It will be the third meeting of the season between the Surrey Eagles and the Prince George Spruce Kings tonight in the South Surrey Arena. The home team has the edge in this eight game season series having picked up a win and a tie two weekends ago. Since then the Spruce Kings have reeled off three straight wins and find themselves sitting in second place in the Mainland Division seven points better than the Eagles.
The three game winning streak has come at a cost to Prince George with the Spruce Kings losing their captain for up to eight weeks with an "upper body" injury suffered when Bryant Christian was hit with the puck. Christian has returned to his home in Moorhead, Minnesota to undergo surgery and begin the rehabilitation to get back in the game as soon as he can. Unfortunately the loss of Christian coupled with the long term injury to Jake LeBrun, the Spruce Kings had to make a move on Thursday to fill the vacancies up front.
In a deal with the Vernon Vipers, the Spruce Kings acquired Mike Iovanna in exchange for future considerations. Iovanna is considered to be a "skilled and shifty forward with tremendous offensive potential." He has already earned himself a NCAA Division I scholarship to the University of Massachusetts - Amerherst for the 2015-16 season. In his years prior to joining the BCHL, Iovanna has worn the 'C' and put up big numbers, something he is hoping to do now as a member of the Prince George Spruce Kings. It can be expected that the newest player to don the crown will be given all the ice time he can handle to show what he is capable of.
As mentioned, Jake LeBrun remains in the injured reserve list, who is expected to be out another two weeks but could be skating with the team as early as next week in a non-contact capacity. Mitch Barker suffered a minor lower body injury that will keep him out of the games for this weekend. Caleb Thompson is traveling this weekend with the team, but will be a scratch for tonight's game as he is still not at one hundred percent.
Jesse Jenks is the fifth name scratched from the Spruce Kings roster but his situation is a good news story as the rookie goaltender has been selected to represent Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge from November 4 - 10. After a very good showing at the Team Canada West Selection Camp, Jenks became one of the two goaltenders heading to Yarmouth and a fourth gold medal for Team Canada West at the prestigious tournament.
Tate Sproxton has been called up from the Aldergrove Kodiaks of the Pacific Junior Hockey League to backup Alex Murray. Sproxton has some familiarity with the Spruce Kings having attended the team's Spring and Main Camps this year. Sproxton is leading all PJHL goaltenders with the best Goals Against Average at 2.07 and also has a .931 Save Percentage. The 18 year old goaltender has an overall record of 5 wins, 0 losses and 1 tie in seven games played.
Jackson Waniek has also been called up for the weekend as an affiliate player. Waniek is 17 year old is playing for the Richmond Sockeyes in the PJHL. His point production this season has him sitting in fourth among league leaders with 10 goals and 11 assists in 15 games. Waniek, a 6' 2" 195 lbs right handed forward, is expected to play in both games for Prince George this weekend adding a little bit of size and offensive ability.
The Spruce Kings remember all too well what happened two weekends ago on the big ice surface in Surrey and will be looking to make sure a similar scenario doesn't play out again. In the two previous games against the Eagles, the Spruce Kings were outscored 10-5 and only picked up a single point in a 4-4 tie one night after suffering a 6-1 loss. In those two games Brent Mulcahy, Nicolas Pierog and Danton Heinen piled up 14 points among them scoring nine of the team's ten goals.
Coming up with a defensive approach to this gifted trio will be a priority for the Spruce Kings and sticking to their game plan will be a big part of that. Playing a sound defensive game on an ice surface that allows four players to skate up on the rush is never an easy task, but one the Spruce Kings were able to make strides at in their last outing. Prince George held Surrey to just one powerplay goal on their seven opportunities and that one goal came while the Eagles were about to go on a two man advantage.
As far as special teams go, where one team is strong the other is not. On the penalty kill the Spruce Kings (82.56%) have maintained a seventh best ranking in the League while the Eagles (77.78%) sit 14th. Prince George has been making improvements with their powerplay but still sit near the bottom with 12.64% efficiency, the Surrey Eagles are up in 6th place with a 19.77% power play efficiency.
For both teams, this will be the first of two games on the weekend. The Eagles will host the Alberni Valley Bulldogs on Saturday while the Spruce Kings will move over to Langley for their second meeting of the season against the Rivermen. Tonight's game has a 7pm scheduled puck drop with the game being broadcast live online with the pay-per-view option through Fasthockey.com and a free online audio only broadcast from the Spruce Kings Mixlr channel beginning with the pregame show at 6:40pm.