Thursday, October 10, 2013

No Luck Tonight in Merritt

The Spruce Kings were buzzing all around the net in the second
but came up short Thursday night

The Prince George Spruce Kings came up the wrong end of a few bounces, starting their three game Interior Division road swing off with a 4-1 loss to the Merritt Centennials on Thursday night. The Spruce Kings worked hard for any chances they got, but seemingly got bitten by a series of home-town bounces as their record dropped to 6-5-0-1.

The game started out with as expected with the Merritt Centennials using their smaller rink to take away time and space from the Spruce Kings defenders forcing turnovers. Stretch passes through the middle also caused their fair share of troubles for the boys from Prince George. Game plans aside, it was some unfortunate bounces that really hurt the Spruce Kings.

With the game still scoreless, the Centennials were first on the board on a play that started out innocently enough and should never have been more than a simple scoring chance. Adam Tracey of the Centennials skated through the top of the crease with a defender in close pursuit. As Tracey's stick was lifted, he was able to reach back and just touch the puck enough to direct it on net and watch it slide untouched through the legs of Alex Murray.

The Centennials would add to their lead four minutes later on another play that seemed to blossom out of nothing. A simple clearing attempt got knocked down inside the Spruce Kings zone leading to a scramble to get back into position. From the outside of the faceoff circle, Jeff Wight fired a puck wide threw the slot that ricocheted off Sebastian Pare's stick and then the far side goal post to get behind Murray.

The second period saw the Spruce Kings loss a player to a five minute major for kneeing. Colin Chmelka, who was called up from the Osoyoos Coyotes to help fill the vacancies up front with both Brent Lashuk and Jake LeBrun out, was originally given a two minute minor for the infraction. After Dylan Bowen spent a long while on the ice and then had to be helped to the bench before ultimately leaving the game, led the referee to change the call from a minor to a major resulting in a game misconduct for the AP on just his fifth BCHL shift.

The Centennials would score early on in the five minute major on another unfortunate bounce. Dane Birks, the Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick from this past summer, took a point shot that was deflected by a Spruce Kings defender. Instead of having the puck land in the corner, it became a pop up that went up and over the shoulder of Murray and landed in the back of the net. Despite still having over 3 minutes remaining in the man advantage, the Centennials did not get anymore chances to pad their lead and instead the Spruce Kings were able to muster up some of their own.

Showing again why he was put on the Spruce Kings roster, Brogan O'Brien had three consecutive shifts that resulted in three of the team's best scoring chances, each better than the one before. On the first chance O'Brien sped down the right side and once inside the Centennials zone, made his way towards the net. Just as the 16 year old was about to take his shot, a Centennials stick got in the way deflecting the shot wide.

The chances kept coming for the youngster and on his next shift came in through the middle driving had for the slot. O'Brien was able to get a good shot away on goal but couldn't squeeze that one past Connor LaCouvee. On his third chance, O'Brien did beat the Merritt goaltender but not the cross bar as he walked in and let a hard shot go that was labelled for the top corner. Despite not being rewarded for his efforts with goals, the play of O'Brien brought life back to the Spruce Kings bench and put the Centennials on their heels leading to a Prince George powerplay.

The best chance on the man advantage would come off the stick of Danny Kiraly as he snuck in all the way from the right point to find himself right along the goal line. Bryant Christian spotted Kiraly and fed him the pass through the lane in front. Kiraly was just a little too low as he too found iron and the puck harmlessly went into the corner.

While at full strength the Spruce Kings would finally get on the board after Karan Toor started the play from inside the Spruce Kings end with a nice feed up the ice to Justin Rai. Rai gained the offensive zone with Chad Staley jumping up to create a two-on-one. Rai saucered the puck to Staley who let go with a shot that turned into his second of the season and gave the Spruce Kings something to work off.

To start the third period, the Spruce Kings went right to work and early on thought they had pulled to within one on a goal mouth scramble. Again it was Toor starting the play as he found Cole Todd cruising through the middle. The initial shot fooled LaCouvee who could not recover and left the puck in the blue paint. Todd was quick to jump on it, but with the defenders coming to aid of their goalie were able to keep the puck out. The bodies continued to flow towards the net with the puck remaining loose the whole time until finally Todd was able to slide it through the maze.

The initial call on the ice was for a goal sending the Spruce Kings back towards their bench in full goal celebration mode. After a few seconds the three officials met in the referee's circle and had a discussion that ended with the referee making the signal of no goal waving it off. The official announcement in the arena was that the net had come off its moorings prior to the puck crossing the line.

That seemed to deflate the Spruce Kings who continued to struggle the rest of the way. The Centennials stuck to their usual game plan and at times would send a forward early. On one particular play, Rhett Wilcox coasted in the neutral zone in behind everybody waiting for the pass that eventually came springing the forward on a clear cut breakaway. Alex Murray was able to stare down the streaking Centennials robbing from in tight with a spectacular save.

The Centennials would add the finishing touches to this game on a perfectly executed three-on-one play started and finished by Pare. The give and go with Payton Schaefer also included the game's agitator Deigo Cuglietta. The Centennials improved to a record of 7-5-0-0 and a share of second place in the Interior Division with the Penticton Vees.

The Spruce Kings will have to face those Vees on Friday night in the South Okanagan Events Centre. In September the Penticton Vees came north where they suffered their first loss of the regular season. In that game Jesse Jenks was a standout between the pipes and Jake LeBrun registered his first BCHL hat trick. Unfortunately for the Spruce Kings, LeBrun will not have the opportunity to be a standout this time around, Jenks very might get a chance to duplicate what he did on September 20th.

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