|Already down six players, there was a lot of concern after|
Braiden Epp was hit against the boards late in the game
The Prince George Spruce Kings started off their three game Interior Division road trip with a 5-2 win over the Trail Smoke Eaters Friday night. An otherwise close game was blown open when the Spruce Kings scored on back-to-back powerplays to pull away from the Smoke Eaters. The win, coupled with a Langley Rivermen's loss, leaves the Spruce Kings just one point back of top spot in the Mainland Division and tied for third overall in the BCHL.
The game featured some unbelievable saves by both goaltenders who robbed the other teams of goals that would have otherwise seen this game get completely out of hand. In the end, a small blunder that saw the puck left sitting in the crease resulted in the eventual game winning goal. Other than that, goals were hard to come by especially in the first fifty minutes with both teams having chances to turn a close game into a blowout.
The game's first goal was the result of another strong play by the team's youngest player - Brogran O'Brien. With injuries changing the complexion of the Spruce Kings roster and line combinations, the sixteen year old found himself centering a line with Mike Iovanna and Justin Rai on the wings. Five minutes into the first period, Skylar Pacheco spotted the youngster along the right side wall and let O'Brien do most of the work from there.
O'Brien drove hard down the wall and then cut to the net as he entered the zone. He fired the first shot on goal hard enough to have the rebound bounce out to the left side of the net where Iovanna was waiting to send his second of the season and second in as many games into the back of the net. The goal would hold up for just over seven minutes before a former Spruce King would get his second of the season.
At 10:04 of the first period, O'Brien was called for tripping put the Smoke Eaters on the first man advantage of the game. Although they were unable to score on their first powerplay, they were able to gain some momentum off a wild flurry in the final twenty seconds with the extra attacker. Alex Murray turned aside all three glorious scoring opportunities that Trail came up with.
A few seconds after the penalty expired, a stoppage in play resulted in the BCHL which has become known for its trademark ability to create exciting scoring chances. This one would turn into a goal for the Trail Smoke Eaters as Cody Bardock found the puck at the top of the left side faceoff circle and waited for the Spruce Kings defenceman to become his own screen. Bardock shot the puck high to the blocker side through the screen finding the top corner behind Murray who had no chance to make the save.
After that goal, it was the Spruce Kings that went on the attack for the final seven minutes. Prince George fired a number of shots in on Riley Corbin who stood tall in net for the Trail Smoke Eaters and came up with some saves that could have easily seen the game get out of hand in the first period. Instead the first period would end with the teams tied 1-1 and the Spruce Kings leading 14-9 on the shot clock.
Five minutes into the second period and Karan Toor would start a play that he would be able to finish as well. After being hemmed inside their own zone for the better part of shift, it was Toor that found the puck and was able to get out. Chad Staley and Jeremiah Luedtke took over from there and carried the puck into the Smoke Eaters end. Unable to get a clear shot on goal, the puck came back to Toor who was waiting for it in the high slot. He too would wait for the seam to open up and fired another high shot, this time to the glove side, that found the top corner for the defenceman's fourth goal of the season.
A few minutes later it would be another defenceman that would spot Prince George a two goal lead. Skylar Pacheco carried the puck down the wall and fired a hard shot to near side post that the goaltender stopped. Most of all the other shots that Corbin took off the body were bouncing out to the other side so the goaltender slid to his right only to leave the puck behind sitting loose in the crease not six inches from his big pads. Pacheco spotted that puck and was able to tap home the eventual game winner and his seventh of the season to make the score 3-1.
The Trail Smoke Eaters were not about to go away just yet and would get a bounce of their own when the Spruce Kings were guilty of a soft D-to-D pass. Travis Stephens, the Smoke Eaters leading scorer, blocked the pass and sprung himself loose on a break-away with Jake Kauppila in on the rush. Stephens drove hard to the net and then slid the cross-crease pass over to Kauppila who banged in his fifth of the season. Although that gave the home side a spark, it would never be ignited as it was the last goal that Trail would score on the night.
It was beginning to look like neither team was going to score another goal as both sides continued to have chances although most of them were going to the Spruce Kings. The Studio Cuts Crowning Moment of the Game would come just past the midway mark of the third period when Cody Bardock was called for a high stick. It was only the second powerplay of the game for Prince George who had already given up four powerplay chances to the Trail Smoke Eaters.
A minute into that second man advantage and Mitch Eden would work his way from the left point to the faceoff circle where he snapped a hard shot. The shot was a little over waist high catching the goaltender on the outside of the arm. The puck bounced up and over the goaltender and broke the plane of the goal with the referee standing right there. Although the puck never hit the ice as it was batted out of mid air by the defender and the goal light never came on, the referee indicated goal giving Prince George a 4-2 lead in the game.
The goal seemed to deflate the Smoke Eaters who never really got another good chance to cut into that lead. A couple of minutes later in a goal mouth exchange, Scott Davidson two handed Justin Rai across the mouth resulting in a double minor. Rai would also be assessed a penalty for roughing, but that still left Prince George with their third man advantage. Again about a minute in, the Spruce Kings would cash in off a signature move by Chad Staley.
The second year vet, and now the team's leading goal scorer, swooped in under the goal line behind the net and fed the puck back out to Jeremiah Luedtke who was following on the play. Luedtke's shot was stopped in another rob job by the goaltender but the rebound came out to Staley who came around the net found the puck and waited to take his shot before firing it high to the blocker side of Corbin.
Staley's ninth of the season gave Prince George the 5-2 lead and all but put the game out of reach for the Smoke Eaters, who then seemed to become frustrated and started taking a few runs at Prince George players. Certainly the Spruce Kings do not need to lose anymore players to injury already down six players, five to injury. Brogan O'Brien was caught from behind and hit against the back wall with no call. Luedtke and Staley were also tagged with questionable hits that came after the play with no call.
With less than three minutes to go in the third period, Braiden Epp had the puck along the wall and was able to get rid of it just as Valik Chickkin came in with a flying elbow to the head. Again there was no indication that the referee was going to make the call as Epp lay on the ice. A few Spruce King players had enough and there was some pushing and shoving and few words exchanged. The linesman who saw the hit informed the referee of the dangerous hit and a five minute major for a blow to the head was called resulting in a game misconduct to Chichkin.
The Spruce Kings used the powerplay to kill off the remaining time in the period and leave the Comico Arena with two points and their twelfth win of the season. The three stars on the night included Mitch Eden, Jeremiah Luedtke and Chad Staley; although a number of other players could have been seriously considered for the honour including both goaltenders. Prince George peppered Corbin with a total of 43 shots while Murray picked up his eighth win of the season stopping 26 of 28 shots he faced.
After the game, the Spruce Kings got back on the bus and headed for Vernon where they will meet up with the Vipers on Saturday night in Kal Tire Place at 7pm. The game is the first meeting between the two teams since the infamous hit on Jake LeBrun that has resulted in the Prince George hockey product missing out on twelve games and counting. With the extent of injuries to the Spruce Kings lineup, the expectations is that there will be some emotion on the ice but the only kind of retribution Prince George will be looking for will be on the scoreboard.