The two top teams in the Mainland Division meet tonight in Langley as the Rivermen (12-5-1-1) host the visiting Prince George Spruce Kings (11-7-1-1). The Spruce Kings come in as the underdog but also come in having found wins in their last four games including a 3-1 win two weeks ago in the Langley Events Centre.
The Spruce Kings have been in a few nail biters that have gone down to the wire before pulling out victories in the final few minutes of the game. Last night was no exception as they found themselves in a 2-2 tie with less than three minutes to go. Off a strong forecheck, Brent Lashuk forced a turnover that made its way over to Mitch Eden who scored the game winning goal.
On Sunday October 20th against the Langley Rivermen, a late goal from Jeremiah Luedtke put a stop to the Rivermen's momentum and changed the complexion of the game from a close one where Langley was working with momentum to one where frustration ruled the final minutes. After the Spruce Kings took the 3-1 lead, the Rivermen players were noticeable frustrated and at one point that led to a stick swinging incident when the puck got caught up in Mitch Eden's equipment.
In a span of seven seconds and two back-to-back plays, three minors and four misconducts were handed out. It is doubtful that time has had a chance to temper those emotions, but if it was just a case of frustration, a continuation of where the game left off shouldn't be expected. The Spruce Kings don't want to get into a long drawn out battle of wills over skills and will be looking to continue their play that has given them 9 of a possible 10 points in their last five outings.
Those points have come in the face of adversity as the lineup to the treatment room continues to grow and the team continues to wait for bodies to return. So far the only injured player to return from the month of October is Caleb Thompson and after tonight, another player has gone in. In the third period of last night's game, Cole Todd took a blow to the head and fell awkwardly to the ice. Although the rookie forward was able to make it to the bench on his own, he was not able to return to the game and is doubtful for tonight's contest.
Bryant Christian (out up to eight weeks), Jake LeBrun (expected back November 15) and Mitch Barker (expected back November 8) were missing last night along with Jesse Jenks (at the World Junior A Challenge until November 11). Justin Rai is expected back in the lineup tonight after taking a hit along the boards in the second and not returning to the game. Caleb Thompson made his return to the lineup last night and didn't look out of place after missing eight games.
With the scratches to the roster, the Spruce Kings made a trade with the Vernon Vipers on Thursday to acquire Mike Iovanna (a '94 right-handed forward) in exchange for future considerations. The team also called up a couple of affiliate players in goaltender Tate Sproxton from the Aldergrove Kodiaks and Jackson Waniek a right handed forward from the Richmond Sockeyes. Both of those APs are expected to be in the lineup again tonight.
Waniek, who is fourth in the Pacific Junior Hockey League for scoring leaders, looked comfortable on the big sheet of ice and was a force every shift. Sproxton, was not called upon in last night's 3-2 win in Surrey, is expected to stay with the team and travel back with the team to Prince George to practice and play the following weekend.
On the other side of the ice tonight, Evan Anderson is getting close to returning to the Rivermen's lineup but is not expected tonight. For the most part Langley's lineup should the same as it did two weeks ago and it has over that time where they have strung together three consecutive wins and outscored their opposition 19-7. In their first game after suffering the 3-1 loss to Prince George, the Langley Rivermen went on a goal scoring surge that saw them defeat the Coquitlam Express 12-2. Nine different players scored in that game and fifteen players in all had at least a single point. Their next two games were both decided by a single goal.
The Rivermen don't want to find themselves in a tight game with the Spruce Kings tonight and the expectation would be to see them try to jump out to an early lead and open the game to exploit a shortened bench. On the other hand, if Prince George can weather the storm and keep to their game plan, they will have an excellent opportunity to stretch their wins to five in a row and end up with a share of top spot in the Mainland Division.
Tonight's game is scheduled to start at 7:15pm and will be available online with the pay-per-view broadcast on Fasthockey.com and a free online audio only feed on the Spruce Kings Mixlr channel beginning with a pregame show at 6:50pm. Following the game the Spruce Kings will return home for a couple of days of practice before heading back out on the road for a three game road trip through the Interior Division with stops in Trail, Vernon and Salmon Arm.