The Prince George Spruce Kings will meet the Surrey Eagles tonight at 7pm for the first time in 252 days. The last time these two teams have played each other was back on February 8, 2013 in a game played in the South Surrey Arena that saw the home team earn their first regulation time win over Prince George in eight tries.
Yes it's true, the Spruce Kings had the regular season edge over the team that came out on top in the province of BC. The Surrey Eagles won the BCHL Championship, the first ever Western Canadian Championship and earned a berth to the 2013 RBC Royal Bank Cup where they came up just short of winning a national championship. During the regular season the Spruce Kings played the Eagles tough earning four regulation time wins including two by shutout. The Eagles did pick up four wins, but three of those came in overtime leaving Prince George with an 11-8 point edge over Surrey.
Lots has changed for the both teams since February, as it does when one season rolls through an off-season to the start of a new campaign. For the Eagles though their changes eclipse those of the Spruce Kings with more player changes as well as changes on the bench. The Eagles have close to twenty new players up front after losing a significant number of players to graduation and trades.
It appears the Surrey Eagles aren't finished making moves either as they look for that one move that will completely change their team as we saw last year. In the month of October one year ago, the Surrey Eagles actually made two moves that completely changed the team on the ice. The first was bringing in an unknown goaltender that evolved into one of the best netminders in the BCHL. After a win one loss one start, Michael Santiquida reeled off ten wins in twelve starts and went on to finish with a season record of 29 wins, 10 losses and 3 ties.
The second change was perhaps even more significant when a trade was made with the Coquitlam Express to acquire Brady Shaw twelve games into his final year of junior hockey. Shaw came over with 6 goals and 3 assists after having a 69 point season the year before. In his first game with the Surrey Eagles, Shaw scored twice and then followed that up with another two goals and an assist one night later. Shaw maintained his pace for the rest of the season and was always a threat on the ice registering 8 points (5G, 3A) against the Prince George Spruce Kings.
Trying to recreate that magic this year, the Surrey Eagles unveiled a new goaltender on Wednesday night that picked up his first BCHL win. Devon Fordyce, who some will remember as being with the Prince George Cougars last year, was acquired from the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League on October 9th. In this first game, Fordyce helped his team to their first win in six games as they defeated the Coquitlam Express 5-4 in Coquitlam.
The second part of the equation may have just been executed as well with the acquisition of Garrett Forster from the Flin Flon Bombers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. Forster is from Surrey and has tour of duties in the BCHL with the Coquitlam Express and most recently with the Chiliwack Chiefs. Although his BCHL numbers aren't substantial (11G, 27A in 108 games), the intangible of coming home and playing for your home town team can become a huge adrenaline boost for both the player and the team.
Attrition hasn't been limited to the bench either with the departure of some staff members and the head coach, Matt Erhart. Stepping up to the role of head coach and general manager is former NHL'er Peter Schaefer who was previously in an assistant role with the team. Schaefer knows the game and was a gifted offensive player himself, so he will likely be looking at building the same type of team on the ice which the ice in Surrey is the biggest in the BCHL with Olympic dimensions.
Preparing a team for their first game on a larger ice surface will be the priority for the Prince George Spruce Kings coaching staff who have had to work in some smaller confines for most of their games so far this season. Having to deal with a team that has been built to use the extra space to create free wheeling opportunities will be a huge test for one of the League's best defensive teams.
The Prince George Spruce Kings have allowed the fewest goals against for any team in the Mainland Division and has the second lowest goals against average per game among all teams in the BCHL. The strength of the defence hasn't been just along the blue line either, but also in their offensive output scoring 14 of the team's 34 goals. Leading the way in that category is Skylar Pacheco with five goals and Christian Weidauer with four. Along with his assists, Weidauer is second among all defenceman with twelve points.
The team's defence has done their job and so have the duo of Alex Murray and Jesse Jenks between the pipes for Prince George. Both are ranked high for both goals against average and save percentage with Jenks posting the third best save percentage in the League at .930, .004 away from top spot. Murray is tied for fouth in the league for goals against with an average of 2.20.
Heading into tonight's game, the Spruce Kings record is above .500 thanks in large part to a solid effort last Saturday in West Kelowna where Prince George held on for a 3-2 win over the Warriors. In that game Justin Rai playing alongside Bryant Christian was able to find some much needed offensive punch up front in the absence of Jake LeBrun and Brent Lashuk. LeBrun remains on the injury list recovering from a concussion while Lashuk is ready to make his return after missing five game tonight.
Another bright spot from Saturday's game was the line combination of Chad Staley and Jeremiah Luedtke with Brogan O'Brien on the left wing. The trio were dangerous the entire night and came within a post and a skate blade from really blowing open the score. If those two lines can navigate the larger player area, the Spruce Kings stand a really good chance of starting this weekend off on a winning note with a return matchup in Surrey set for Saturday night before finishing the weekend off with a matinee game Sunday at 2pm against the Langley Rivermen.
As always, the game will be broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed on Fasthockey.com and a free audio online broadcast from the Spruce Kings Mixlr channel beginning with a pregame show at 6:40pm.