Friday, July 31, 2009

An Enviable Position

My unofficial tour of new rinks continued with a stop at the new Langley Events Centre. A couple of things jump out at me right away with the new home of the Langley Chiefs. The first is the ease with which you can get to the rink ... its right off 200th. The second is the size of the facility in every aspect from the overall building and the ice arena to the ample parking for the 5,000 seat arena.

It is an Events Centre that includes an arena, gymnasium and banquet hall. The major tenant holders include the City of Langley, the BCHL Langley Chiefs and the Langley Thunder of the Western Lacrosse Association. The Trinity Western University Spartans Athletics and the IBL Vancouver Titans professional basketball team will also be calling the Events Centre home. Another interest group in the mix is the KBR Facility management Corporation who will be managing and maintaining the building and events.

The building overlooks 200th with an expansive parking area off to its side. Upon entering the building you are greeted by a wide staircase that leads up to the upper level of the ice arena. In the future I can envision a number of large photos hanging in this area depicting some of the inaugural events, but for now it is a showcase for some local artists.

At the top of the staircase is a large unobstructed entranceway into the main concourse of the arena. One of my first impressions at this point was how the main arena didn't have that modern closed in design. Instead it was open with some natural light coming in giving it a warm inviting feeling.

The ice wasn't in as the Langley Thunder lacrosse team were still playing so it was a little on the dark side ... too dark for some pictures to really show off the arena. Small pieces of construction were still going on with half of the luxury suites still in need of some completion work. There were also some satellite rooms off the concourse that were in the finishing stages.

My original intention was to run into the Langley Chiefs marketing manager, but Jared Harmen was walking down another aisle in another part of town, so Chelsea graciously agreed to be my tour guide of the new building. It was obvious from Chelsea that there is a great deal of pride in this building and a lot of promise in its arrival to one of the fastest growing areas of the Fraser Valley.

For many years before the Langley Chiefs, the Hornets had struggled looking to define a market niche for themselves before giving up the fight to become the Westside Warriors. The timing of that move worked perfectly for the Chilliwack Chiefs as they found themselves without a home following the arrival of the Western Hockey League Bruins. The Chiefs relocated their franchise to Langley and have subsequently won the proverbial lottery.

It is safe to say with the new rink in a great location along with the steadily increasing population base not to mention the Golden Ears Bridge that will allow hockey fans from the Maple Ridge area quick access that the Chiefs stand in an enviable position amongst the "Mainland Division" of teams in the BCHL.

The Prince George Spruce Kings will play their first game in the Langley Events Centre on Saturday January 9, 2010 at the tail end of four game Coastal Division road trip.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Catching up with Matt Shuya

I find myself in Fort St. John en route to Vancouver (it's a long story best saved for Facebook) and while here thought I would call up a former Spruce King and let him know that I was in town for the day. This particular player appeared on the team's roster for a total of 208 regular season games. He shows up on a few pages of the hockey club's BCHL record book and is one of those players whose name is automatically synonymous with the Spruce Kings. With those unforgettable dimples, Matt Shuya appears to be in top physical shape and is even more solid than he was in his Junior A days.

A four year player with the team, Shuya was one third of the Prince George side of a blockbuster trade that saw a total of seven players ultimately traded in a deal with the Merritt Centennials back at the January 10th trade deadline day in 2006. The number 19 jersey of Shuya may have come off the player, but the Crown never came off his heart. Still today standing in the warm summer breeze outside the newest arena in his hometown, Matt re-lived many memories that brought out his smile and a sparkle in his eyes.

Now playing for the Fort St. John Flyers senior mens hockey team, Shuya admits that those years he played in Prince George have never left him and he finds himself reminiscing with people he knew from that important time in his life. He spoke in glowing terms about the fans, team mates and a few of the people from the organization that he came to know over his four seasons with the Spruce Kings. With lots of memories to recount, he is especially fond of his third season when the team had all the components to make a serious run at the title.

"That was one of my best years of hockey," Shuya said of the 2004-05 season. "We had a great bunch of guys and we all got along. We had everything to do it, until we ran into some injury troubles. I will never forget that year."

Matt Shuya shows up in the Spruce Kings record book with the second most games played and holds down fifth spot for the most career goals and also appears on the all time scoring leaders list with 141 points. Known more for his hard work in the corners and physical play, Matt Shuya also ranks in the top three for most career penalty minutes ... first place belongs to another Spruce Kings alumni from Fort St. John.

"I'm playing with Tyler Loney," beams Shuya when he talks of his life-long team mate from minor through junior and into senior hockey. "There are also other players with Prince George connections like Tyler Brough and Gerard Dicaire on the team. We're trying to see if Brad Fast wants to play this year too and maybe Chris Stevens. We're hosting the (2010) Allan Cup and it would be nice to get a few more guys up here and win it in front of the hometown fans."

The Allan Cup is the trophy awarded to the national senior amateur men’s ice hockey champions of Canada. The trophy was donated in 1909 by Sir H. Montagu Allan as a trophy for amateur teams, to replace the Stanley Cup, whose tournament had become a professional competition. In a similar fashion to the RBC Royal Bank Cup, the Allan Cup is a six team round robin tournament style championship. This will mark the first time in its 102 year history that the Allan Cup will be played in the city of Fort St. John and over the past three years, the Flyers have been quickly establishing themselves as a serious contender for the title.

When asked whether or not the still-to-be-completed Enerplex would become the new home for the senior mens hockey team, Shuya informed me that the new arena isn't as big as the North Peace Arena. He also explained how the Enerplex will satisfy one big concern for the city of Fort St. John being ice time, but with the smaller seating capacity it will be used by the minor hockey teams and not the senior team or the Junior B Huskies.

The Enerplex has a neat design concept behind it with a total of three levels. The first level will be the rink for ice hockey, above that will be a skating oval for speed skaters and above that still will be a running track. An interesting configuration to be sure but not one that didn't come with some unique drawbacks as well. One of those obstacles that was pointed out to me was how to get a Zamboni from one level to the next - install a dedicated elevator just for the ice resurfacer.

The other drawback of the tiered design is the reduction of seating space for the main rink. Limited to 1,500 seats, the seating capacity is probably the first thing that struck me as odd for a new building. Although I never went inside, I can't help but picture an arena with a much lower ceiling than any other modern facility. Then again I can't think of another project that was ever built with less seating than an already existing facility.

"What the city of Fort St. John desperatey needs is more ice," Shuya said in defence of the new building. "We were only getting one practice time a week, we were lucky to get three ice times a week to play a pair of games and still have that practice ice too."

Even in the middle of the hottest part of the day, you could feel the excitement of this Spruce Kings alumni waiting to get back into a pair of skates and feel the slice of the metal blade on a fresh sheet of ice. At the end of our short time together, Matt obliged my request for a picture with the Enerplex as the backdrop and then headed off to the lake.

Friday, July 17, 2009

PG Minor Hockey Product Coaching in the AHL

Congratulations to another Prince Georgian who continues to move up the hockey career ladder. Don Nachbaur will now be coaching at the American Hockey League level with the Binghamton Senators. The Spruce Kings are very familiar with the coaching abilities of Nachbaur as a former instructor for many years at the Prince George Spruce Kings Hockey School. The following was posted on the AHL website.

Don Nachbaur named head coach in Binghamton

The AHL’s Binghamton Senators, in conjunction with the Ottawa Senators, announced today that Don Nachbaur has been named the new head coach of the American Hockey League franchise. Nachbaur replaces Curtis Hunt who returned to the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League.

Nachbaur joins the B-Sens after coaching the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League for the past six seasons. In 432 regular season games with the Americans, Nachbaur has amassed 235 wins, 155 losses, 25 overtime losses and 17 shootout losses. Nauchbaur’s Americans have reached the playoffs in all six seasons he has coached them, including a run to the Western Conference finals in 2007-08.

Nachbaur has been named WHL coach of the year twice, first in 1994-95 when he led the Seattle Thunderbirds to a 42-28-2 record and again in 2007-08 with Tri-City, when he lead them to a franchise record 108 points with a 52-16-2-2 record.

Nachbaur began his coaching career with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL in the 1994-95 season. He would remain behind the bench in Seattle for six seasons (1994-2000). From 2000-01 to 2001-02 Nachbaur served as assistant coach for the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms.

The 50 year-old Kitimat, B.C., native was drafted in the third round of the 1979 NHL entry draft (60th overall) by the Hartford Whalers. Over his 14-year professional career, Nachbaur played 223 NHL games with the Hartford Whalers, Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He notched 23 goals and 46 assists for 69 points in regular season play and recorded 465 penalty minutes.

Nachbaur has also played 469 games in the American Hockey League, including parts of six seasons as a member of the Hershey Bears. Over his impressive AHL career, Nachbaur earned 174 goals and 187 assists for 361 points and recorded 1,452 penalty minutes, and he was a member of Hershey’s 1988 Calder Cup championship team.

Nachbaur is the fifth coach in franchise history following in the footsteps of John Paddock (2002-2005), Dave Cameron (2005-2007), Cory Clouston (2007-2009), and Curtis Hunt (2009).

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Back to School

The Prince George Spruce Kings 29th annual Hockey School is ready to hit the ice in August providing kids between the ages of 6 and 14 an opportunity to skate and learn the game from past, present and future Spruce Kings. The annual Hockey School has become a regular feature in the first three weeks of August and has become a summer tradition for many families over the years. Many students have first found a true love for the sport while attending the Spruce Kings Hockey School and have then gone on to play the game at the higher level. Spruce Kings alumni instructing this year include the Calgary Flames 2009 NHL draft pick Ryan Howse, Northern Michigan NCAA scholarship recipient Sam Muchalla, 2007-08 BCHL Rookie of the Year Jordy Christian, 2008-09 Spruce Kings Rookie of the Year Justin Fillion as well as Wes McLeod, Nick DeSousa, Joe Morgan, Tyson Hall and many others.

Registrations Forms for the Hockey School are available on the Spruce Kings website and can be filled in and submitted online or printed off and sent in by mail, fax or in person.

With a focus on having fun and enjoying the game, students will be introduced to the basics of hockey in the areas of power skating, puck handling, passing, checking, shooting, positional play and team building. Each age group will have their own specially designed practices, drills and instruction for the first four days of the camp. On the final day, each session will have their own inter-squad game followed by a wrap-up bar-b-que and autograph session for the entire family. During the first four days of each sesssion, students will participate in a total of two and half hours of ice time daily split up into a morning and afternoon session. During the break between ice times, students will have their lunch and also participate in a different activity each day.

Again this year there will be a special session for the older players who are looking for a little edge heading to training camp. Players between the ages of 15 and 20 will have their own specially designed Conditioning Camp designed to get the summer rust out and prepare the player to compete at their respective training camps. Intended for all players that will be playing in the 2009-10 season from Midget through Junior, Collegiate and Pro Camps, the Conditioning Camp is two solid hours of ice time each day and will consist of high tempo competitive drills and practices. Registrations Forms for the Conditioning Camp are also available on the Spruce Kings website and can be filled in and submitted online or printed off and sent in by mail, fax or in person.

Based on birth year, students will be placed in one of three age groups: 6-8, 9-11, 12-14 with all three age groups having a session each of the three weeks. Each session is five days in duration and the groups have staggered starts and end times during the day. Group 1 gets started at 8:00am and finishes up their afternoon ice time at 1:45pm, Group 2 goes 9:30am to 3:15pm and Group 3 starts at 11:00am and is off the ice at 4:45pm. Week 1 runs from Tuesday August 4 - Saturday August 8, Week 2 starts on Monday August 10 til Friday August 14 and the final week starts on Monday August 17 wrapping up on Friday August 21. The Junior Conditioning Camp runs from 6:00 - 8:00pm during the second week, August 10 - 14 and is open to all interested players between the ages of 15 and 20.

The cost for the full week session of the Hockey School is $300 with a tax deductible reciept issued from the Prince George Spruce Kings, the Conditioning Camp is available for $190 per student. All sessions are limited in size and spots are only available on a first come first serve basis. Vacancy can not be guaranteed and many spots have already been filled up with early registrations; don't wait, fill in your registration and get back to school with the Prince George Spruce Kings 29th annual Hockey School.