Sunday, August 30, 2009

Intra Squad Game - Period Summaries

Third Period - The final period started quickly with a tilt featuring two players that were on the same team during the round robin scrimmages this weekend. Clayton McEwan of Kelowna and Jeremy Wiebe of Vernon traded a few in a no-decision battle that went on for a good 30 seconds and then some. Once play resumed, Team Blue stayed on task looking to mount a comeback but again came up empty on their sixteen shots on goal.

Team White on the other hand just kept rolling and playing it safe and still managed to squeak in a lucky one at 16:39 when Dylan DeSousa of Fraser Lake kept slapping at the loose puck against the goal post and finally squeezed it past Cameron Large of Nanaimo. The only helper on the goal scored by Nick DeSousa's younger brother went to Travis Flaherty of Williams Lake.

Besides the offsetting fighting majors, there were five minors also handed out in the third period. Oliver Holt of Vernon was assessed a high sticking penalty at 1:26 for Team White. At 4:32 Adrian Moyls of Nelson from Team Blue got caught with the hooking infraction and Lambert was assessed a roughing minor in retaliation. At 8:30 Spencer Doduk of Mission put Team Blue down a man for the fourth time in the game with a roughing call and the final penalty of the game came at 10:42 when Colten Derickson from Team White got his stick up too high.

Following the game the players shook hands at centre ice knowing that this might be the last time they seem some of the other guys for awhile. The Spruce Kings coaching and scouting staff will start the process of pairing down the camp roster to approximately 30 players that will be carried into the exhibition season. Preseason play starts on Tuesday night with a game against the Quesnel Millionaires at 7:00pm in the Coliseum.

Second Period - Well this period definitely had a little more of everything including intensity. Team White picked up where they left off in the second half of the first period by continuing to get shots through. The victim would be Team Blue's second goaltender, Ryley Carter from Dawson Creek who was scored on a total of four times. Team White scored a pair of goals 36 seconds apart thanks in part to Stewart Lambert of Prince George.

At 14:08 Lambert's shot found the back of the net after Colten Derickson and RJay Berra worked the give and go to gain the offensive zone, Berra then got the puck out to Lambert in front of the net who let go a quick one-timer. At 4:44 it was Lambert's turn to play the role of setup man after his shot on goal came back to the defenceman Jonathan Gibson of Prince George. The second assist on the goal went to sixteen year old Tyson Witala of Prince George.

Team White would take a 3-1 lead at the 8:25 mark with a goal from Jeremy Wiebe of Vernon who was able to knock in a rebound. Helpers on the third goal went to Chris Allbee of Prince George and Brady Fuller of Williams Lake. A series of penalties would follow including a chance with a two man advantage that Team Blue could not capitalize on.

Ryley Muise from Team Blue was first into the penalty box with a elbowing call at 9:34. Jesse Scrimbit from Team White followed less than two minutes later with a hooking call at 11:04. Tim Martens of Burns Lake joined his White team mate in the penalty box with a high sticking call. At 12:47, Dmetri Culker put Team Blue down a man with his holding the stick call.

Although no power play goals were scored, Team White did make it 4-1 just six seconds after Culker's penalty expired. Tyson Witala picked up his second point of the game with assists going to Scrimbit and Berra. Ryan Wilson from Grande Prairie turned aside all 14 shots he faced while in net for Team White. At the other end it wasn't as pleasant for Wilson who faced a total of nine shots.

First Period - Thirty nine players are in the Intra Squad game: three goaltenders, six defenceman and ten forwards on each team. From the view I have in the press box, it looked like the 35 plus players with no previous Junior A experience were tentative at best in getting started. Some good end to end rushes and chances by both squads. Just past the mid-way mark of the first period, Team Blue had a 6-4 shots on goal lead.

The first goal of the game and the only one of the first period was the result of missed opportunity to get the puck deep by Team White that resulted in a turnover. Riley Muise of Tumbler Ridge fed Luke Hannas of Williams Lake who skated it in to the top of the right side faceoff circle and let an off-speed shot go that fooled Team White's starting goaltender, Evan Smith from Penticton.

The goal fired up the home bench who then started peppering Team Blue's starting goaltender, Tim Zwiers of Williams Lake. Zwiers was solid in net and turned aside all fifteen shots he faced during his tour of duty between the pipes. Under the pressure applied by the home team, Team Blue was only able to get one more shot on goal before the end of the period.

There was only one penalty called in the opening and that went to Team Blue. Tyson Young from Prince George drew a slashing call at 18:07.

Intra Squad Game - Roster

CLICK HERE to download the roster for the Spruce Kings annual Blue and White game.

Training Camp - Day Three

1:00pm - With the final buzzer of the game between Team Grey and Team White, so ends the scrimmage portion of the main camp. Team Grey finished the weekend with a 3 and 1 record after defeating Team White 4-3. Goal scorers for Team White were Tyson Witala, RJay Berra and Sam Muchalla. Team Grey got their goals from Nick DeSousa, Steven Powers and a pair from Brooks Robinson.

Now comes the prep time for the Intra Squad game which starts at 3:00pm. The game is open to the public for the admission price of a toonie. Roster is being finalized and will be posted shortly.

11:00am - First game of the day is a repeat appearance for Team Red and Team Blue from their first game on Friday where the blue squad defeated red 7-2. It was clear to see the improvement on both squads as the play was tight and it took a long to get the game's first goal. It was almost twelve minutes before Colten Derickson would open the scoring for Team Blue with a hard shot from the faceoff circle.

Joe Morgan made it 2-0 before Justin Fillion would reply for Team Red. In the second half, Team Red found their scoring touch for three in a row to take their first lead of the game. Fillion started with an unassisted tally after stripping the puck in the offensive zone then Fillion found Andrew Pickering open at the side of the net. One of my favourite goals was scored on a nice breakaway feed that started with a beauty pass out of the defensive zone. The recipient of the Chris Allbee pass was Oliver Holt who was in all alone from the nuetral zone and made a nice backhand fake to draw the goaltender off the far post.

At the end of the game, the players were seen filing into the Spruce Kings dressing room to meet with the real coaching staff. There is one more scrimmage to be played with Team White and Team Grey meeting one another again and then it will be the Intra Squad game at 3:00pm. Once the roster is finalized for the Blue White game, it will be posted here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Training Camp - Day Two

11:00pm - The quick update to wrapup day two at the main camp is to let you know that there are no undefeated teams or teams looking for their first win. In the last game of the day, Team Red took on the camp leading Team Grey squad and found a way to end their winning ways with an impressive 11-3 victory. The big goal scorer in that game was Adam Baldassarre with a total of four goals.

In the earlier evening scrimmage, Team White improved to a 2-1 record with a 6-3 victory over Team Blue who dropped to a 1 and 2 record. Goal scorers for Team White were RJay Berra with three, Van Imoo, James Cannon and Tyson Witala. Colten Derickson, Jeff Datoff and Joe Morgan tallied for Team Blue.

Back to the late game and the goal scorers starting with Team Grey - Steven Powers picked up one and Brooks Robinson picked up their other two. Besides the four goals by Baldassarre, Team Red also got scoring production from Clayton McEwan, Adrian Moyls, Kalen Spoletini, Justin Fillion, Jeff Earnest and Jeremy Wiebe with a pair.

6:00pm - The fitness testing is done and the boys did pretty good. Mike Webber and Gibby Chasse of X-Condition put everybody through their paces with two passes at a 20 metre sprint, a 20 metre pro-agility test and the ever popular beep test also over a twenty metre distance.

Although there was no Usain Bolt on the track at Masich Place Stadium, the average across the board in the sprint was in the low 3 second mark. Scanning the numbers, the best run was Geoff Morgan at 2.78; but get this, both Morgan twins registered identical 2.81 times in their first run throughs. Geoff bested his brother Joe in the second run by a margin of 12/100th of a second. The other interesting thing to remember about the twins is that they aren't on the same team so they did the identical times an hour apart.

With only five minutes between the first and second sprint for each player, there isn't much time for the body to fully recover making the second run that much more difficult to improve upon. One player that did improve significantly the second time through was Andrew Pickering who shaved almost three tenths of a second off his first time - the best improvement out of anyone on the day.

The pro-agility test was a test of lateral explosion with quick stops and two reverses over the twenty metre testing strip. The players started as if in a sprinters block with their opposite hand on a pylon in front of them and then had to explode sprinting either to their left or to their right, braking and touching a pylon before reversing to sprint the full 20 metres to the opposite pylon and then back again through the starting point.

The average for this test was in the mid eight second mark with only two players doing better than eight seconds. Sam Muchalla won this event with a time of 7.90 followed by Joe Morgan with a mark of 7.97. Wes McLeod finished third with an identical time of 8.00 in both directions. From my perspective, footwear was a contributing factor in this event with the explosive starts, quick stops and the reverse explosions on the cork track saw a few guys lose their grip and resulted in a few blowouts.

Truth be told, I have never done the beep test and have no idea where I would finish in this gruelling test that requires the athlete to pace themselves through ever increasing time intervals. It starts out at a bit better than a walking pace over a 20 metre distance with timed beeps indicated when the athlete has to reverse direction. If a runner fails to reach the pylon for the turn twice in a row, the runner is done and will register a score based on the level they completed successfully.

In the beep test it seems that getting inside level 10 is the bench mark as this is when it starts getting tougher to pace yourself so that there isn't much of a wait time at either end of the 20 metre expanse. The majority of players were done before reaching level 11 and the early benchmark was level 13-7 set by Andrew Pickering. Only three players could best that mark with Chris Solecki and Jesse Scrimbit reaching level 14-0 and Evan Smith reaching level 13-13. By the way, Solecki and Smith are both goaltenders, which maybe doesn't come as much of a surprise as this position requires players to be able to match the tempo of the game for the full sixty minutes without the benefit of a line change.

1:30pm - Second scrimmage of the morning is now done putting four games into the books at the 2009-10 Spruce Kings main camp. This game featured Team Grey and Team Blue who were both 1 and 0 heading in. After the sixty minutes were up it is Team Grey that came out on top with an 8-3 victory to improve to 2 and 0 record.

Team Grey opened the scoring and never looked back with period leads of 3-1, 6-2 and of course 8-3. Leading the way again in this game was Nick DeSousa with a pair of goals and a pair of helpers. Rounding out the scoring for Team Grey was Dylan DeSousa, Brooks Robinson, Steven Powers, Tyson Hall, Luke Hannas and Geoff Morgan. Team Blue got scoring from Josh Pineiro, Nick Beisher and Joe Morgan.

While I did miss most of this game, listening to the scouts afterwards it sounds like Brooks Robinson scored the highlight goal of the game. After picking up the puck at the top of the defensive zone, Robinson skated through a couple of stick checks and then split the 'D' before beating Team Blue's first goaltender of the game. The line of Robinson, Hall and DeSousa have been causing the most amount of grief for the opposition and Team Red will have to shut down that line later tonight if they want any chance of picking up their first win.

11:15am - The third game scrimmage of the main camp was what I expected as far as intensity and competiitiveness, but unfortunately for Team Red, they suffered the same fate as their first game. They looked good early on and were controlling the game well pressuring the 'D' and getting shots towards the net, but it would be Team White that would open the scoring.

The first goal of the game was the result of some good pressure by the Team White forwards to cause a turnover and then, with traffic in front of the net, slip one through. Team Red did not quit and would score the next three goals to take a 3-1 lead as result of their good puck movement and shots on goal. After giving up those three in a row, Team White would get three of their own to put Team Red down by one again.

The go ahead goal was the result of some excellent puck movement while on the powerplay and then a bullet shot from the high slot by returning defenceman, Wes McLeod. Yes it is true, McLeod will be on the Spruce Kings roster for the 2009-10 seasaon. McLeod sees this year as the best opportunity for him to get ice time and develop more as a solid defenceman. On a side note, I will have his story on the Spruce Kings website, but it will have to wait unilt after camp wraps up.

Back to the game, Team Red would tie it up once more with a quick powerplay goal of their own before the end of the second period. The knife in the side of Team White would come just twelve seconds later and then they would add another early in the third and never looked back.

Goal scorers for Team Red were Kalen Spoletini and Jeff Earnest, Adam Baldassarre scored the power play marker and Andrew Pickering tallied a pair. For Team White, RJay Berra opened the scoring and would add three more including the game winner and insurance marker. As mentioned earlier, Wes McLeod scored that beauty on the powerplay and added one other while Jordan Wood and Sam Muchalla would add singles.

Both teams will now get ready for their fitness testing at Masich Place Stadium beginning at 1:30 with Team Red followed by Team White at 2:30. Team Grey and Team Blue will follow, but right now they are on the ice in the fourth game scrimmage of the camp.

8:30am - The Coliseum is coming alive again for the second day of training camp. Today will feature a total of four scrimmages (two for each team) and fitness testing. With the first day jitters and travel legs out of the way, today should produce a little more intensity and maybe bring out some more competitive rivalry. I will be behind the bench with Adrien Chabot once again for Team Red in the first game of the day at 9:00am.

Showdown in the Bulkley Valley

written by Evelyn Oosterhoff

Nestled between the Hudson Bay Mountain and the Babine Mountain range, in the beautiful Bulkley Valley, is the community of Smithers, population of approximately 6000. Smithers is a great place to visit if you are interested in fishing, hunting, skiing (downhill or cross-country), hiking or just relax and wandering down the Bavarian-style Main Street. It is also a hockey town, and I mean big time hockey town!

The arena has been a hub of activity every winter for a very long time, with all ages enjoying hockey games, either as part of a team or as a spectator! The Smithers Civic Centre was originally constructed as an airplane hangar in Terrace, B.C. in 1943. It was purchased by a community group from Smithers in 1954, and underwent some changes and upgrades to make it a viable arena. The most recent update to the arena is a new scoreclock. That took place just this year. I am sure that it is a welcome addition to the arena. The seating in the arena may have changed since the last time I was in there, but I'm told it still has seating for well over 500 people. People who have watched the likes of last year's captain - Zach Davies and current NHLer - Dan Hamhuis and many others develop and hone their amazing hockey skills! Hammy spent countless hours working on those defensive skills that gave him a ticket into the NHL.

I am so happy knowing I am going to be one of the spectators in attendance on September 2nd as our Prince George Spruce Kings challenge their Hwy 97 South rivals, the Quesnel Millionaires in the second half of a preseason home-and-home series. It will be the Millionaires that will be given the title of home team for this night in the town located four hours west of Prince George on Hwy 16. That's right! Smithers is the fortunate town to host this exciting matchup between the two teams who know each other very well and sometimes it is proven by the number of players in the penalty box, to the delight of some fans and the chagrin of others. All that aside, this is going to be a great time for all who attend and there will be a lot of talk about in the coffee shops (like Schimmels and Tim Hortons) and in offices about this game and who is going to win! I am also sure that there will be a lot of talk for days afterwards too.

If you would like to attend this matchup in downtown Smithers make sure you gas up your vehicle, put on some good music and enjoy the scenic 370 km drive down Hwy 16. Once you arrive in Smithers just drive through the town until you get to Manitoba Street on your left side (if you look to the right you will see A&W). Turn left on Manitoba Street and then turn right on 3rd Avenue and you will see the arena to your right. Park the truck, get the noisemakers out, head inside and be ready to cheer on our Spruce Kings.

I am excited to see the guys on the ice again for another season! Here's to another fun and entertaining year of hockey. See you in the arena! We have a seat for YOU in the Coliseum!

Evelyn (Host Services and loyal Spruce Kings fan)

This blog was written by Evelyn Oosterhoff, a member of the Spruce Kings volunteer team and a self proclaimed loyal Spruce Kings fan. If you would be interested in having your thoughts posted on the Spruce Kings blog site, be sure to send me an email or just post a comment to this posting and I will help you get yours posted here too - Ron.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Training Camp - Day One

10:30pm - The score in the second game was a little closer with Team Grey defeating Team White 7-5. At the mid-way mark the two teams were tied at three but after the flood, Team Grey opened with a quick goal. Early in the third, Team White tied it up again only to see Team Grey pull away with the next two goals and a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Goal scorers for Team White included Wes McLeod, Stewart Lambert and Sam Muchalla with a hat trick. Steven Powers, Luke Hannas and Geoff Morgan picked up singles for Team Grey while Nick DeSousa and Tyson Hall scored twice each. One time major midget team mates, Lambert and Hannas renewed acquaintances by dropping their gloves in the third period.

With one scrimmage under everyone's belt, some players have probably realized just how much of a step up it is to play Junior A and will be looking to make an early impression on Saturday. For others it may just be a feeling that they want to show something more now that they have been given back the feel of the game. For everyone, it is a safe bet that no one will be satisfied and that means that the spectators will be treated to some more entertaining hockey on Saturday in the Coliseum.

8:00pm - Was it puck luck, dumb luck or something else? Maybe it was the coach, either way Team Red came out on the wrong end of a 7-2 score giving up five goals in the first half of the game. Goal scorers for Team Red were Chris Allbee and Adam Baldassarre. On the other side Joe Morgan was the leading goal scorer for Team Blue with four. Nick Beischer (pron: Bay-Sure) had a pair and Joe Becker tallied with the only goal in the final twenty minutes.

In the third period, Team Red had their chances and just couldn't bury for one reason or another but did carry the majority of the play. These two teams will get to do it again on Sunday morning after they play Team White and Team Grey in their Saturday scrimmages. Saturday is also fitness day with players heading to Masich Place Stadium in the afternoon for fitness testing.

The X-Conditioning staff will be measuring the player's fitness, conditioning and strength with a series of tests including sprints, the beep test, a professional agility test and a few other fitness tests. All sessions, including the fitness testing is open to the public as the players continue through the camp leading up to Sunday's Intra Squad Game. The Annual Blue White game will be played at the Prince George Coliseum beginning at 3:00pm, admission is just a toonie for everyone with children getting in for free.

5:30pm - I'm on the bench in a half hour coaching Team Red with the likes of Andrew Pickering, Justin Fillion, Jeff Earnest and Adam Baldassarre on that roster. A number of hopefuls will be looking for their first opportunity to impress the coaches and scouts.

3:30pm - Everybody at the camp has now stepped on the ice at the Coliseum as the second half of the camp starts their practice session. Team Grey and Team White spent a little time before hitting the dressing room just watching the previous practice session. With Team Red and Team Blue off the ice now, they will get ready for the first game scrimmage.

1:30pm - Team assignments have been made for the players and the coaches ... I will be coaching Team Red all weekend along with Adrien Chabot. I'm looking forward to it as our counterparts on the other bench will be the team's marketing manager Jim Young and Todd Doherty. First up is a little practice time with Ed Dempsey for both Team Red and Team Blue at 2:00pm. Then those two teams will meet each other at 6:00pm for the first game scrimmage of the camp.

12:40pm - Almost all of the expected sixty players have come through the registration lineup for the training camp. Lots of handshakes and wishes for a big season from the veterans. I think I also caught a few "I'm checking you out glances" from some of the new prospects. It's going to be a good training camp.

11:00am - An hour beforehand and there are already a large number of prospects wandering the Castle waiting for the noon start time for registration. The Spruce Kings office is starting to fill up too with scouts who will be on hand this weekend to help with the evaluation of the expected sixty plus players. It is all contributing to raising the excitement level around the rink in anticipation of a new hockey season.

Throughout the weekend I will be posting short blogs here and tweets on the Spruce Kings twitter account. Feel free to leave me comments and questions about the training camp and I will respond as best I can given the amount of activity that is expected around the Coliseum.

Training Camp - Day Zero

Okay here it is, just hours before registration and the official start of training camp. As I was able to mention yesterday, almost all of the returning players and a few of the off-season recruits and even a few of the prospects for the 2009-10 season have already hit the ice in preparation of the Spruce Kings main camp.

The first order of business will be the registration of the players beginning at noon. All players will be weighed and measured and then assigned to one of four teams for practices, scrimmages and a series of fitness tests. The first ice time will be for Team Red and Team Blue who will be on the ice for a ninety minute practice ... Team White and Team Grey will follow with their practice time.

The first game scrimmage will be at 6:00 between Team Red and Team Blue, Team White and Team Grey will have their first scrimmage at 8:15pm. The teams will then switch up opponents for a pair of scrimmages that will bookend some fitness testing at Masich Place Stadium. Sunday morning the four teams will play their final opponents in the final two scrimmages of main camp before gearing up for the annual intra squad game.

All of the events are open to the public including the Blue White game Sunday at 3:00pm in the Coliseum. The game will feature a heavy rookie laden squad with a few veterans on each roster. The game itself will be a normal game with referees and off-ice officials, but the players know it will be their biggest game of the weekend.

Friday, August 28, 2009

12:00pm - 1:00pm
Player Registration at the Prince George Coliseum

Session 1

2:00pm - 3:30pm - Team Red and Team Blue practice
3:45pm - 5:15pm - Team White and Team Grey practice

Session 2

6:00pm - 8:15pm - Team Red vs Team Blue game
8:30pm - 10:30pm - Team White vs Team Grey game

Saturday August 29, 2009

Session 3

9:00am - 11:00am - Team Red vs Team White game
11:15am - 1:15pm - Team Blue vs Team Grey game

Session 4

1:30pm - 2:30pm - Team Red fitness testing
2:30pm - 3:30pm - Team White fitness testing
3:30pm - 4:30pm - Team Blue fitness testing
4:30pm - 5:40pm - Team Grey fitness testing

Session 5

6:30pm - 8:30pm - Team White vs Team Blue game
8:45pm - 10:45pm - Team Grey vs Team Red game

Sunday August 30, 2009

Session 6

9:00am - 11:00am - Team Blue vs Team Red game
11:15am - 1:15pm - Team Grey vs Team White game

Intra Squad Game

3:00pm - 6:00pm - Spruce Kings Blue vs Spruce Kings White game

*all ice times are at the Prince George Coliseum
*all fitness testing conducted at Masich Place Stadium

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ice Time

Players have been arriving in Prince George steadily from points both near and far in preparation for the main camp on Friday. The guys have all been working and training hard over the summer months ... and it shows. Watching the guys scrimmaging these past couple of days has been a treat with both new and returning players showing off some of their new found skills.

As well as the players that will be competing in the main camp, there is also at least one other player that is already pushing the players hard. Ronald Petrovicky has been out everyday skating with the Spruce Kings in advance of heading to the Vancouver Canucks training camp in early September. Petro has been playing with an edge and as much fun as it is watching Petrovicky, it is equally interesting watching how the different guys play with and against the big guy.

The returning players from last year look like they have found a higher gear over the summer. Muchalla has been working out with Gibby Chasse and Mike Webber at X-Conditioning with a training schedule that included ice time on alternating days. I'm hearing from many of the players that they have all been working out and training both on and off the ice.

The player that has travelled the farthest did so by car, Joe Becker spent over twenty five hours on the road driving from Minnesota. It was a decision that Becker says was an easy one to make citing the scenery and the luxury of having a vehicle through the season.

Whether they are driving or flying in for the training camp, it is clear to see that these players already have their game face on. The Spruce Kings training camp starts with registration at noon on Friday in the Coliseum and then shifts almost immediately to the ice with practices and scrimmages. Saturday will be another full day of scrimmages and fitness testing conducted by the trainers from X-Conditioning. Sunday marks the final day of the main camp with one last scrimmage before the annual Intra Squad game at 3:00.

A full camp schedule can be found on the Spruce Kings website.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Looking for a Good Home

The out-of-town players have started arriving and so begins the process of finding a good home for them to stay in while they play out the season. Billeting is an unique opportunity to help out with arguably one of the most important roles of the daily operations of the hockey club. Housing, and more importantly making a player feel at home, is one area that has a huge impact on the success of individual players and the team as a whole.

The Spruce Kings are made up of local players that get to continue on without any interuptions to their basic routines and rituals, but for the out-of-town player they don't get that same luxury. Imagine the life of a young player that will experience their first real extended stay away from home. Getting them into a comfortable setting is very important to making the transition as smooth as possible.

This week there are some sixty hopefuls and returning players arriving in town to participate in the annual main camp. An expected half of those will stay past the weekend and into the exhibition season. Whether they are local or not, all will require a place to stay where they can experience all the comforts of home.

I have personally experienced the billet experience and can say that it is truely one that you will never forget. I have had a total of three different players stay at my house over the years and all three can be considered members of my extended family. To this day, we stay in touch reminiscing about the days they played for the Spruce Kings but also talking about their present lives and what the future holds for them.

The players develop a schedule based on their hockey lives and the routines of their host families. The players have a network that ensures they look after each other when it comes to getting to practices, games and other team functions. It is the host family that ensures the players have an area they can call their own with the daily essentials. The team also makes sure that everything continues to work to the satisfaction of both the host family and the players.

Although there is a monthly financial allowance for the host family as well as season tickets, the real reward in taking in a billet is the relationship that develops. Over the years I have seen it countless times where the player becomes a member of the family ... another son, brother and mentor. I am reminded of these relationships all the time; most recently when Jordy Christian came from Minnesota to visit with his host family from two seasons ago.

The first players to arrive this week will be the returning players followed by the new prospects and hopefuls. If you are interested in either trying out the role of being a host family or you want to billet for the entire season, please call or email the Spruce Kings office and I will gladly talk to you about it in further detail. You can also drop me a comment on this particular post and I will get it on my BlackBerry and be able to respond to it shortly afterwards.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Intra Squad Game

Over the past week or so I have fielded a few calls down at the Spruce Kings office asking when main camp is, when and where are the exhibition games as well as a few other scheduling type questions. Obviously there is a feeling that summer has come to an end or at least is quickly on its way out and it is time to start thinking about hockey. The Spruce Kings have been making news over the summer and the stories worth mentioning are escalating, but I just want to give you some dates and times and - in at least one circumstance - a location to help you make the transition from summer.

First of all, look who's back in town ... Joe Morgan, Tyson Hall and Nick DeSousa are already here as is Sam Muchalla and RJay Berra who is back from the Lower Mainland. I spoke with Wes McLeod today who let me know that he will be in Sunday afternoon and Colten Derickson is thinking he will arrive Monday afternoon. The rest of the players will be in town in the first few days of this last full week of August.

As for action on the ice, the players are going to start skating at the Coliseum on Tuesday; although, many of them have had ice whether it be at the Elks Centre and the Coliseum for the local boys or other rinks around the province for those out-of-towners. The ice times will be fairly free flowing with the players themselves pushing each other to be ready for Friday and the start of the team's main camp.

Registration for the main camp begins at noon with the players being assigned to one of four teams. The first two teams will hit the ice for a controlled practice headed up by Ed Dempsey at 2:00 and the rest will run through their drills beginning around 4. In a round-robin style format, there will be scrimmages throughout the weekend beginning with the first two teams meeting at 6:00 Friday night.

Saturday will feature a pair of scrimmages in the morning with the first one at 9:00am and two more in the evening beginning at 6:30pm. In the afternoon all players will go through an intense fitness testing with the team's official trainers from X-Conditioning. The fitness testing will be tough and will include sprinting, the beep test, pro agility test and other strength tests.

Now Sunday might be a day you want to mark down as it will feature the annual Intra Squad Game or Blue and White Game. The day will start with the final two scrimmages of the main camp followed by the Intra Squad Game that gets started at 3:00pm at the Coliseum. This will be a full game with 20 minute periods, floods and all the bells and whistles that you would expect at a regular season game. Admission will be cheap, it's not confirmed yet but it is expected to be just a toonie.

That will then lead into the start of the pre season and the Spruce Kings first test as a team when they play host to the Quesnel Millionaires on Tuesday night at 7:00pm in the Prince George Coliseum. The second game of the exhibition schedule will be played on Wednesday night as the back half of a home-at-home series with the Millionaires in the Smithers Civic Centre. Smithers has been abuzz with the rumours of this event for about a month, but it was only just made official last week and I'm told that more than half the tickets have already been sold.

After a day off, the Spruce Kings will be back at it on Friday night with the three hour bus ride to Williams Lake to welcome the Timberwolves back into the BCHL. After going dark for two seasons, the Cariboo Community Complex will once again be lit up for a Junior 'A' hockey game. The drop of the puck on Friday night in Williams Lake is scheduled for 7:00pm and then the two teams will travel back to Prince George and the final game of the preseason on Saturday night, 7:00pm in the Coliseum.

The following week marks the unofficial end of summer with Labour Day and the return to school, it will also be the first full week of practice for the Spruce Kings in preparation for their first regular season game. The Spruce Kings will open their 14th season in the BCHL at home with a game against the Westside Warriors on Friday September 11th and then Saturday night the Penticton Vees will be in the Castle to meet the royal ones.

It is pretty exciting stuff and the great news is that the ticket prices haven't increased from last year and, in some cases, ticket prices have gone down with the different ticket packages available. One in particular that has come back this year and will provide great value for a family of four is the Family Pack that features game tickets, popcorn and pop for all four people for a cost of $35 ... that's not even $9 a person!

Okay well there you have the schedule of events for the next couple of weeks ... if you would like more, the full schedule is posted on the Spruce Kings website ... or you can CLICK HERE for a printable version (you will need Adobe's Acrobat Reader).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Neutral Site Game

Well it is official and there seems to be a lot of interest in the exhibition game slated for Wednesday September 2nd in Smithers. This will be the first time the Spruce Kings have ever played in the city that has turned out no less than eleven alumni, thirteen if you count Houston and Telkwa.

The most recent graduate of the Spruce Kings to come from Smithers is of course Zach Davies. The four year vet and last year's team captain is now off to Quinnipiac University on a four year scholarship and will be missed for sure. But that is life in junior hockey, there is always going to be a little turnover giving new players a chance to show what they are capable of bringing to the game.

That is what can be expected for the fans in Smithers that are expected to fill the Civic Centre at the base of Hudson Bay Mountain for the game. The desire to win and be competitive is always there whether it be a playoff game or a preseason test for new players. Those trying to find a spot on the roster will want to show that they have what it takes to play at this level.

The competitive factor will be behind the bench as well with the coaches of both squads. Knowing Ed Dempsey and Glen Watson, I can tell you that neither is looking at making the trip and not coming home with something to show for it. For two seasons, 1999-2000 and 2000-2001, Glen Watson was the man behind the bench of the Spruce Kings.

Smithers is no stranger to the game of hockey as evident by the number of players that come out of that area. The interesting thing that I noticed while going through the list of alumni from Smithers is that they are almost all defencemen. Of the eleven players that called Smithers home while playing in the BCHL for the Spruce Kings, only two were forwards. Including Telkwa into the equation and there is a goaltender that can be added to the list.

I'm not sure how many of those players still call Smithers home, but it would sure be nice to be able to catch up to at least a few of them. Perhaps that can be a future blog looking at some of the record holders on the all-time Spruce Kings list to come from Smithers. In the meantime I'm just looking forward to the chance to get out on the road and call a hockey game.

Like I was able to do in Dawson Creek last year and Grande Prairie the year before that, I will be using the exhibition season to work out some kinks in the game broadcast. The full slate of exhibition season games will be heard on 93.1 CFIS-FM and available online from the Spruce Kings website as well as the radio station's website.

The full exhibition season schedule is available from the Spruce Kings website along with the regular season schedule.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Coming Full Circle

Reporters and sports writers everywhere are using the cliché of writing the September standard essay on summer activities and I'm no better as I used it to tee up my interview with RJay Berra earlier today. Catching up with the Prince George Minor Hockey product in a rink in the Lower Mainland, Berra was heard chuckling about what he has gone through this summer.

The chuckle wasn't to mask nerves, but could only be characterized as relieve ... relieve that a whirlwind tour of the BCHL had come to an end. The tour is an interesting one with Berra showing up on three team rosters before coming full circle and ending up on the roster of the team he last played for. This is one of those stories that can only happen if all the cards fall in just a certain way.

It has now been learned that the Merritt Centennials, with Al Glendenning filling the roles of general manager and head coach, were very impressed with Berra. So much so in fact that they decided they were going to take Berra as their pick for the future considerations in the Alex Goodship trade. Now part of the rules of this poker game is that the future considerations can't be executed until the end of the season.

Just days after the Vernon Vipers hoisted the RBC Royal Bank Cup, the Merritt Centennials went through a shakeup in the hockey operations office that saw a new general manager come in. Shortly after arriving in Merritt, Joey Bouchard contacted the Spruce Kings informing them that Berra was now property of the Centennials. Despite an attempt to keep Berra in Prince George, the Spruce Kings had to concede and the first roster move for RJay was completed.

For whatever reason, it became apparent that Berra was not going to fit in to the plans of the new Merritt Centennials and almost as quickly as Berra showed up on their roster, he was off it. On June 1st, less than two weeks after acquiring him, the Merritt Centennials struck a deal with the Burnaby Express that saw the Cents get a younger player and Berra a spot on his third team.

Through all of this RJay remained upbeat and focused on the task at hand of using the summer to prepare for a new season of the game he loves. While in Vancouver Berra worked out and also skated with Andrew Pickering and Adam Baldassare not realizing that Ed Dempsey had begun talks with the Burnaby Express to bring him back. Talking with Ed after the trade, he told me that summer holidays were probably as much to blame as anything as to why the proceedings took so long to finalize.

But finalize it is exactly what the Spruce Kings hockey operations office was able to do late last week. RJay told me that the Burnaby Express head coach and general manager Dave McLelland used the words persistent when telling him that he was going back to the Spruce Kings. Berra was in Prince George at the time playing tennis with his brother and says he couldn't be happier; although his exuberance may have left the younger sibling hoping for a trade to New Zealand.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Not Too Far Away Now

It isn't hard to see that the hockey season isn't very far away now with everything that is happening around the Coliseum these past few days. The Spruce Kings office has been busy after a few weeks of down time during the dog days of summer. There is going to be a lot to write (or blog) about over the next couple of days and I will try and get it all out there.

The Spruce Kings Hockey School is starting its final week and has been fielding requests for last minute registrations (can still fit a couple into the 12 - 14 age group). Speaking of the hockey school, that is Nick Drazenovic in a Spruce Kings jersey participating in the Junior Conditioning Camp during the second week of the School. Dave Simoes also showed up during the week and helped to push those junior and major junior hopefuls hard before they head off to their respective camps.

Talking with Nick, it sounds like he has a busy few weeks ahead of him as he will be in Edmonton this week before heading to Peoria and then St. Louis. Watching the Prince George minor hockey product on the ice was a treat as Nick had a ton of hustle and great puck sense. A trio of young men that came down from Whitehorse to skate in the Junior Conditioning Camp said they got a lot more than they bargained for and were excited they had the opportunity to skate, practice and scrimmage with the calibre of players that they did.

I will have a bit of an article on the main Spruce Kings website once the camp is done, but the early reports that are coming in speak quite favourable for the level of instruction and what the students have taken away from the rink so far. A big thank you has to go out to Bayne Koen, the Spruce Kings assistant coach drafted up a daily practice and drill schedule for the age groups. Of course the instructors deserve all of the thanks for their hard work both on and off the ice through the two weeks so far.

In the hockey ops office the ringer on the phone has been getting a work out too as other coaches and general managers touch base with Ed Dempsey and Mike Hawes. A lot of the conversations are simply catching up and going over schedules and other hockey related matters, but of course there have been a few trade talks as well and the Spruce Kings have worked a few deals that have changed their roster.

The most recent addition is Brooks Robinson, a highly respected forward that has played the majority of his junior career on the island splitting duties with the Cowichan Valley Capitals and the Powell River Kings. It was the Coastal Division Kings that traded Robinson to Grande Prairie at the trade deadline where Brooks played in the Storm's final 16 regular season games and 19 post season games.

Another name that will show up on the Spruce Kings roster when the season starts is that of RJay Berra. I know what you are thinking, RJay was on the Spruce Kings roster last year. True, he was, but in what can only be described as an interesting story, RJay also appeared on the roster of two other BCHL teams this summer. After spending the off season in Vancouver working, RJay is in the process of packing up his bags for his return to Prince George and I hope to speak to him on Monday and have that interview available on here shortly afterwards.

Expect another media release from the Spruce Kings this week as well announcing a neutral site location for the team's second exhibition season game. It is perhaps the worst kept secret as everyone at the base of Hudson Bay mountain already knows and is waiting to purchase tickets once they go on sale. Insurance and a few other pieces of red tape had to be sorted out before it could become official, but it is expected to be made official early next week that the Spruce Kings and the Quesnel Millionaires will play at the Smithers Civic Arena on September 2nd.

Okay that is it for now, more details on all of those stories and more are promised for the days ahead. In the meantime however, I am going to be working on some more sponsorships for the Spruce Kings broadcast. Hey, if you would like to show your support of the Spruce Kings with an ad in the game program or on the radio broadcast, drop me a line. Don't wait though as the game program goes to print next week and available spots in the game are limited.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Up'Hill' Battle Rewarded

Congratulations to Ryan Hill for securing a scholarship to play at Portage College in Lac La Biche, Alberta. Following a full season away from any type of real competitive hockey, the former Spruce King is going to be lacing them up again. Ryan will be taking his first year courses this fall at Portage College before transferring to the University of Alberta to study in the area of sports physiotherapy.

"Ever since I have been fifteen or sixteen I've wanted to (be a physiotherapist)," admits Ryan Hill. "It's never left my passion and so that's what I'm going for."

The opportunity to continue on with hockey comes at a perfect time for Ryan who admitedly couldn't get the game out of his system even with a year off. The son of Kerry Hill, a member of the first year Spruce Kings, credits his father for keeping the passion burning and helping him through some of the hurdles that he encountered along the way.

"He was always the first one I would be on the phone with," Ryan says of his dad. "He would say 'keep your head held high and it's going to get better and better' and now it has, which is really nice."

After joining the Spruce Kings in the late stages of the 2004-05 season and playing in only four regular season games and four more playoff games, Ryan earned a roster spot for the next two seasons. After starting his twenty year old season in Prince George, Ryan made a move that took him three time zones away from his hometown of Fort St. James to play with the Port Hope Predators of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League (OPJHL). After the Christmas break, Hill realized how much he missed home and made the decision to come back; the Fernie Ghostriders learned of this decision and wasted little time in securing the rights to this gritty performer.

On January 18, 2008 Ryan Hill made his debut with his new team and made an immediate impact earning third star honours as the Ghostriders defeated the Kimberley Dynamiters 3-2 on home ice. In the ten games that Hill played in, the Ghostriders had an impressive record of 8 wins and 2 losses. The Ghostriders finished first in the East Division of the Neil Murdoch Conference of the KJHL and saw their success continue through the playoffs resulting in a league championship.

"It was a weird way to end (my junior career)," Ryan claims with a chuckle. "I mean I moved down to Junior 'B' and we end up winning the championship."

It was during this portion of his junior career that Portage College finally started contacting Ryan and tried to get him into their program for last season. But the best thing he could do for himself was take a well deserved break from the daily rigours of hockey. The break seems to have done him wonders as he has found the passion for the game and has recharged himself.

Ryan has been working out hard with other players and the trainers at X-Conditioning and has also been skating with a core group of players getting ready for the upcoming season. He will also be helping out with the Spruce Kings hockey school as well as participating in the Junior Conditioning Camp put on by the Spruce Kings next week.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New All Star Game Format

Okay I know this isn't really new news anymore; after all it was released much earlier today, but I am still trying to digest this and form an opinion. In true sit-on-the-fence fashion, I can't decide if this is really something I like or not. You take a look for yourself and post some comments while I ponder this some more.
Burnaby, BC -- August 4, 2009 -- The British Columbia Hockey League's 2010 All-Star Game will see the defending Fred Page Cup champion Vernon Vipers take on a team of league All-Stars on Wednesday, January 13th at the Frank Crane Arena in Nanaimo.

"The British Columbia Hockey League is very excited to announce a new All-Star Game format that will make for a tremendous event in a great hockey city," BCHL Commissioner John Grisdale says. "We're looking forward to an intense and highly-skilled contest."

The game marks a first for the league and a departure from the Coastal versus Interior conference structure that has long been in place for the BCHL's annual All-Star showcase.

"This new and improved All-Star format will be a huge hit with players and fans alike," says Nanaimo Clippers General Manager Bill Bestwick. "The concept of having the previous season's champion play the BCHL All-Stars will prove to be extremely competitive and the Clippers are looking forward to hosting Vernon and the rest of the league in this first-ever event."

The Vernon Vipers will be the first defending Fred Page Cup champion to participate in the game under the new format. The Vipers went on to hoist the Doyle and RBC Cups earlier in 2009, marking the team’s fifth National Championship victory.

"I think this is a fun concept and a great twist for an All-Star Game," says Vipers Head Coach Mark Ferner. "I know our players will be excited and it's a nice reward for them and for the organization for winning a league championship."

Okay I have decided that I like this if for no other reason than it changes up the old format that many people agreed was getting a little tired and in need of some spicing up. Through sheer numbers alone, the competition to get selected onto the "Stars" team will make it tougher with less than half the players being selected compared to the previous formula.

If I have a concern it would be with the "Champs" team because that team won't really be the championship team from the previous season because of attrition. I agree with Mark Ferner that this is quite the reward and an opportunity for the defending champion to let the league know they intend on repeating.

Until I understand how the selection process will work I have to assume (and yes I know what that makes me) that the cream of the crop will be chosen to play for the Stars team giving them a decided edge. Players selected or expected to be selected in the NHL draft along with players that have earned NCAA scholarships and have experience in international and national tournaments typically show up on the All Star roster. Whereas the defending champions will contain one part returning players and two parts new players to the program either as rookies or acquisitions.

That aside we do of course play the game on a sheet of ice, not a piece of paper. So yes, I do like this new formula and see many reasons to be excited about the 2010 BCHL All Star Game January 13th in Nanaimo.