the three star selection as could a host of players including Chad Staley, Christian Weidauer, Mitch Eden, Karan Toor and Alex Murray. For the twenty year old goalie, who made a number of key saves especially in the third period, he was considered the FortisBC Energy Player of the Game and given the "hat" in the dressing room by his team mates.
The Spruce Kings return home for the remainder of the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend, they will get two days of practice time before heading back out on the road for another three game weekend. Prince George will play twice in Surrey and will be looking to use those games to put even more distance between themselves and the Eagles. The other game in the three game set will be against the Langley Rivermen.