Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Game 6 at Coquitlam Express

Bo Pieper (24) of the Coquitlam Express looks on in disbelieve
after Alex Murray (35) comes up with the save of the series

In dramatic fashion the Prince George Spruce Kings found a way to fight another day after posting a 3-2 double overtime win while facing elimination in game five on Monday night in Prince George. The fans came out to show their support of the Spruce Kings on this night and they came prepared to make some noise ... and did they ever make some noise!

The Prince George Spruce Kings came out flying and ended up outshooting the Coquitlam Express 14-5 in the first period. It was the Express that opened the scoring when Corey Mackin and Ryan Rosenthal were able to steal the puck in the neutral zone and turn a two-on-one through the slot with Rosenthal passing over to Mackin to finish the play.

The score would remain 1-0 for the visitors until late in the second period when the Spruce Kings would get a powerplay chance to work with. From the faceoff draw, Chad Staley won the puck back to Justin Rai who dropped back to the right point. Rai faked the shot and then fired a crisp pass across the zone to the left point where Mitch Eden waited to unleash his one-timer. The shot from the point was a laser beam into the back of the net tying the game at one on the defenceman's third of the post season.

This goal was the first moment when everybody started believing again. A couple of shifts later the building was officially rocking when Marco Ballarin came on the ice and started laying the body with some big hits, none bigger than the one on Joey Santucci that led to a melee resulting in another powerplay for the Prince George Spruce. Powerplay goals have been a premium in this series with only two being scored between the two teams and this powerplay wouldn't change that total.

In the third period, the Spruce Kings would take the 2-1 lead when the trio of Chad Staley, Justin Rai and Chad Staley teamed up on a play that started low in the offensive zone. From the right corner Staley fired a tight shot into the blue paint that went off a stick in front. Rai poked at which allowed the puck to slide to the opposite side of the net for a waiting Luedtke to push in his first of the game at 7:41.

The Coquitlam Express stuck to their forechecking game plan that propelled them to within a game of eliminating Prince George. Again from centre ice, the Express line led by the Pieper brothers gained the Spruce Kings zone. Canon Pieper found Brendan Lamont the puck who then spotted Bo Pieper on the far right side and fed him the puck. With barely enough room to squeeze the puck between the post and the pads of Murray, Pieper did exactly that to tie the game up at 2 with over eight minutes remaining in regulation time.

Nothing would be settled in those final minutes leading to overtime ... a full twenty minute sudden death/victory overtime period played five on five. In that first overtime period the highlight of the period, if not the game, if not the series would be a save by Alex Murray as he reached across the face of the open net and snatched a sure goal out of the air off the stick of Brendan Lamont as he was set up by Bo Pieper (highlight video). Both teams would get their chances to end the game in that first overtime period with the Spruce Kings outshooting the Express 16-13.

In the end this game would need a second overtime period but just the first 22 seconds of it. With the top line on the ice to start double overtime, the Spruce Kings would gain the offensive zone on a nice dump in by Marco Ballarin. Chad Staley would take the first shot on goal that Gordie Defiel was able to stop. Staley got the rebound back on his stick and spotted Jeremiah Luedtke cruising through the slot with a pass onto the tape. As Luedtke faded through the slot, he just waited for the players in front to commit and fired a shot under the goaltender's glove hand (highlight video).

As the Coliseum crowd erupted the broadcast team of Ron St. Clair and Thomas Bohmer commented on how this now becomes a "bus series" and could be won or lost on how the team's manage their miles on the highway between the rinks. Immediately following the game both teams left Prince George for the Lower Mainland with the Spruce Kings pulling into their hotel just before 8am. Life on the road has been a constant for the Spruce Kings, but as we have already seen in this series, having a regular season stat on your side doesn't always equate to wins.

Game six will have to be won on the ice in the Poirier Sports and Leisure Complex in Coquitlam on Tuesday night beginning at 7pm. The game will be broadcast live on 99.3 the Drive beginning with a pregame show at 6:45pm. The pay-per-view feed will be available through Fasthockey.com and although there will be audio available through the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel, it is recommended that those wanting to listen online do so through the radio station's streaming audio link (CLICK HERE TO LISTEN LIVE).

Sunday, March 9, 2014

On the Brink of Elimination

The looks say it all as the Spruce Kings find themselves
down 3-1 in their BCHL Mainland Division Semifinal series

After back-to-back losses in Coquitlam in games three and four, the Prince George Spruce Kings now have their backs to the wall and are fighting for their playoff lives. Facing elimination is never a pleasant feeling but it usually brings the best out of a team and the Spruce Kings haven’t been able to show their best to this point in the series yet.

The Coquitlam Express, on the other hand, have found ways to control the play and score goals. In both of their wins in Coquitlam, the Express never trailed. In game three the team was able to rally around a goal that came against the flow of the play and is looking like the turning point of the series. The goal was scored by Cody Boyd who picked up the puck in his own end, skated the length of the ice and let a weak backhand go from low in the faceoff circle that beat Alex Murray and fluttered into the back of the net.

That goal stood up as the game winner and placed momentum squarely in Coquitlam’s corner. The following night saw the Express score a total of six goals, one was into the back of the net, two went off of bodies and three of them were scored while the team was shorthanded. The first goal on the night was the result of shorthanded two-on-one rush down the ice with Boyd centering the puck for his captain. Ryan Rosenthal never touched the puck with his stick but had it deflect in off his skate instead.

The Spruce Kings got that one back when Justin Rai was sprung on his own break-away and beat Gordie Defiel on the right side above the blocker. Coquitlam had a 2-1 lead before the end of the first period as a result of a high pressure forecheck that caused the Spruce Kings all kinds of grieve well trying to clear the puck out of their own zone. The puck eventually ended up on the stick of Zack Hodder who came off the right point and was able to find the short side of the net with a perfect shot.

Things didn't get much better in the second period when the Spruce Kings found themselves on another powerplay that did result in the first powerplay goal of the series but not before the Express had their second shorthanded goal. Again it was Rosenthal that went down the ice with speed; although his first shot was stopped and he was knocked to the ice, he never gave up on the play and swung wildly at the puck while flat on the ice. The stick ended up chipping the puck up over Murray and under the crossbar to make it a 3-1 game.

Justin Rai and Jeremiah Luedtke would get that one back on a pretty two-on-one play of their own that started in the nuetral zone with Rai gaining the offensive zone with speed. As he put on the brakes and headed to the top of the slot, he passed the puck to Luedtke who fed it back to Rai. Without hesitation, Rai wound up for the big shot but that was a decoy for his slap pass back to Luedtke who just had to direct the puck into the net getting the Spruce Kings to within one.

Before the second period ended, Rai and Luedtke were back at, this time on a two-on-none. Luedtke from the right side took the intial shot that was stopped and directed into the opposite corner. Chad Staley picked it up there and spotted a wide open Rai standing at the top of the slot. Staley got the puck to the Spruce Kings player with the hot hand who faked backhand before lifting a shot over the catching glove of Defiel to tie the game with 21 seconds remaining.

Two faceoffs later the play was in the Spruce Kings end and the Express pressing for the go-ahead goal. The puck went below the goal line into the left corner where Joey Santucci found it and just fired a high centering shot that ended up going off the body of Jace Hennig and into the net with exactly one second showing on the clock. The goal stood up as the eventual game winner as the Spruce Kings would come close only in the third period.

In that final frame the Express would get yet another shorthanded tally this time from Santucci who was able to find a clearing attempt off the stick of Murray. The Spruce Kings goaltender was trying to rim the puck off the wall and out, it hit a defender's stick and landed right in front of Santucci who was able to fire a shot to the far side of the net beating Murray before he could get back between the pipes to make the save.

Both Rosenthal and Rai would have glorious opportunities for their hat trick goals in the third period, Rai would be denied when the puck hopped over his stick while trying to reel in the backdoor pass with an open net waiting for him. Rosenthal would get his third tally of the night after finding the puck in traffic at the top of the zone and went in all alone to deposit the puck into the empty net.

The Prince George Spruce Kings will get one day off and then they will be looking at extending this series and taking it to the full seven games. If it does go that far, momentum may shift back in favour of the Spruce Kings simply because of the travel schedule with the next three games being played on consecutive nights in alternating arenas.

The cliche here is that the hardest game to win is the one that will eliminate the other team. The Spruce Kings aren't banking on cliches, they know it is now up to them to pull out all the stops and get it down starting with game five in the Castle. That too favours Prince George as the Coliseum is one of the hardest buildings for the opposition to win in given it's lively boards and fans. One of the loudest supporters of their team in the BCHL, the fans in Prince George make it tough on the opposition and certainly the seventh man will come in handy on Monday night.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Game Four at Coquitlam Express

Tempers boiled over in Game Three

The Prince George Spruce Kings will be looking to tie this series up at two wins apiece after a disappointing 2-0 loss in Game Three last night. As we have become accustomed to seeing, these two teams played each other extremely tight and frustrated each other for most of the game.

The first period was pretty even on the shot clock and even in chances but remained scoreless. The Spruce Kings ran into some penalty troubles especially late in the opening frame when they found themselves down two men in the final minute. Prince George would have to start the second period playing two men short for 1:31. Alex Murray made some of his best saves to keep the game scoreless putting momentum on the side of the Spruce Kings, unfortunately the Express would steal that momentum and open the scoring three minutes into the period.

With Prince George pressing, a simple turn to the left instead of the right became the difference as Cody Boyd picked up a loose puck in his own end and skated it up the ice basically unchecked. As Boyd went through the middle he faded to the right side and his offwing. From the low faceoff circle Boyd let go a weak backhand that handcuffed Murray and fluttered through the goaltender for the game's first goal and eventual game winner.

That goal also serious swung momentum back in favour of the Coquitlam Express who carried much of the play for the next seven minutes. Fortunately for Prince George they were in the game right til the end but just couldn't capitalize on any of their chances and when they did get quality shots, Gordie Defiel was seeing most of all the shots into his glove. The game remained a one goal game until late in the third period when Bo Pieper found the back of the net on another broken play that started from the top of the Express zone.

The final two and half minutes saw a number of incidents that led to a bit of a blow up with 15 seconds remaining in the game. In a stoppage in play in front of the Express net, Chad Staley was mugged leading to a lot of pushing and shoving and required over ten minutes for the officials to sort out. When the dust settled from that incident the Spruce Kings found themselves short handed with Matt Painchaud in the penalty box and a total of five misconducts handed out to Staley, Braiden Epp and Sean Landrey from the Spruce Kings as well as Adam Rockwood and Zac Hodder of the Coquitlam Express.

The ensuing faceoff went down to the other end of the ice to the Spruce Kings zone and as the puck dropped so did Bo Pieper who was writhing in pain. That drew a confused crowd with the Spruce Kings affiliate player Roshen Jaswal the centre of attention. Again there was a melee of players pushing and shoving against the glass trying to sort out exactly what happened. Jaswal was assessed a five minute major and game misconduct for an apparent slash while Brendan Lamont was given two minutes for instigating, five minutes for fighting and a game misconduct. On top of those two game misconducts another six misconducts were assessed to three players from each side; Marco Ballarin, Stephen Penner and Cole Todd from the Spruce Kings, John Saunders, Mark Whitely and Cody Boyd from the Express.

There is not expected to be any loss of manpower from either team as a result of the infractions heading into game four, but certainly that whole incident will be an undercurrent in the game. The Spruce Kings will need to play their game and find ways to capitalize on their chances, especially on the powerplay. If there is one area of the game that could spell the demise of one team and the success of the other, it is the powerplay.

Heading into game four both teams are still to find an odd man goal, but certainly not for a lack of chances. Both teams are 0/13 with the man advantage and both have had extended two man advantages to work with at times. Right now the difference in the series for Prince George seems to be depth up front especially with two key injuries keeping Brent Lashuk and Bryant Christian out of the lineup. Lashuk is not expected to be cleared to play until late April while Christian may be ready to go as early as Monday in Prince George for game five.

Also out of the lineup are two important defenceman with Cooper Rush waiting for doctor's clearance and Karan Toor hopeful to be in the lineup on Monday as well. In the absence of Rush and Toor, the Spruce Kings called up Roshen Jaswal who played progressively more minutes as the game went on and will be getting a lot more to start game four tonight. Jaswal has shown himself to be a smart puck moving defenceman that isn't afraid to use his size or show his mean side a little as well.

Tonight's game has a scheduled 7pm puck drop from the Poirier Sports and Leisure Complex in Coquitlam and will be broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed available through Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 6:40pm. Following the game, the Spruce Kings will head back to Prince George to prepare for game five on Monday night in the Coliseum. Tickets for game five can be purchased at the Spruce Kings office until 5pm Saturday and from noon until 4pm on Sunday as well as all day Monday.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Game Three at Coquitlam Express

Brogan O'Brien (15) scored in Wednesday's game

This BCHL Mainland Division Semi-final now shifts to Coquitlam where the Express have home ice advantage. The series has also become a best of five now after the teams split a pair of 3-2 decisions earlier in the week in Prince George.

The Spruce Kings opened the series with a 3-2 win on Tuesday night on the strength of a pair of goals from Mitch Eden. On Wednesday night Eden added two assists but it wasn't enough as the Express took the 3-2 win riding the red hot goaltender Gordie Defiel who made 39 saves in all.

The Prince George Spruce Kings were the favoured team on paper prior to the first puck drop due in large part to their 7-1-1-0 handling of the Express in the regular season, but that may not be the case anymore. The Spruce Kings took to the road yesterday minus a few key players from their roster due to injuries.

The team is still without Cooper Rush who waits for doctor's clearance to return to action after suffering a knee injury in a game played on January 5th. Brent Lashuk missed the start of the playoffs with a knee injury of his own suffered in the final game of the regular season and is expected to be out six to eight weeks.

During game one's win, Bryant Christian took a puck high that took him out of the game late in the first period and Karan Toor left game two late in the second period with an undisclosed lower body injury. Both players remained in Prince George on Thursday as the bus pulled away from the Coliseum.

Best case scenario is Christian and Toor will be able to suit up for Monday's game five back in PG. In the meantime, the team has called up two players to help fill the vacancies and add some depth to a depleted roster.

Austin Gray is a sixteen year old defenceman that can play forward and will be taking on that role tonight. Gray has already shown that he has a nose for the net and was rewarded with his first BCHL goal in his first BCHL game on February 27th.

Roshen Jaswal is an eighteen year old defenceman that will be getting his first taste of the BCHL playoffs. Jaswal is a 6'3" 200 lbs lefthanded defenceman from Burnaby, BC who was playing for the Grandview Steelers this past season finishing fifth in team scoring. Jaswal is described as a playmaking defenceman that can create scoring chances with good passing.

The Spruce Kings will have to continue what has worked for them so far and build on chances that they create. One of their strengths has been the ability to corrale the highly offensive and potent Coquitlam Express that finished the regular season as the highest scoring team in the League.

Prince George will also want to see their top line start connecting on their chances. Justin Rai is the only one with a goal althought the line has created numerous chances and been a handful for the Express defence. Without question, the play of Defiel between the pipes is a big reason this series is tied at a game a-piece heading back to Coquitlam.

Tonight's game has a 7pm scheduled puck drop and will be broadcast live on 99.3 the Drive with Ron Gallo and Thomas Bohmer providing the play-by-play and in-game analysis beginning with the pregame show at 6:45pm. The game will also be available as pay-per-view broadcast on Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Game Two vs Coquitlam Express

Mitch Eden (27) had a strong game defensively and
scored twice including the game winner last night

In every series last night the home team took the one game lead with their home ice advantage. The Prince George Spruce Kings held the Coquitlam Express back posting a 3-2 game one victory but it may have come at a cost.

Spruce Kings forward and captain, Bryant Christian is questionable to start the game tonight after leaving late in the opening period with an undisclosed injury. Despite being down their captain and also missing the team’s leading scorer for a good portion of the first and second periods due to an equipment issue, the rest of the team rallied for the win.

Never trailing in the game, the Spruce Kings opened the scoring five minutes in when Matt Painchaud found a loose puck in the blue paint that had squeezed through the pads of Gordie Defiel and only needed to be tapped in. Mitch Eden made it a 2-0 game with his first of the game.

Just seconds prior the Coquitlam Express came to within a goal post of tying the game after Zach Hodder rang the puck off the base of the far side post. The rebound off the iron came out for the Spruce Kings to start their transition up the ice. Cole Todd ended up spotting Eden following up on the play who faked his original shot and then slid his first of the post season just inside the post.

The Coquitlam Express would get that one back to make it a 2-1 game after the first period. With already some huge saves for the visitors, Defiel kept his team in it through the second period as did Alex Murray at the other end. The second period ended as it had began with the Prince George Spruce Kings leading 2-1.

In the third period Mitch Eden would get his second of the game with a blast from the right side of the high slot that sailed through everybody untouched at 7:11. Again the Express would get that one back when Joey Santucci got the perfect tip off a waist high point shot sending the puck past Murray with exactly four minutes remaining in regulation time.

The Express would get a late powerplay and would pull Defiel with just over a minute remaining, but could not get a shot on goal to count. The Express showed their relentless attack last night and it should be expected to be in full force again tonight as the visitors look for the split and to take home ice advantage back with them to Coquitlam for Games Three and Four on Friday and Saturday night.

Elsewhere around the BCHL, all of the home teams posted game one victories. The Langley Rivermen had to come from behind in the second period to win the game 4-2 in the other BCHL Mainland Division Semi-Final.

Tonight's game will be broadcast live on 99.3 the Drive and will also be available from online (click here). The game will also be available from its usual links for the pay-per-view feed on Fasthockey.com. Although the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel will also carry the game it is recommended to listen to 99.3 the Drive with its full feature broadcast beginning with the pregame show at 6:45pm with Allan Bristowe, Thomas Bohmer and Ron Gallo.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Game One vs Coquitlam Express

Marco Ballarin (20) scored his first BCHL goal and added two assists
in his first two games with PG versus Coquitlam

The regular season is done and now begins the hunt to capture the Fred Page Cup. The post season begins for twelve teams in the BCHL tonight including the Prince George Spruce Kings who secured home ice advantage in the first round against the Coquitlam Express.

The Spruce Kings finished the regular season with 70 points while the Express finished third with 59 points. Prince George won the season series over Coquitlam winning seven of the nine meetings and suffering only one loss as well as settling for a single point in a double overtime tie. In all the Spruce Kings amassed a total of 15 points while only giving up four points to the Express.

Despite what appears to be matchup favouring the Prince George Spruce Kings, the Coquitlam Express have their reasons to be optimistic. Coquitlam has the League’s highest goals for record this season with 226 compared to 192 for Prince George. They also led the League in shorthanded goals scored with 19.

In their last game of the regular season, the Express exploded for ten goals and their top line of Ryan Rosenthal, Adam Rockwood and Corey Mackin combined for a total of 9 points in the game. The Pieper brothers also contributed another four points from the second line. Without question the Express can light the lamp and will be looking to do just that against the Spruce Kings tonight.

The Prince George Spruce Kings have limped into the playoffs after having a number of players scratched due to injuries. Karan Toor, Justin Rai and Skylar Pacheco will all draw back into the lineup tonight. The same can’t be said for Brent Lashuk who suffered an injury that could keep the power forward out of the playoffs until at least the end of March. The injury to Cooper Rush is also turning into a longer than expected scenario with the big defenceman still unable to return to action at this time.

The key to success for the Spruce Kings will come from all those things that got them here in the first place. The coaching staff has been preaching a game plan full of accountability and smarts using the transition game to create scoring chances from the speed of the players like Bryant Christian, Jeremiah Luedtke, Chad Staley and Justin Rai up front as well as Christian Weidauer, Skylar Pacheco and Mitch Eden from the blue line.

With Alex Murray getting the start in goal for game one, the team will be looking for another consistent performance between the pipes. Murray finished the season in the Top Five among all goaltenders in the BCHL and in head-to-head meetings vs the Express, has a record of 2.54 GAA and a 923 SV% with 1 shutout.

All that aside though as this is the playoffs ... it's a brand new season and every team and every player starts at zero!

Game One in this Best of 7 series has a 7pm scheduled puck drop with the game broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed available through Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 6:40pm. Allan Bristowe, Thomas Bohmer and Ron Gallo will provide the play-by-play, analysis and interviews.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Game Day vs Langley Rivermen

Austin Gray (2) scored his first BCHL goal in his first BCHL game

Tonight marks the final regular season game for both of these playoff bound teams. It is also the ninth and final meeting of the year between the Langley Rivermen and the Prince George Spruce Kings. Both teams have played each other extremely close all year.

After the win last night, the Langley Rivermen took over a point lead on the Spruce Kings with a record of 4-3-1-0 while Prince George’s record sits at 3-3-1-1 against their Mainland Divisional rival. Both teams have scored the same number of goals against each other.

One of the most thrilling goals scored last night came off the stick of the callup, Austin Gray. The sixteen year old Midget AAA player was probably thinking he was going to be filling in for one of the vacancies on the blue line; instead he found himself in a forward role. Gray looked good and often went to the dirty areas in front of the net and that’s where his goal came from as he was able to poke in the loose puck to put Prince George on the board.

After securing a NCAA scholarship to the University of Alaska Fairbanks to play for the Nanooks in the 2015-16 season, Chad Staley tied the game 2-2 picking the top corner while the Spruce Kings were on the powerplay. Braiden Epp scored the other Prince George goal early in the third period, again to tie the game this time a three a-piece. Epp’s goal came after he got into a spirited tilt with Darien Craighead in the second period.

The Langley Rivermen never trailed in the game last night and a slick wrap around late in the third period proved to be the difference in the game. Credit to a depleted Spruce Kings bench that started the game one body short with injuries keeping Cooper Rush, Karan Toor, Skylar Pacheco and Justin Rai sidelined. The injury news has gotten worse with Brent Lashuk suffering a lower body injury that may keep the nineteen year old power forward out of the lineup through the playoffs.

Game time decisions will be made on Toor, Pacheco and Rai as the team gets ready to play their final regular season game and has a chance to tie a franchise record in points. Two seasons ago, the Spruce Kings amassed 72 points in a 60 game regular season schedule. This year, Prince George sits with 70 points through 57 games.

Saturday night the team will hold its annual player awards banquet and silent auction at the Coast Inn of the North. It is open to the public and tickets can be purchased in the Spruce Kings office for $29.00 or at the Coast Inn of the North.

The game will be broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed available through Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 6:40pm. Join Ron St. Clair, Thomas Bohmer and Ron Gallo for all the play-by-play of the final regular season game.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Game Day vs Langley Rivermen

Mitch Eden (27) celebrates his game tying goal Sunday

There’s only one game on the BCHL schedule tonight and it features the top two teams from the Mainland Division. The Langley Rivermen are in town, to start a double header to wrap-up the regular season, that’s packed with star power on both ends of the ice.

When the dust finally settles these two teams will have played each other nine times this season with things as close as they could possibly be heading into the final two meetings. Through seven games both teams have three wins and share a tie with each other. The Spruce Kings have the edge with a single point garnered in an overtime loss. They also have a plus two in the goals for against column having outscored the Rivermen 19-17 in those seven matchups.

In their last meeting nothing was settled after seventy minutes in a game that saw some spectacular goaltending at both ends and play makers doing everything they could to grab hold of some momentum. In that game Alex Murray stopped 37 of 40 shots as the icing on an already good weekend for the twenty year old goaltender to earn the BCHL Player of the Week honours.

Not to be outdone, the Langley Rivermen had some serious considerations for the awards with two players picking up hat tricks in a previous game. Matt Ustaski and Evan Anderson both scored important goals for Langley to ensure that they too picked up the single point and remain in the hunt for top spot in the BCHL overall.

Coming in to this game tonight, the Rivermen are tied with Victoria for a share of top spot having amassed 78 points through 56 games so far. Both teams have two games remaining in the season. Langley might think they have the tougher schedule with both their games against Prince George but Victoria has to play a home-and-home series with the Cowichan Valley Capitals who are one point back of the final playoff spot in the Island Division.

These final games are intense all around the League and if tonight’s game lives up to its billing, it will be a measuring stick for the rest of the games to wrap up the regular season and send fans excitedly to the post season. All spots in the Mainland Division have been secured for playoff seeding with games beginning on Tuesday March 4th.

The Langley Rivermen (1) will host the Surrey Eagles (4) in that best of seven Mainland Division matchup while the Spruce Kings (2) will open at home with one of their best ever BCHL records against the Coquitlam Express (3).

The game will be broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed available through Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 6:40pm. Join Ron St. Clair, Thomas Bohmer and Ron Gallo from the Coliseum with all the play-by-play.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Game Day at Langley Rivermen

Justin Rai (17) scored the double overtime winner last night
after receiving the heads up pass from Mitch Eden (27)
Photo courtesy Garrett James Photography
With a 2 and 0 record on this three game road trip, the Prince George Spruce Kings take their game to the Langley Events Centre to faceoff against the number one team in the Mainland Division. The Rivermen secured top spot in the Division on Friday night with an 8-5 win over the Chilliwack Chiefs. On that same night, the Spruce Kings had a mathematical chance of catching Langley and defeated Coquitlam 3-2. Last night Prince George erased a 3-0 first period deficit to the Chiefs to win the game 5-4 in double overtime.
While the Spruce Kings look to keep rolling and finish up a three game weekend with another win, they are also mindful of the fact that this is the first of three in a row against the Langley Rivermen. Although this can't be officially billed as a playoff preview, it very well could be just that if both teams do what they are expected to do in the first round. Today's game is a 2pm start which adds a wrinkle becoming the third game in basically two and a half days for the Prince George Spruce Kings.
While the Spruce Kings were playing in extra time last night and then traveling back to their home base before winding down for the night, the Rivermen had the option of making it an early night and getting up early while still be rested if they took the option of watching the Gold Medal game in the Winter Olympics. That option of getting up was not as easy to make for the boys representing the North. Although you have to imagine that some if not most or even all, did just that.
Travel in the BCHL for Prince George has never been easy, but testing the wariness of that travel on the final day of a long road trip is not ideal. Throughout the season, the players have been coached both on the ice and off the ice when it comes to managing the game; rest is a big part of that management. Some of that game management was seen last night in Chilliwack, when the Spruce Kings found themselves down 3-0 through a three minute span in the first half of the first period.
The Chilliwack Chiefs opened the scoring on an unassisted break-away by Jordan Kawaguchi at the 9:16 mark. Shortly after that, Prince George took back-to-back penalties allowing the Chiefs to set up on an extended two man advantage with Matthew Tibbett scoring from the slot at 11:25. Kawaguchi would get his second of the game and give the home town fans reason to be excited for the game they chose to come out and watch when he was fed a pass from Caleb Thompson, stepped over the Spruce Kings blue line and ripped a shot glove side at 12:41.
Although Jesse Jenks can't be faulted for the poor start, sometimes the coaching staff had to make the change and put Alex Murray in for the rest of the game. The decision served its purpose and the team was able to start its climb out of the hole they had dug for themselves. On their second power play early in the second period, Sean Landrey took the ensuing faceoff and won it back to Skylar Pacheco. Landrey then went to the front of the net and was able to get the blade of his stick on the point shot to tip the puck into the back of the net.
That goal came at 7:12 and it would be another ten minutes before there was another goal, it to came on a Spruce Kings powerplay. With Jeremiah Luedtke, Justin Rai and Chad Staley cycling the puck down low, Luedtke brought the puck to the top of the crease for the first shot. The Chiefs defender was unable to clear the puck leaving it for Staley to try, his shot was stopped with the rebound coming out to Rai who lifted his 20th of the season over the stretched out netminder and Prince George was within one.
Before the goal could be announced in Prospera Centre, the line of Braiden Epp, Brogan O'Brien and Marco Ballarin all contributed on the tying goal just 40 seconds later. Epp, who played one of his best games all season, stole the puck in the neutral zone and passed it up to O'Brien who walked over the blue line and took a big shot from the top of the faceoff circle. The save was made but a juicy rebound came right onto the stick of Marco Ballarin who also went with a high shot to score his fifth of the season and pull the Spruce Kings even.
Chad Staley would give Prince George their first lead of the game three minutes into the third period when he received a pass from Jeremiah Luedtke in the low slot and as he skated through the top of the crease, backhanded a rising shot that fooled Josh Halpenny on the glove side. The Chilliwack Chiefs, who put on a strong game, didn't go away and at one point were awarded a penalty shot when Matthew Tibbett was hauled down by Christian Weidauer and fell awkwardly into the goal post back first. Tibbett looked to be shaken up on the play but elected to take the shot that Alex Murray kicked aside with right foot.
That was one of Murray's nineteen saves on the night, the lone save he couldn't make would come a few moments later when Jaret Babych skated down the right wing and let a howitzer go that squeezed through the blocker and body just above the big pads of Murray to tie the game up at four goals a-piece. That Spruce Kings came to within a skate blade and mound of snow from winning the game outright in the final minute of regulation time when Jake LeBrun tried to tap home a shot from the side of the net leaving the puck sitting against the goal post.
With overtime required both teams would be credited with two shots each in the first five minutes of extra time. In the second overtime period, Mitch Eden picked up the puck inside his own zone, spotted Justin Rai in the middle and fed the perfect pass for the speedy forward who picked it up on the fly and got a stride on the defender. The shot was another high shot, this time blocker side 19 seconds into double overtime giving Rai his 21st goal of the season and fourth game winning goal of the year.
The win is the Spruce Kings 32nd on the season, giving them 69 points, which is just 3 shy of their all time BCHL franchise record mark of 72 set just two seasons ago when PG finished with 72 points in 60 games. This year the game played are only 58 and with three games remaining, the Spruce Kings have a legitimate chance of catching and surpassing that total. Of course standing in the way are the Langley Rivermen who have 77 points.
As mentioned, the Rivermen will be a rested group, but the Spruce Kings may have adrenaline on their side. Throughout the season, Prince George has come up with six wins in eight of those third games in a three game set. A couple of them have even come against the Langley Rivermen. Overall the Spruce Kings head-to-head record against Langley has Prince George leading by a single point. These two teams have played each other six times so far with both teams picking up three wins, one of Langley's wins came in overtime. As for goal differential, Prince George leads that 16-14.
Those are just numbers, the Spruce Kings will want to have a solid effort from top to bottom today and may want to test a team early that has secured top spot and had the day off yesterday. The early start could be beneficial to a team that isn't at a hundred percent right now. Cooper Rush is still waiting doctor clearance to return to Prince George, Riley Hawes is back home recouping, Brent Lashuk was a scratch last night and will be a game time decision today and Karan Toor will be a game time decision today.
Injuries are another variable that has to be managed accordingly, but with the confidence that the coaching staff has been putting into the younger players, this team is exuding confidence on every line and every line has been creating chances. Look to see another strong game from the likes of Braiden Epp, Brogan O'Brien, Matt Painchaud, Cole Todd, Marco Ballarin and Mitch Barker up front who are showing that the long term future of the Spruce Kings is bright.
It is an early game today with puck drop scheduled for 2pm from the Langley Events Centre. The game will be broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed available through Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 1:40pm. Following the game, the Spruce Kings will return home to wrap up the regular season with a double header on Thursday and Friday against this very same Langley Rivermen squad.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Game Day at Chilliwack Chiefs

Prince George Spruce Kings and Chilliwack Chiefs
meet for the final time this season

Coming off a 3-2 win over the Coquitlam Express, the Prince George Spruce Kings will move up the Fraser Valley to take on another Mainland Divisional opponent in the Chilliwack Chiefs. Both teams were in action last night with the Chiefs falling 8-5 to the Langley Rivermen which cemented seeding in the Mainland Division. The Rivermen will finish as the Divisional Champions while the Spruce Kings will come in second.

The Spruce Kings have four games remaining in the regular season and two games to go to wrap up this final regular season road trip. Tonight's game is a 7pm start in the Prospera Centre in Chilliwack, the Spruce Kings will wrap up the weekend with a matinee game Sunday at 2pm against the Langley Rivermen. Tonight's game may look a little like a no-hitter, but based on results from last night, don't jump to that conclusion too quickly.

The Chiefs scored five goals against the number one team in the Division showing that they are not prepared to have this season end without making some statements heading into a rebuilding off-season. The Chiefs have a good nucleus of players eligible to return for next season and those players are playing for pride this season and spots for next year. Also trying to make a lasting impression, especially on the scouts in the stands, are the crop of twenty year olds that are down to their last few games of their junior careers.

The Spruce Kings are looking at tightening up systems and maintaining that style of play that has led them to one of their best seasons over the last ten years. Under head coach Dave Dupas, the team has shown an increase in their season standings and this second place finish is the best yet with four games remaining. The team has been compared to the 2004-05 edition that went to the Conference Finals against the Vernon Vipers. A date against the Vernon Vipers would be an ideal situation this year as the Interior Division team is hosting the 2014 RBC Royal Bank Cup.

Prince George heads in to tonight's game as the favourite with a record of 6 wins and 1 overtime loss against the Chiefs. In their last outing, the Spruce Kings surprised Chilliwack with two goals scored in the opening 30 seconds of the game ending in a 3-0 shutout win. Jesse Jenks picked up his first BCHL shutout in that game, it was also highlighted by a significant player trade beforehand. Caleb Thompson and Cooper Rush swapped jerseys in a trade that was concluded just hours before puck drop.

Caleb Thompson was named the game's FortisBC Energy Player of the Game for the Chilliwack Chiefs, while Cooper Rush was knocked out of the game early in the second period and has not been able to play since. Rush remains at home in Toronto waiting for another doctor's evaluation early next week on whether or not the big blueliner can return to the ice. The other scratch for the Spruce Kings is Riley Hawes who remains at home recouping from an upper body injury suffered last weekend against the Nanaimo Clippers.

In last night's game, the coaching staff stuck to their game plan of giving the younger players every opportunity to play a full game and contribute. Stephen Penner opened the scoring with his first goal of the season from the left point that deflected off a defender's leg in front. Brent Lashuk scored his 22nd of the season on a tip in front and Chad Staley picked up his 27th in the final minute of the second period which turned into his eighth gaming winning goal of the season.

I would expect to see a full compliment of shifts for the young players again tonight. Cole Todd has been getting a number of shifts in key situations of late including on the penalty kill. Braiden Epp has also been turning on the jets and on one play last night he burned a defenceman flying down the right wing. He then cut hard through the top of the crease and forced Pierce Duskenko to stretch across from one post to the other post to make the save. A save he never really recovered from and didn't return to the game for the third period.

A number of player families are on hand this weekend to cheer on the boys wearing the crown. In the second intermission of tonight's game, Ron Gallo will be talking Jordy Christian, the former Spruce Kings captain and the older brother of current captian, Bryant Christian.

The game will be broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed available through Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 6:40pm.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Game Day at Coquitlam Express

Danny Kiraly and the Spruce Kings will be
looking for a big win over the Coquitlam Express tonight

The Prince George Spruce Kings start their final regular season road trip with what is shaping up to be a first round playoff preview against the Coquitlam Express. The Spruce Kings and the Express have been on a collision course to meet in the month of March since the start of the calendar year and tonight's game will do a lot to satisfy a level of confidence for the players, coaches and fans for the winning team.

The Spruce Kings are looking to answer back with a win after suffering back-to-back one goal losses last weekend at home. The Coquitlam Express have a had a little better luck since they last played the Prince George team; although, they are also coming off a loss in their last outing Tuesday night against the Langley Rivermen. The Rivermen have all but locked up top spot in the Mainland Division and only a need a win tonight over the Chilliwack Chiefs to do so.

Prince George has had lots of success through the regular season having won 6 of the eight meetings and only losing one outright ... the last time these two teams met in Coquitlam. Records aside, there is a strong believe that you are only as good as the game you are playing in now. You will see that from the Express who also know of the regular season record and that they are destined to meet the Spruce Kings when the playoffs begin in Prince George on March 4th.

In the Spruce Kings two most recent games, the team found themselves unable to get just that one more goal losing 4-3 to the Langley Rivermen and then 2-1 to the Nanaimo Clippers. Both games were highly charged games and resulted in lots of shots with big saves. On one hand the Spruce Kings coaching staff was happy, especially with the Friday night game that saw the team erase a three goal deficit to draw even. Unfortunately a miscue in the defensive zone resulted in the game winning goal. Those miscues will be something that the coaching staff will want to see reduced if not eliminated all together against a team that is quite capable of blowing open a game.

The Express showed that in their last meeting against the Spruce Kings ... a game they never trailed in and went on to win 6-3. In their past five games, Coquitlam has come up with some big wins including a 7-1 triumph over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, 3-0 shutout of the Cowichan Valley Captials and 5-2 over the Powell River Kings in Powell River.

Four members of the Express occupy spots in the League's Top Twenty goalscorers. Leading the way is Adam Rockwood with 68 points (12G, 56A) in fifth spot followed by Canon Pieper in seventh (31G, 31A), Ryan Rosenthal (31G, 27A) in 11th and Bo Pieper rounds out the offensive group in 19th spot with 23 goals and 31 assists. There's unquestionable a lot of weapons in those four but the team is even deeper than that and as we've seen with wins in Prince George, those players have to be kept in check the entire game and not given the room they need to wind it up.

The Spruce Kings game has been one of opportunity many times and not over committing. The coaching staff is big on defensive accountability and will be looking for it again tonight as the team starts a three game weekend set. It has been a few weeks since the team has been on the road and that might be another factor as players search for their forgotten road routine. At this time of the year, nothing is ever routine and the Spruce Kings need to be aware of that against a team that is looking for the win to fuel their fire for the first round meeting that is all but eminent.

The game will be broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed available through Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 6:40pm. Join Ron Gallo for all the play-by-play and analysis of the game tonight from Coquitlam.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Game Day vs Nanaimo Clippers

Chad Staley and the Spruce Kings will meet
for the third time this season and first time in Prince George

After a rare Saturday night off, the Prince George Spruce Kings are back on the ice in their 53rd game of the season against the Nanaimo Clippers. Playing in different divisions, the Spruce Kings and Clippers have already met twice with Nanaimo winning both games 3-1 at the BCHL Showcase on the opening weekend of play and 4-1 four weeks ago in Nanaimo.

In that meeting, the Clippers came out quick and cashed in on some early chances scoring 4 first period goals en route to the win on home ice. The Spruce Kings have to be wary of that quick start again tonight and they should be, having suffered a similar fate on Friday night against the Langley Rivermen.

Although the Spruce Kings were able to erase a three goal deficit in the first period on Friday night, they could not fully recover and saw their attempted comeback fall short with a 4-3 loss. When the team was down in that first period, it was the captain that led the charge for Prince George pouncing on a loose puck at the side of the net. Mitch Eden helped to set up that goal and then added two more for the cause scoring late in the first period and early in the second.

The Spruce Kings have ten more points in two fewer games than the Clippers so far this season, but would love nothing more than to pick up another win on the season in their game in hand on the Langley Rivermen. Prince George is still very much in the running for top spot in the Mainland Division and for top spot overall in the BCHL sitting eight points behind the number one team with three more head-to-head games to be played against the Rivermen.

The day of rest should be of benefit for both teams as the Spruce Kings have been a bit banged up of late and are just getting back to healthy. Cooper Rush remains the only player on the injured list but the expectation is that the 6 foot 7 towering defenceman will be able to join the team late next week and get in a game or two before the end of the regular season.

The Nanaimo Clippers are coming off an 8-2 win over the Chiefs in Chilliwack on Friday night which gave them a better than .500 record in their last ten (5-4-0-1). On the road the Clippers have a record of 12-13-1-1 and will be looking to make that a .500 record as well. The Spruce Kings on home ice have been performing very well and have not lost back-to-back games in front of the Castle faithful.

After this game, the Spruce Kings will head out on the road for their final set of away games – a three game set with stops in Coquitlam, Chilliwack and Langley. The following weekend will feature a double header versus Langley to close out the regular season. The playoffs will begin in Prince George March 4th and 5th.

The matinee game, with puck drop at 3pm, will be broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed available through Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 2:40pm.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Game Day vs Langley Rivermen

Mitch Barker (14) helped to take down the Rivermen
last night scoring his first BCHL goal

With a 3-1 win last night, the Prince George Spruce Kings secured home ice advantage in the first round of the BCHL Playoffs. It was a big a win for the second place team in the Mainland Division but all that changed is the knowing that Games 1 & 2 will be on home ice March 4th and 5th. That and also that the Spruce Kings closed the gap to just six points for top spot in the Mainland Division.

The game plan for the Langley Rivermen was to come out quick and quiet the fans in the Coliseum, but Alex Murray made that first save and from there the game took an immediate turn in favour of Prince George. On the ensuing rush, the Spruce Kings thought they had opened the scoring when Brent Lashuk was pushed into the goaltender leaving a wide open cage for Bryant Christian to fire the puck into.

The goal was waved off but that didn’t deter the home team who were obviously fired up for this meeting. On the very next shift, Braiden Epp was able to knock in a puck after it bounced off the end boards and eluded Brock Crossthwaite. At the 6:30 mark of the opening period, Brent Lashuk registered his twentieth goal of the season on the Spruce Kings fifth shot on net.

That was the end of Crossthwaite’s night but before Lyndon Stanwood could get settled between the pipes, Mitch Barker came busting down the left side wing and ripped his first of the season five-hole to give Prince George a 3-0 lead less than seven minutes into the game. After that things would settle down and the two teams would trade chances with the Langley Rivermen scoring a controversial goal mid-way through the second period.

The ensuing discussion took over two minutes and required a physics major to theorize that it must have been a good goal. In the second half of the game, the Langley Rivermen were relentless looking to pull within one. Alex Murray made some unbelievable saves and, with a little help from the iron, kept the Rivermen at bay the rest of the way.

Fans in the Castle have seen their team over the years pull out all the stops and defeat the top teams. Last night’s win reminded many of the time the Spruce Kings put an end to a record setting win streak by the Penticton Vees. The 3-1 win last night ranks right up there as Prince George ended Langley’s twelve game unbeaten streak, but the Rivermen are sure to bring their best game back for tonight’s rematch. The Spruce Kings will have to be as good and perhaps even better if they want to close the gap on first place even more.

The game will be broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed available through Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 6:40pm. Join Ron St. Clair, Thomas Bohmer and Ron Gallo for all the play-by-play and analysis of the game.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Game Day vs Langley Rivermen

Sean Landrey and the Spruce Kings face off against
the top team in the BCHL Mainland Division tonight

Without question, tonight’s game is arguably the most anticipated matchup in the BCHL since the Christmas Break. These two teams have had their share of top spot in the Mainland Division with the Langley Rivermen refusing to give it up since they claimed it in December.

The Spruce Kings host the Rivermen tonight in the first half of a double-header. It is also the first of a five game series that will see these two teams play four times in Prince George and once in Langley over the span of sixteen days. The points possible from this matchup could see the Langley Rivermen take a commanding lead in the Mainland Division and challenge for top spot overall in the League.

Those points are also very appealing for the Spruce Kings who are eight points behind with a game in hand on the Rivermen. A sweep of the double dip would leave Prince George just four points back setting up a huge final weekend in the regular season.

Again not to get ahead of themselves will be the key; the Langley Rivermen sit in top spot for a reason … they are a good team. The Rivermen are coming off a weekend sweep of the Vernon Vipers and have points in their last twelve games (10-0-1-1). In fact Langley has not suffered a regulation time lost yet in the 2014 calendar year; meaning the team comes in to Prince George exuding confidence.

The Prince George Spruce Kings have played some of their toughest hockey in 2014 and have managed to maintain pace in the race for top spot. They have a record of 6-3-1-0 in their last ten games and are 4-1-1-0 playing in front of their fans during the first six games of their nine game home stand.

The Spruce Kings are as close to healthy as they have been in awhile with the return of Mitch Eden and Danny Kiraly tonight. Cooper Rush is the only player out with an injury but is expected to join the Spruce Kings as early as next weekend.

Kiraly suffered a concussion three weeks ago and has been practicing with the team symptom free for over a week now. Eden will also play in his first game back since being sidelined with a lower body injury and missing out on last weekend’s games. All of that is a welcome relieve to the coaching staff and especially to Karan Toor, Christian Weidauer and Skylar Pacheco who were called upon to log a lot of minutes in the last few games.

Tonight's game is also the Spruce Kings Amnesty Game. All fans are encouraged to bring any unused tickets they have from this season and redeem them for a seat at tonight's game with no additional service charges or fees. Spruce Kings Communications Director, Ron Gallo, said that this is an opportunity for all fans to enjoy a game when they might not have been otherwise able to or previously and not be out of pocket for the hottest ticket in town.

If you are still unable to attend the game in person tonight, it will be broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed available through Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 6:40pm. Join Ron St. Clair, Thomas Bohmer and Ron Gallo for all the play-by-play and analysis of the most anticipated game of the season!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Game Day vs West Kelowna Warriors

The Prince George Spruce Kings find themselves on 99.3 the Drive tonight for the final regular season installment of the Prince George Motors Feature Game of the Month. Game number 50 in a 58 game regular season schedule has the Spruce Kings hosting another team that is looking to secure top spot in their division.

The West Kelowna Warriors come in to tonight’s game hot on the heels of the Penticton Vees in the Interior Division just two points back and with a game in hand. Through 49 games, the Warriors have compiled an impressive record of 30 wins, 13 losses, 3 ties and 3 overtime losses. Equally impressive is their league leading road record (16-4-2-3) that has netted them 37 of their 66 points.

The Warriors are a deep team and have the numbers to show for it averaging a league’s second best 3.71 goals per game. Those goals come from throughout the roster with just one player showing up on the League’s Top Twenty leaderboard.

Jason Cotton comes into the game tonight with 50 points (21G, 29A) but it is the list of players below him that shows off the depth with nine players in double digits for goals and better than 30 points on the season. Combined the team’s top ten have 164 goals and 225 assists and only one of those are a defenceman. Taki Pantziris is the top D-man with 13 goals and 20 assists.

The Spruce Kings are in line with the Warriors as far as average goals per game go with 3.41. They too have a long list of offensive weapons up front but their strength comes from the defense with five blueliners contributing big numbers to the team’s overall offensive output. From the blue line back, the Spruce Kings allow fewer goals against than the Warriors (2.71 vs 2.84) and that will be where this game is won or lost tonight.

Perhaps last night was a lesson learned for the Spruce Kings who found themselves in a run and gun situation with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. The visitors tried to wear down the Prince George defenders and were peppering shots on net from everywhere in the zone. To come away on the wrong side of a 2-1 score stung, especially after the team felt they created better chances throughout the game.

The last time these two teams met, the Prince George Spruce Kings were the ones that capitalized early and then held on for the rest of the game to post a 3-2 win on October 12th in West Kelowna. In that game, Skylar Pacheco, Justin Rai and Christian Weidauer all scored in the first period while keeping the Warriors at bay the rest of the way.

Tonight's game is the sixth installment of the Prince George Motors Feature Game of the Month on 99.3 the Drive, a feature that has proven fruitful for the Spruce Kings who come in to the game with a 5-0 record. The game will be broadcast live on 99.3 the Drive and we encourage all listeners to tune in to the game at 99.3 on the FM dial or listen from the radio station's website (CLICK HERE to launch the audio player). The game will also be broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed available through Fasthockey.com and it's usual audio only online option on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 6:45pm.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Game Day vs Alberni Valley Bulldogs

Mitch Eden (27) will be one of three defenceman out
of the lineup tonight versus the Alberni Valley Bulldogs

The Prince George Spruce Kings are halfway through their longest home stand of the season and tonight they have to put a pretty good four game record to the test against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. Both teams have a lot at stake in this contest where playoff implications abound with every game.

For Prince George, they have their sights set once again on top spot in the Mainland Division currently six points back of the Langley Rivermen with a game in hand. Meanwhile Alberni Valley is coming off a 5-2 mid-week victory over the Nanaimo Clippers that saw the Bulldogs jump into that final playoff spot in the Island Division.

Don’t let their record fool you, because their bark is actually less than their bite as the Spruce Kings found all too quickly back on January 4th in Port Alberni. In that game, the Bulldogs played a very physical game and used a tenacious fore check to win all the battles. As for their positioning in the Island Division, their record is not an indication of their game as of late.

The Bulldogs had a very rough start to the season and were a beaten down bunch, losers of twelve of their first fifteen games and only four points to show through the first two months of the season. Since then the Bulldogs record is a much improved .500 with 15 wins, 15 losses and 5 overtime losses and improving.

Led by the likes of Justin Georgeson (16G, 28A), Hunter Stewart (10G, 33A) and Tryg Strand (20G, 17A), Alberni Valley has a few dogs in their kennel that can bite. Don’t overlook a few others such as Mitch Owsley (5G, 7A) who has been averaging just over a point a game since being acquired at the trade deadline from the Whitecourt Wolverines of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

The Spruce Kings are feeling a lot like top dog these days with a three game winning streak that earned them a mention among the Nation’s best junior teams in the CJHL’s Weekly Top Twenty Rankings. Playing in the Castle has seen the team become the subject of many conversations around the town and for the players; they are still in awe of the show of support both at the games and away from the arena.

The team will have to temper all of that in the face of some key injuries; however, Cooper Rush is still at home recovering from a knee injury and remains hopeful to join the Spruce Kings for games before the end of the regular season. Danny Kiraly, who was checked hard into the end boards, has had recurring symptoms from the concussion he suffered and now Mitch Eden becomes the third blueliner to watch from the sidelines after suffering a lower body injury during practice this week. Braiden Epp is also out tonight with an upper body injury considered to be day-to-day.

Jordan Low (defense) and Mitch Barker (forward) will both draw in to the lineup this weekend. Low will be in his fifth game with the Spruce Kings after being called up for a third consecutive weekend from his 100 Mile House Wranglers. With so many bodies missing from the blueline, local hockey product Sean Landrey will be patrolling the blueline alongside Karan Toor, Christian Weidauer, Skylar Pacheco, Stephen Penner and Jordan Low.

With both Epp and Landrey missing from the forward lines, Barker will get another game under his belt playing on a line with Brogan O'Brien and Cole Todd. The top two lines will remain unchanged and certainly the offensive output of those players will also remain unchanged. Justin Rai earned an honourable mention for a seven point weekend in two games versus the Coquitlam Express. Chad Staley and Jeremiah Luedtke also had impressive point production with an average of three points per game.

Tonight's game gets underway at 7pm and will be broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed available through Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 6:40pm.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Game Day vs the Coquitlam Express

Justin Rai (17) picked up first star honours last night
with 2 goals and 3 assists in a 7-4 win

The Prince George Spruce Kings and Coquitlam Express conclude their marathon run of games tonight with the fourth consecutive meeting in the Coliseum. This is also the eighth meeting of the season between these two clubs with one more matchup remaining in February and of course the potential of a first round playoff matchup still very much exists.

Last night the Spruce Kings pulled away from the Express in the third period after a back and forth and close affair through two periods of play. In the first period, it was Coquitlam that opened the scoring while on a two man advantage. The Spruce Kings tied it with five minutes remaining in the opening frame with the first of three on the night from Chad Staley.

To start the second period, Justin Rai gave Prince George their first lead of the game with a powerplay goal of their own. Midway through the middle frame, the Express would capitalize on their second two man advantage to tie the game at two. Once again it would be Justin Rai that would restore the Spruce Kings one goal lead in the third period only to have Coquitlam answer.

When Christian Weidauer scored the first of three quick Prince George goals less than a minute later, the Spruce Kings never looked back. Brogan O’Brien registered the eventual game winner 27 seconds after Weidauer’s and Staley potted his second of the night 90 seconds after that. Staley added another into the empty net before the Express were able to get their third powerplay goal of the night.

The 7-4 win put Prince George eight points up on Coquitlam and eight points back of the Langley Rivermen. With the front running Rivermen enjoying a weekend off, the Spruce Kings are playing two of their three games in hand on their Mainland Divisional opponent. That makes this game tonight very appealing for Prince George who still have a very good chance at catching Langley for that top spot and making for an interesting finish to the season.

Before getting too far ahead of themselves, the Spruce Kings will have to continue to play the style of game that has netted five of a possible six points against a very offensively potent team. The Coquitlam Express still have four of the League’s top 15 offensive players including third overall, Adam Rockwood.

Also in the mix is Ryan Rosenthal, who played in his first game after missing the previous seven. Rosenthal scored the lone even strength goal for Coquitlam last night. Bo and Canon Pieper are also offensive weapons that Prince George will need to continue to contain. Certainly the Express are making plans of finding the Pieper brothers more time and space to work with to pick up tonight’s points.

The Spruce Kings top line of Chad Staley (3G, 1A), Jeremiah Luedtke (5A) and Justin Rai (2G, 3A) had an impressive showing last night amassing a total of 14 points. Staley saw his name jump back into the League's Top 15 list landing in 11th spot with his four points. Meanwhile Luedtke is poised to jump into the Top 20 sitting just two points back of that leaderboard.

As happy as everyone is with the win and the point production of the Spruce Kings top line along with contributions from through the lineup, the coaching staff is still worried about making sure things are looked after defensively and staying disciplined throughout. A series of penalties against Prince George did provide for three of the four goals that Coquitlam scored and it could have been worse with the Express on five powerplays that they didn't capitalize on.

The doors to the Coliseum open at 6pm for tonight's 7pm game start. For those unable to be in attendance, the game will be broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed available through Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 6:40pm. Join Ron St. Clair and Tom Bohmer for the call of the game along with Ron Gallo as the Spruce Kings wrap a four game home stand against the Coquitlam Express.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Game Day vs Coquitlam Express

Cole Todd (16) celebrated his first BCHL goal
last Sunday against the Coquitlam Express


Today marks the start of the New Lunar Year and the Chinese Year of the Wooden Horse. That could be taken as a good omen for the Prince George Spruce Kings where wood is still the primary industry; quietly contributing to the overall economic success of the Province. That same work ethic has been seen in the Spruce Kings this season as they continue their steady push for the playoffs.

Guaranteed a playoff spot, the team has been strengthening it’s core and working on systems to make themselves better to prepare for any team they should meet in the first round of post-season play. As it stands right now, that team would be the Coquitlam Express and for the second weekend in a row the City of PG will get to witness this playoff preview.

Last weekend saw these two teams skate to a 3-3 double overtime tie on the first night with Prince George claiming an outright win the second night on the strength of a 5-1 victory. Both games were well attended and the atmosphere in the Coliseum was that of a playoff game from years gone by.

The players and fans alike are hoping for a similar vibe tonight as the Spruce Kings play host to their Mainland Divisional opponent again. The Coquitlam Express returned home after last weekend for a midweek game against the Surrey Eagles that saw the Express give up ground to the Eagles; ground that Coquitlam will want to make up on both Surrey and of course Prince George.

Getting right down to the action shouldn’t be a hard feat as both teams remember all too well how the last meeting ended with a parade to the penalty box. Some of those penalties resulted in game misconducts and even a game suspension for Zach Hodder. Hodder’s suspension has since been served, but Joey Santucci will be out of the lineup tonight serving the first of a two game suspension he received for an incident on Wednesday night versus the Surrey Eagles.

In Saturday night’s game, Danny Kiraly was caught from behind and pushed into the end boards, crashing heavily leaving the rookie defenceman motionless. Since the incident, Kiraly has passed the concussion protocol and was seen skating with the team on Thursday and Friday but will not dress for tonight’s game.

Will the bad blood boil over tonight? Of course only time will tell, but for the Prince George Spruce Kings, they just want to go out and play their game. Keeping the game simple and effective will be the game plan as they are still down two key defenceman. Cooper Rush remains a few weeks away with his injury and is hopeful to return before the end of the regular season.

The game will be broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed available through Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 6:40pm.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Game Day vs Coquitlam Express

Jake LeBrun (8) had a pair of goals last night in a 3-3 tie

Although the game last night ended in a 3-3 tie, it had a little bit of everything and the building was electric! The fans fed off the energy on the ice and the players were fueled by the fans enthusiastic show of support throughout the game.

There was an extended moment of quiet in the building when everybody watched nervously on the ice for signs that Danny Kiraly would be okay. In an end-to-end rush, the rookie defenceman got caught and hit hard into the offensive end boards leaving the 18 year old motionless on the ice.

Kiraly had to be stretchered off the ice and did raise a hand to indicate that he was okay. He was conscious, able to move all limbs and talking in full sentences as he left for the hospital. Hours later he was letting everybody know that other than a few stitches for a cut above the eyebrow and a headache, he was planning on attending today’s game to cheer on the Spruce Kings.

The hit resulted in a five minute major penalty for boarding that the Spruce Kings quickly used to open up a 3-2 lead in the third period after Bryant Christian knocked in the puck six seconds into the powerplay. That goal wouldn’t hold up however as the Coquitlam Express would tie the game in the final minutes on a pinball bounce that got past Alex Murray leading to overtime … that solved nothing despite Prince George having some of the best chances to end it.

The teams traded goals in the opening period with Jake LeBrun scoring early on a powerplay to tie the game 1-1. LeBrun would add another a few minutes later to give the Spruce Kings their only lead of the game but before the end of the opening period, the Express would tie it up. There was no scoring in the second period.

Both teams were flying in this game and had numerous chances with the final shots on goal ending 42-41 in favour of the Spruce Kings. For their efforts between the pipes, Pierce Dushenko of the Express and Alex Murray received first and second stars honours respectfully. Skylar Pacheco picked up the third star while Christian Weidauer was given the FortisBC Energy Player of the Game honours.

Missing Cooper Rush and Karan Toor and then Danny Kiraly, left the blueliners logging a ton of ice time. Through seventy minutes, Mitch Eden, Weidauer and Pacheco logged a lot of ice time and the same can be expected today. The thought is that the Spruce Kings coaching staff will want to work with a game plan that will help to conserve all players energy, because this game has the potential of going the distance again today.

The game will be broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed available through Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 2:40pm. Following the game, all fans will be able to skate with the Spruce Kings in a free family skate that goes from the end of the game until 6:15pm. Remember to bring your skates to the game!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Game Day vs the Coquitlam Express

For the first time this season, the Spruce Kings will host
the Coquitlam Express in what is a Playoff Preview

Three teams in the Mainland Division now know that they will be in the playoffs and two of them meet each other this weekend for a double header. The Prince George Spruce Kings secured a playoff berth last weekend while the Coquitlam Express did the same last night on their home ice.

With four teams in the Mainland Division advancing to the post-season, seating in the division is very important in securing home ice advantage. The Spruce Kings currently sit in second place with 54 points while the Express are hot on their heels with 50 points in third place.

This weekend’s double-header could do a lot to determine momentum for the final stretch run to the playoffs. With four points at stake, the Express would like to catch the Spruce Kings; while Prince George would like to use their home ice advantage this weekend to double their points lead on Coquitlam.

The two teams come in to tonight’s game having found different results in their last games. The Spruce Kings lost a tough one after giving up four goals in the first period to the Nanaimo Clippers and couldn’t recover. Meanwhile, the Coquitlam Express never looked back in a 2-1 win over Merritt that saw Adam Rockwood score both goals including an unassisted shorthanded one that held up as the game winner.

Some recent injuries on the backend has led to the Spruce Kings making a couple of callups for tonight. While Prince George still waits to see Cooper Rush in the crown and will have to wait a few more weeks, Karan Toor is listed as day-to-day and will be out of the lineup tonight. Added to the list is Jesse Jenks who is recovering from a high hit last weekend.

With Jenks unable to suit up as a backup tonight, Riley Druskin has become an emergency callup. Druskin is a ’96 born goaltender from Prince George that has participated in previous Prospects Camps with the Spruce Kings. Jordan Low is another Prince George hockey product that has been playing this season with the 100 Mile House Wranglers and will suit up as an AP on the blue line in his first Junior A game.

For the Coquitlam Express, they come in to the game basically healthy and full of confidence with a five game winning streak that has saw them close the gap on Prince George. Perhaps the travel will play a factor in the game as this is their first trip North, but the hunger for second place may be the bigger factor in fueling the adrenaline for the visitors tonight.

The game will be broadcast live online with Ron St. Clair and Tom Bohmer providing the play-by-play and in-game analysis. The pay-per-view feed is available through Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 6:40pm.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Game Day at Nanaimo Clippers

The Spruce Kings wrap up a three game Island Division
with a stop in Nanaimo versus the Clippers

The Prince George Spruce Kings found the win column last night against the Cowichan Valley Capitals and will be looking to make it two in a row as they wrap up their three game Island Division road trip this afternoon against the Nanaimo Clippers. The win for Prince George did a couple of things which included clinching a playoff spot - just the second team to do so in the BCHL - with fifteen games still remaining in the regular season.

The win also shook the monkey off the Spruce Kings back as they have struggled to find wins after getting off a BC Ferry and having to face an Island Division team in their arena. This wasn't an easy win either and may have come at a small cost with a few players leaving the rink sporting a few bumps and bruises. One player was Matt Painchaud who dropped the mitts and went toe-to-toe with Taylor Allan in an early second period tilt.

The more notable injury to the Spruce Kings actually happened Friday night with Karan Toor sitting out of Saturday's game and not likely to dress on Sunday either. Certainly having secured a post season spot will make it a little easier to deal with for the coaching staff who are quick to acknowledge the importance of Toor for the Spruce Kings both defensively and offensively.

"Not having (Karan) in the lineup is a huge blow for us," said Spruce Kings head coach, Dave Dupas. "He logs so much ice time, he's our number one shut down guy and he chips in offensively too. It's a hole that we can't fill, we can't put one guy in there and say here you go, you take over and do what Karan does cause there's not too many players in the League that can do what Karan can do. We're gonna have to make up for it in other ways."

The Spruce Kings started out exactly the way the coach asked them to - with lots of jump and shots. The Spruce Kings opened up a 7-0 shot lead and had the Cowichan Valley Capitals scrambling inside their own zone through the first half of the first period. When the Capitals did find the net, they couldn't beat Jesse Jenks who was given the start in his hometown. On the Capitals' third shot on goal, the goal light did come one for a second on what looked like a sure goal but Jenks was able to get from pillar to post and take that away.

Prince George was given the game's first powerplay of the game and made quick work with the extra attacker. With a D-to-D pass between Mitch Eden and Skylar Pacheco, Bryant Christian was the next to touch the puck and from the top of faceoff circle he snapped home a wrister that whistle passed Robin Guesse to open the scoring just past the half-way mark of the opening period.

The Capitals were able to tie up the game after breaking up a play in the neutral zone and creating a 2-on-1 with the lone defenceman back being the affiliate player, Stefan Wood from the Kamloops Storm. Wood played the odd man rush perfectly forcing the puck carrier to the outside and giving the player only one option to pass the puck. The play worked for the Capitals with Adam Moody beating Jenks this time to the far side post.

To start the second period, the Capitals went to work with a man advantage and would take over the lead in the game with a power play goal. Shortly after the 2-1 go-ahead goal, Matt Painchaud found himself in a pushing match with Taylor Allan that saw the two trade blows early on before Allan was able to take Painchaud to the ice. Both players were given five minutes for fighting and offsetting minors. Allan's was for cross checking and Painchaud's was for instigating.

On the ensuing faceoff, Bryant Christian won the draw back to Jake LeBrun who ripped another wrister high over the glove of Guesse to once again tie the game. Two minutes later at 5:21, the Capitals thought they put the dagger in the heart of the Spruce Kings when they were able to squeeze a puck under the pads of Jenks after the puck had enough momentum to slip past the short side post after Jenks made the initial save.

Prince George would answer right back with their own lucky bounce that had fans in the stands yelling out their disapproval over a non-call that led to a 3-on-1 odd man rush for the Spruce Kings. In the defensive zone, Adam Moody of the Capitals appeared to be twisted around by Christian Weidauer but the referee's arm stayed by his side as Chad Staley picked up the puck and rushed down the right side wall with Justin Rai and Jeremiah Luedtke on his left side. Looking pass the entire way, Staley centred the puck only to have it bounce off the leg of Matt Berry-Lamontagnia and into his own net tieing the game yet again.

On perhaps the nicest goal of the game, the Spruce Kings would take back their lead late in the second period and not relinquish it. After picking up the puck in far faceoff circle, Luedtke looked to be heading back to the left point but dropped the puck to his skate and purposely kicked up to himself in the high slot. The gifted forward then pulled the puck back in and headed down the slot with the two defenceman left scratching their heads. Luedtke ripped another shot past Guesse for his 12th of the season and the 4-3 lead.

Early in the third period the Spruce Kings would get another powerplay to work with leading to the eventual game winning goal as Staley buried his second of the game and 22nd of the season. The Capitals would get that one back with a powerplay tally of their own but that would be it for the Capitals as the Spruce Kings headed back down the ice and would chase the starting goaltender after they scored their fourth goal on five shots. Bryant Christian earned first star honours after getting his second of the game and 11th of the season.

That same work effort will be at the top of the list for the coaching staff who know that they will have to find other ways of keeping motivation up for the players who have locked up a playoff spot. The Spruce Kings face the Nanaimo Clippers for the first time since the BCHL Showcase. The Clippers are considered to be a very good team with strong goaltending, smart defenceman that can move the puck up the ice quickly and create chances for a forward squad that is considered to be quite deep.

Sitting third in the Island Division, the Clippers have only one player in the League's Top Twenty, but don't let either of those stats fool you. Thirteen players of the twenty skaters have double digit points including four with over thirty points and another trio in the twenties. Jayson Argue ranks just ahead of Alex Murray and just behind Alec Dillon among goaltenders in the BCHL. Argue comes into the game with a .925 save percentage and 2.55 goals against average. On Friday night the Clippers allowed only two goals in a 2-1 loss and before that erased a 3-1 deficit to post a 4-3 regulation time win over the Victoria Grizzlies.

As I wrap up this post, I'm reminded of a comment made by Spruce Kings head coach Dave Dupas when he said that if the Spruce Kings are going to do something this season, they are going to have to find ways to win games in other team's arenas. The same can be used today to help motivate the team who are still in a hunt for top spot in the Mainland Division and will be looking to return home for a stretch of home games that will include a series of five games against the Langley Rivermen.

Today's game has a scheduled 2pm start from the Frank Crane Arena in Nanaimo. The game will be broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed available through Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 1:40pm. Following the game, the Spruce Kings will begin the long trek home that will start with a two hour Ferry ride back to Vancouver and then the long 10 hour drive home. A week of practice in the Coliseum will lead into a double header next weekend against the Coquitlam Express.