The Prince George Spruce Kings start a three game Interior Division road trip tonight with a stop in Trail. The road trip will continue with stops in Vernon and Salmon Arm. The road miles alone make this trip an interesting one, coupled with the scratches and this road trip will be a demanding one. Getting started with a win will go along way to erasing the miles and the scars in the roster.
The Smoke Eaters (5-14-2-1) are a team looking to find their identity after a poor start to the season led to a change behind the bench. The new head coach is Nick Deschenes, who was into his second season as the head coach and general manager of the Grand Forks Border Bruins of the Kootenay International Hockey League, was hired on October 28th. Deschenes is said to be "more concerned with the effort on the ice than necessarily the score on the board."
Last weekend the Smokies ended a ten game losing streak with a tie (4-4 vs the Victoria Grizzlies) and win a big 5-1 road win over the West Kelowna Warriors. The three points will have injected some adrenaline into the practices earlier this week and no doubt will result in a different looking team then what their record would suggest.
As mentioned the Spruce Kings may have the better record but may be considered the underdogs in this contest after the long travel day Thursday to get from Prince George to Castlegar and the scratches. Not making the trip this weekend are Bryant Christian, Jake LeBrun, Sean Landrey, Mitch Barker, Cole Todd and Jesse Jenks. The first five players are all out with injuries while Jenks is away at the World Junior A Challenge playing for Team Canada West.
To help fill some of the holes in the roster, the Spruce Kings have picked up three affiliate players (AP) for the weekend. From the Aldergrove Kodiaks, goaltender Tate Sproxton spent the week in Prince George practicing with the team in the absence of the Jenks. Donovan Law and Connor Sloan were picked up from the 100 Mile House Wranglers as the team headed down the highway. Law has already played one game for Prince George back on October 26th when the team defeated the Cowichan Valley Capitals 3-2. This will be the first experience of Junior A hockey for Sloan who is from the West Kelowna area.
Despite the long list of scratches, the Prince George Spruce Kings have strung together a six game point streak including four straight wins. They come into tonight's game after suffering an overtime loss in their last outing. The game was a close one and might have ended differently if a penalty call would have been made on a play that saw Sean Landrey have his feet taken out from under him while on a break-away rush to the net in double overtime. Any penalty called in second overtime period automatically results in a penalty shot.
Prince George will need to stick to their game plan that has been working in those previous six games and that is to tied or better with their opponent and capitalize on chances while remaining defensively sound. The Spruce Kings are still one of the stingiest teams in the BCHL with a 2.57 goals against average per game. Only the Penticton Vees (2.18) and Powell River Kings (2.22) have allowed fewer goals on average than Prince George.
The team's offense has been coming on as of late and since Brent Lashuk has returned to the lineup (coincidentally that happened six games ago), the line of Chad Staley, Jeremiah Luedtke and Lashuk have been lighting the lamp to tune of 12 of 22 Prince George goals. In the overtime loss, that line was held off the scoresheet which is something that the Trail Smoke Eaters will have to hope to do.
The last goal scored by a member of the Spruce Kings was an unassisted tally from the newest addition to the team's full roster. Mike Iovanna was acquired a week ago from the Vernon Vipers and has since found a home with a lot of ice time and, with that, a lot of chances to put up points. Iovanna becomes a player to watch in tonight's game as he looks to fine tune his game on the night before his return to Vernon.
A player to watch from the Trail Smoke Eaters lineup is Tyson Witala who will be ready for another opportunity to play against his former team. After an off-season trade to Trail, Witala is second in team scoring with 7 goals and 8 assists, picking up two of those helpers in a 4-2 win over the Spruce Kings in Prince George back on September 21st. Jesse Knowler is another name to take note of after wining over the coach with his strong play last weekend with five points (1G, 4A) in two games.
Game time tonight from the Cominco Arena is 7:30pm with the game broadcast live online through the pay-per-feed on Fasthockey.com and free audio only feed through the Spruce Kings Mixlr channel beginning with the pregame show at 7:10pm. Following the game, the Spruce Kings will head back towards Vernon to continue their Interior Division road trip against the Vipers on Saturday night.