The Prince George Spruce Kings start a three game road trip through the Interior Division with a stop tonight in Merritt versus the Centennials. Both teams have similar records through the first 11 games of the season (Centennials 6-5-0-0 and Spruce Kings (6-4-0-1) with Prince George picking up one extra point in a game decided in overtime.
Over the past couple of weeks the Spruce Kings have been on a roller coaster of emotions reaching peaks with a mini winning streak and hitting lows with some key injuries. The biggest blow to the Spruce Kings was highlighted yesterday when early season standout, Jake LeBrun was honoured as one of the top players in all of Canada after being recognized in the CJHL monthly three star selection (CLICK HERE for original article).
In the month of September, LeBrun tallied 8 goals including 3 game winners and was a better than a point a game player with four assists. The offensive spark for the Spruce Kings was extinguished by a dangerous hit on Friday October 4th. With the Spruce Kings leading 3-0, Jake LeBrun was looking to start a cycle down low and was circling around behind the net heading towards the wall when he was hit into the boards from behind. The hit left the star forward dazed and confused requiring an extended stay in the hospital.
LeBrun is on the road to a full recovery, but is anticipated return date is still an unknown with some best case scenarios putting him back in the game no sooner than the beginning of November. One night after shutting out the Vernon Vipers 3-0, the Prince George Spruce Kings could find no offense and ended up losing 1-0 to the Victoria Grizzlies. It didn't help matters with Brent Lashuk (LeBrun's linemate along with Bryant Christian) also out of the lineup with an upper body injury.
The team is still reeling with two more injuries sidelining players. Caleb Thompson was unable to make the trip with the team this weekend and, as of today, Mitch Barker is being evaluated and is not expected to be in the lineup. Team officials are working on filling the vacancies now and have one affiliate player confirmed for tonight's game versus the Merritt Centennials.
Colin Chmelka, leading goal scorer with the Osoyoos Coyotes of the KIJHL, will suit up for the Spruce Kings wearing jersey 25. Chmelka is in his second season with the Coyotes and in ten games has registered 7 goals and 10 assists. Last season Chmelka won the Coyotes scoring title with 27 goals and 30 assists in 46 games played helping Osoyoos pick up the Okanagan Division championship and playoff run to the semi finals. Chmelka is a twenty year old 6' 1" 175 left handed forward from Colorado Springs, Colorado who is looking forward to his chance to play his first game in the BCHL.
His offensive abilities will be a welcome addition to a team that is quickly becoming known for its strong defence. When you take the Spruce Kings top forward line out of the equation, four of the next five points leaders come from the blue line led by Christian Weidauer (3G, 8A). On Friday night last week, Mitch Eden picked up his first goal of the season to go along with his five assists. The most goals from a defenceman come from Skylar Pacheco who has four including two powerplay tallies. Two weekends ago Karan Toor (2G, 3A) shook the BCHL with three big games where he showed up on the scoresheet on all three game winning goals.
Between the pipes, the goaltending duo of Alex Murray (4W, 3L) and Jesse Jenks (2W, 2L) has been stellar with both finding a spot in the League's top five netminders for save percentage. Jenks is third with a .933 SV% and Murray sits fifth with a .920 SV%. Their goals against average is also respectable with Murray holding down third in the League with a 1.98 GAA, Jenks is seventh with his 2.27 GAA.
The Merritt Centennials have their own ace in the hole with the very consistent Devin Kero. The 19 year old import playing in his rooking season in the BCHL has 2 wins under his belt and sits fourth in the League for both goals against average (2.01) and save percentage (.929). Connor LaCouvee is another 19 year old goaltender that has come in and done nothing but win games for the Centennials. LaCouvee has a perfect 3-0 record despite not having the best GAA (2.65) or SV% (.902). LaCouvee was brought in after an injury to Russell Sanderson who remains on the IRL until later this month.
The Merritt Centennials are a quick team with lines that can light up the goal lamp, eight of the ten top goal scorers come from the attackers while only five of the team's 35 goals come from the blueliners. Leading the way offensively is Scott Patterson (5G, 6A), who is into his third season with the Cents. Jeff Wight (5G, 4A) is next on the list with nine points followed by Sebastian Pare (3G, 6A), Gavin Gould (3G, 5A), Diego Cuglietta (2G, 6A), Payton Schaefer (4G, 3A) and James Neil (1G, 6A).
For the Spruce Kings to find success tonight, they will have to be as good defensively as they have been and now will be a good time to get that second wave of secondary scoring from the forwards. Jeremiah Luedtke is one player that has shown the promise but only just scored his first goal of the season last Friday versus the Vernon Vipers. That line of Luedtke, Chad Staley and Justin Rai have looked dangerous and have created a ton of chances, now they just need to convert.
The other line that has been looking dangerous and creating confusion for defenders is the line of Matt Painchaud, Mitch Barker and Brandon Epp. Tonight is a big night Barker as he is playing as close as he ever will to his hometown of Kamloops and is expecting a good turnout of family and friends to cheer him on. Colin Chmelka is expected to start the night playing with Riley Hawes and Sean Landrey which could very well become the go to line for Dave Dupas and Colton Buffie as it will possess both a physical presence and the potential for big goals.
The game tonight has a scheduled 7pm puck drop and will be broadcast live online. The pay-per-view feed will be available on Fasthockey.com and the free online audio only broadcast is on the Spruce Kings Mixlr channel with the pregame show starting at 6:40pm.