Saturday, September 24, 2011

Spruce Kings Drop One To The Centennials

Two games, two nights and we have a split. Two games in and we already get to use a playoff term. The Prince George Spruce Kings had a great a chance to start off the season with two wins in a row and send an Interior Conference rival home with a losing record on opening weekend. Merritt though, decided they wanted to have a happy trip back home.

The game started off nicely for the Prince George Spruce Kings as Jujhar Khaira picked up his second goal in as many nights. His new line mats Paul De Jersey and Michael Klonarakis picked up the assists to start the game. Merritt answered right back, proving that they were not going to get rolled over in game 2, as Payton Schaefer fired one past Kirk Thompson midway through the 1st. The period was just about over when the Fitzgerald Triplets all combined together on the second goal. Leo found the back of the net, while Myles and Gerry started it off. The period ended with the momentum shifted in flavor of the Spruce Kings

The second period saw the penalties come fast and furious as the Spruce Kings found themselves down a man throughout a good chunk of the period, and that is exactly how the game got all tied up. Brandon Pfeil ripped one form the point on a 5 on 3 power play and this game was even once again. It didn't take long for the Centennials to use the newly stolen momentum, and took their first lead of the game as Stephen Wall found a rebound and out it past Thompson. The possible turning point of the game came when the Spruce Kings were awarded their own 5 on 3 power play for a full two minutes. Although things fizzled quickly, as they only generated a few shots, none of which were quality scoring chances. The period ended with the Centennials heading into the dressing room with the lead

The third period saw the fast paced, physical play continue, with both teams providing entertaining action and giving the fans their money's worth. At the halfway point of the period, the Fitzgerald Triplets combined together once again to tie the game up at three. It was Leo once again who found the back of the net as his brothers made a few nifty plays. But just over 2 minutes later, the Centennials would put home the eventual winner as one of their top offensive threats Regan Soquila found the back of the net. His line mates Evan Stack and Brandon Bruce would help out on the goal. The last five minutes saw the Spruce Kings get a late power play opportunity, and saw an exciting sequence in the final minute that almost lead to a tying goal. The game ended 4-3 in favour of the Merritt Centennials as they were able to pick up a split in Prince George and head back home happy. Tyler Steel had his first start tonight, and although he was a bit shaky through the first two periods, he was exceptional in the third facing 21 of his 38 shots in that final frame

For a full recap on scoring, penalties etc, click here

The 3 Stars

3) Tyler Steel - 35 Saves

2)Leo Fitzgerald - 2 Goals

1) Regan Soquila - 1 Goal (GWG) 1 Assist

Unlike last night, the bounces just didn't favour Prince George tonight, and some undisciplined play left them shorthanded one to many times. It was a gutsy effort tonight, but again it was a tail of two teams. At one point they were firing on all cylinders, the other they made a few mistakes, and the Cents capitalized. Irk Thompson will now move to 1-1 on the season, but should be happy about his play this weekend, as he made some great saves on both nights. Overall, there are a few really good things to take away from this weekends 2 game series against Merritt. They did get a win in the opener, and a good one at that. Even though they did lose tonight, thy didn't get run over, and they were one more bounce away from forcing overtime. The top line has found some early chemistry and the Fitzgerald triplets are a lot of fun to watch.

The Spruce Kings will now have this week to work on their game and get ready for the first road trip of the season. They will play two very tough games next weekend as Friday the Spruce Kings will play in Penticton and then travel to Vernon. These are two of the best teams in the league, and will be a great measuring stick early in the season for Prince George. As always keep checking in with this blog, our facebook and twitter for all your Spruce Kings updates

Friday, September 23, 2011

Spruce Kings Win Their Season Opener

Paul De Jersey (8) was the centre of attention all night
and for all the right reasons, scoring twice in a
Spruce Kings 6-3 win to start the season

The Prince George Spruce Kings have opened up their 40th Anniversary season with a win! It was brilliant at times, it was slow at times, but as they say, a win is a win. The Spruce Kings will look to use this momentum tomorrow, as they will host the Merritt Centennials once again. But before we go that far, let's take a quick look back at tonight's big win.

The game started as one would expect for a season opener. Both teams spent the first half of the game trying to find their legs and establish some chemistry with their new teammates. The all important first goal went to the Spruce Kings as Paul De Jersey capitalized on a broken play and put home a bouncing puck at 11:31 of the 1st. Scott McHaffie and hulking defenceman Ben Woodley added the assists on the first goal of the season for Prince George. Then Jujhar Khaira picked up where he left off last season picking the corner with a beautiful wrist shot that bounced out of the net just as fast as it went into it. The rest of the period saw the physical play continue; the period ended with the Spruce Kings leading it 2-0

It seemed things were about to get out of hand in the 2nd, as Leo Fitzgerald fired one home after some nice work from his brother Myles Fitzgerald and Ben Woodley. But, the Cents did not come to Prince George to be rolled over. They stormed back after that goal and controlled the next 10 minutes of play, firing all sorts of chances and finally captain Evan Stack put home a power play marker at 10:23. But, as it did many times tonight, the momentum shifted once again and an ill advised penalty by the Centennials lead to Paul De Jersey notching his second of the game setup nicely by line mate Jujhar Khaira. Again, the momentum shifted, and with just 27 seconds left in the period, Chad Brears made it a two goal hockey game and gave the Cents a much needed boost going into the dressing room.

The third period saw the Centennials come out strong, and come to within a goal as Evan Stack put in his second of the game at 4:43 of the third. That was as close as they would get as Gerry Fitzgerald scored twice in the third to ice the game for the Spruce Kings including the insurance marker 31 seconds after Stack's goal. The shots on goal ended 33-17 in favour of the home team. Kirk Thompson made some sharp saves throughout the game for the Spruce Kings as did Lino Chimienti for the Cents but the bounces went Prince George's way tonight.

Overall it was a game that showed at times just how good the Spruce Kings can be but also showed they still have room for improvement, which is exactly what you want from a win.

Your 3 Stars for the game:

  • 3)Centennials: Evan Stack – 2 goals
  • 2)Spruce Kings: Jujhar Khaira – 1 goal 2 assists
  • 1)Spruce Kings: Paul De Jersey – 2 goals 1 assists
I caught up with the first star of tonight's game afterwards and asked him what he thought of the win to start the season.

download audio file

For a full recap of scores, shots, penalties etc, click here

The Spruce Kings will now get ready to host the Centennials once again, tomorrow night at the Castle. Puck drops at 7:00pm as Prince George will look to start off the season with a 2-0 record. After the physicality we saw tonight, especially in the 3rd period, we should be in for a great game tomorrow night. As always, if you can't be at the Coliseum for a home game, you can find the broadcast with myself and Todd Doherty on the BCHL's website here.

Season Opener Preview: Spruce Kings VS Centennials

Apologies for the delay and for the lack of posts this past week on the blog, I’ve just had a baby and understandably so, she has taken up a good chunk of my time. But it's finally here, game one of the 11/12 season, the 40th Anniversary Season of the Prince George Spruce Kings!! It's a brand new season and one that should have Spruce Kings fans excited. Seven players will be returning to Prince George for opening night; although Sam Waterfield won't be taking to the ice due to a knee injury.

To get a full history of the Prince George Spruce Kings as they head into their 40th anniversary season, click here

The Spruce Kings have a great chance to set the tone for this season as they will host an interior conference rival, the Merritt Centennials, in back to back games. Prince George had some mixed results during preseason play; against the NAHL's Dawson Creek Rage they finished in a tie after beating them at home in a two game series. They dropped games to the Westside Warriors and against tonight's opponents the Merritt Centennials to start the preseason. But, that is why they call it preseason - it is a chance to see which players will seize the opportunity and crack the roster, and who needs another year to develop.

Both teams will see players return to the organization, but the Cents have more familiar faces than the Spruce Kings do. The Centennials will dress 15 returnees to the Spruce Kings 7. So, let's take a look at what we can expect, a few trends from the past few years and preview the season opener between the Merritt Centennials and your Prince George Spruce Kings.

The Spruce Kings have 1 win and 4 losses in their last 5 opening night games and the last time Prince George hosted the Centennials in back to back games to open the season was in the 08/09, where the Spruce Kings won both games. These two teams battled 6 times last season, with Prince George coming out on top 4 of those 6 times. But, this is a completely different Spruce Kings squad this year. As we said, only seven players who grace the roster are returnees this season; which leaves fifteen new faces skating in the Castle on opening night. That though, is precisely why fans should be excited about this season. General Manager Mike Hawes brought in a lot of offensive fire power and big bodied defenseman at the end of the season and in the off season. Add in the fact that Jujhar Khaira now has a whole year under his belt, as does starting goaltender Kirk Thompson, and this is one to get excited for.

A few tidbits to watch out for tonight:

  • 13 players from both rosters will take to the ice for the first time in the BCHL. How will they handle the pressure?
  • Both teams needed to address special teams this off season as the Spruce Kings and the Centennials were in the lower end of both the Power Play and Penalty Kill categories. Did they do enough?
  • -Speaking of special teams, the Spruce Kings allowed the most short handed goals against last year with 14. Here's hoping the added bulk they have on the back end can bring that number down
  • -Both teams now have starting goaltenders that have BCHL experience under their belts.
  • The majority of players that the Spruce Kings will ice tonight and tomorrow night haven’t played together before. How long will it take to find that ever important team chemistry?

Puck drops tonight at the Coliseum at 7:00pm with the big pre game tail gate party starting at 6:00pm. If you are out of town and can’t make it to “the Castle” tonight, you can catch the full broadcast with myself and Todd Doherty here. Check back after the game tonight as we’ll have a recap of tonight’s game.

See You at the Rink Hockey Fans!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Jujhar Khaira and Team Canada West

Jujhar Khaira, seen here in the Spruce Kings Intra-
Squad game is now trying out for Team Canada West

The Prince George Spruce Kings will be without the services of Jujhar Khaira for at least a couple of days this week and hopefully for a week in November too. Last season's rookie of the year will be off in Canmore, Alberta looking for a roster spot on Team Canada West for the 2011 World Junior A Challenge. Coming off an impressive season where Khaira went from being a player that had been passed over to a player that every team had to find ways of defending against.

Khaira was a young 15 year old player that was left behind during the 2009 Bantam Draft and was contemplating handing in his hockey gear for some court shoes and basketball shorts. He played one more season with the Cloverdale Colts where he was spotted and watched on many occasions by Spruce Kings scouts. A year ago that scout found out that Khaira had no options and brought him as a walk-on to the Spruce Kings main training camp. And the rest, as they say, is history.

"The coaches (and scouts) gave me an opportunity to play and show my stuff," said Jujhar Khaira. "I came to camp just looking for the experience and the coaches really liked how I played. That really surprised me. I surprised myself."

Khaira immediately found his grove and had other team's salivating at the prospect of taking this diamond in the rough off of the Spruce Kings hands. Of course the hockey operations team would have nothing to do with such an idea and continue to watch the young stud develop into a player that could easily play in the top six of this team or any other team in the League.

With soft hands and a long stride, Khaira possesses many talents that make him an elite player including the ability to stickhandle in a corner, win almost every puck battle and find an open man in scoring position. It was those skills and many others that landed the rookie a full-ride four-year scholarship from the NCAA Division I Michigan Tech Huskies before the month of October was over.

The amazing thing about all of that was the fact that he was only 16 years old; a youngster for sure but one that was being compared to other 18 and 19 year old veterans of the BCHL. This season, as a 17 year old, Jujhar Khaira has the potential of being one of the stars of the premier Junior A League in Canada and becoming an even brighter light on the hockey radar. He has worked hard in the off season at improving his game and returns to the Spruce Kings as a bigger, faster, stronger and smarter player.

"He had a tremendous season and did everything we asked of him as a 16-year-old," said Mike Hawes, Spruce Kings General Manager. "He worked hard over the summer. He packed on 20 pounds of muscle and grew another two inches. Not only is he gifted on the ice but academically as well and he's a good role model using his hockey to get himself an education. We need more players like him in Prince George."

The acknowledgement of what Jujhar Khaira is capable of doing and achieving this season has already started even before the regular season has officially begun. Khaira received a call about a week ago from Team Canada West Head Coach, Kent Lewis with the request that Khaira join 59 other hopefuls in Canmore Alberta on September 11th for a three-day evaluation camp. Lewis, Head Coach and General Manager of the Powell River Kings, only had an opportunity to see Khaira in game action twice, but that along with all the reports of the player was more than enough to garner the invite.

"Ever since I got the call I've been counting down the days," said Jujhar Khaira. "Hopefully it'll work out nicely."

The sixty hopefuls will begin arriving in Canmore on Sunday September 11th and will hit the ice together on Monday morning as members of three inter-squad rosters. Team Red is on first at 9:00am followed by Team White at 10:30 and then Team Black at noon and again at 4:00pm. Team Red and Team White will play in the first intra-squad game Monday night at 7pm. A similar schedule unfolds the next two days with Team Red and Team Black playing Tuesday night and then Team Black and Team White wrapping up the camp with a game Wednesday night.

Following the evaluation camp, Kent Lewis and the Team Canada West coaching staff will have to find their roster of 23 for the 2011 World Junior A Challenge that will take place from November 7-13 in Langley, BC. The Langley Events Centre will be the only venue used for the sixth edition of the Hockey Canada tournament showcasing six teams from five countries. Canada will be represented by two teams - East and West, while the United States, Sweden, Russia and Czech Republic will all have one team each in the two pool tournament.

The Prince George Spruce Kings have had representation in each of the four years that Team Canada West has come away with a medal. Ryan deVries (2006) and Jeff Forsythe (2007) helped Canada West to gold in back to back years while Kevin Genoe (2008) and Wes McLeod (2009) brought home silver medals in their respective years. Click Here for more information on the World Junior A Challenge including rosters and this year's schedule, visit the WJAC website from Hockey Canada.

The Spruce Kings Take Game 1 Against The Rage

The Prince George Spruce Kings have their first win of the season! Alright, it was just a preseason game, but it is a great building block for what will be the 40th anniversary season.

The game started out fast paced, with both teams trying to find the right groove. The first period saw a ton of hits thrown by both teams, but it was the Spruce Kings who notched the only tally. A couple of new Spruce Kings opened the scoring as Cory Bardock found the back of the net, with some help from Paul De Jersey. The second period is where it got interesting as goals were coming fast and often. Ryan Matthews and Tyson McCallum helped the Rage take the lead with goals 1 minute and 20 seconds apart. The teams then traded goals a few minutes later before the Spruce Kings popped in three in a four minute span. Dylan Tappe, Trevor Esau, Paul De Jersey and Myles Fitzgerald helped Prince George go in to the dressing room with a 5-3 lead.

The third period saw more of the same with Prince George winning most of the offensive battles and both teams throwing their weight around. Connor Tiechko scored the eventual game winner - a highlight reel goal - to start the third period outburst, while Sean Landrey notched the insurance marker swiping a loose puck in the crease behind the netminder and Myles Fitzgerald salted away the win with his second of the game in to an empty net. Carter Page did his best to help the Rage pull within striking distance, notching a pair in the third. The Spruce Kings rotated goaltenders with Cameron Large getting the 1st and 1st half of the second period, and Prince George's local hockey product, Marcus Beesley finishing the rest. Large finished the game with 10 saves, while Beesley made 11.

Your 3 stars of the night:

  • PG's Paul De Jersey 1 Goal and 3 Assists
  • DC's Carter Page 2 Goals and 2 Assists
  • PG's Myles Fitzgerald - 2 Goals

When it was all said and done the Spruce Kings offence showed up in a big way finding the back of the net on 8 of their 44 shots on goal while the Rage finished with 5 goals on 25 shots. The game was a physical one form start to finish with both teams landing some hard feel-it-in-the-morning hits. These two teams will have to turn it back on quickly as they will square off Saturday night in Dawson Creek to finish off the home-and-home series. The game unfortunately will not be broadcast, but look to the Spruce Kings twitter and Facebook feeds for out of town updates.

-No cuts were made to the roster after the game and won't likely happen until after the weekend.

-Note for parents and fans who were asking, there will be a live broadcast of the next home exhibition game on Thursday September 15th when the Spruce Kings host the Westside Warriors in a final preseason tuneup.

As always, hope to see you at the rink very soon.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Prince George Spruce Kings/Dawson Creek Rage Preview

The Prince George Spruce Kings are finally getting set to challenge a team in the "Castle" as tonight they will entertain the Dawson Creek Rage from the NAHL. This will be the second time in as many years they will play The Rage in an exhibition game. Last year they played the Rage to a tie in Dawson Creek before picking up a win at home in the final preseason game. This time around the two teams will play in a back-to-back home-and-home series that will be crucial for both teams in finalizing their rosters.

The Spruce Kings currently have 26 players on the roster and will have a few more games before they have to hand in the official 21 man roster. Tonight a few veterans who have already solidified their spots will sit in the press box and watch the action, but most will continue to fight for their jobs. One of the players sitting in the press box tonight will be 6'3" defenceman Sam Waterfield who recently had knee surgery. Waterfield came to the Spruce Kings late last season after playing with the Dawson Creek Rage. This would have marked the first time that Waterfield faced his old friends and team, but unfortunately he is not eligible to return until October 8th.

Three local products will take to the ice for Prince George in a bit of a homecoming. Marcus Beesley is one of three goaltenders who is on the roster, but of course, only two spots are open. Beesley, who is the only goaltender on the roster who didn't play with the team last year, will likely see some ice tonight and tomorrow to show the coaching staff why they should keep him around. Sean Landrey committed to the Spruce Kings after being affiliated with his home town team last year. Another recent signing and a Cariboo Cougars alumni from last year, Jared Crossan will also be in the press box watching the action from a little farther away then he would like to. Aside from the two already mentioned, Jujhar Khaira is another player that won't be donning the crown tonight. Instead Khaira is preparing to don the Canadian Maple Leaf after being invited to try out for Team Canada West and the upcoming 2011 World Junior A Challenge.

It's not known at the moment which players will and will not suit up tonight for Prince George Spruce Kings. That though, is the beautiful thing about preseason hockey. You go to the rink to see what the future holds for you as a fan. You get to see all sorts of line combinations, some that will work, and some you won't see again. You get to see the team as a whole, how they work together, how they answer to the pressure of an in game situation and all the new faces on the roster. Not to mention, you get to see all the siblings this team currently has on the roster (the McHaffie's, the Fitzgeralds and the Chore's).

This home and home series with The Dawson Creek Rage has unofficially been dubbed "The Battle of The North". It's always fun when you get to watch a team that you don't normally get to see, but then add the fact that the unofficial title of "Best Team in The North" is up for grabs, and this game brings bragging rights. Then of course, we go back to having the chance to see a young, new team hit the ice in search of chemistry and identity; all of a sudden this becomes a must see. Both games will start at 7pm, with tonight being at home and tomorrow being played at the Rage's arena, the EnCana Events Centre in Dawson Creek. Unfortunately neither game will be broadcast this weekend, but do keep an eye on the Spruce Kings twitter feed for all the updates and analysis.

Once again, tonight the puck drops at 7pm at the Coliseum. Head to the Castle and support your new look Prince George Spruce Kings. Let's start this 40th Anniversary season off right.

Hope to see you at the rink,
Matt Anthony

Friday, September 2, 2011

Preseason Game vs Merritt Centennials

It might not be "real bullets" but this is the next best thing and an excellent way to gauge what will be the 40th edition of the Prince George Spruce Kings. Looking nothing like recent versions of the team, this incarnation has both size and strength on the back end paired up with skill and speed up front. So far onlookers, evaluators, the coaches and the players themselves have only had each other to compare themselves against but tonight in 100 Mile House the Merritt Centennials will provide a new measure stick for the Spruce Kings.

Currently sitting with a preseason roster of 31 players, this first preseason game will give the Spruce Kings a chance to sit a few veterans, rest a few wary players and more importantly look at a few key prospects and promises for the season ahead. Like a regular season game, the Spruce Kings can only dress 20 players for the game but have elected to submit a roster of 21 with one player to become a game time decision to join the other ten in the stands watching the game in the South Cariboo Recreation Centre.

On that 21 man roster will be the familiar names of Jeff Earnest, Connor Tiechko and Jujhar Khaira. There will also be a few other names that Spruce Kings fans will recognize from their Prince George hockey career like Sean Landrey who dressed as an AP last season, Hayden-James Berra who is the younger sibling of RJay Berra, Jake LeBrun who is the son of NHL'er 2nd Round pick Sean LeBrun, Chase Astorino who helped the Cariboo Cougars to the BCMML finals and Marcus Beesley who played last season with the Nelson Leafs of the KIJHL.

Along with the familiar names comes the new names that the Spruce Kings traded for in the off-season with Ben Matthews and Dylan Tappe both coming from the Trail Smoke Eaters. A handful of players that were signed in the off-season will also see action in 100 Mile House including the McHaffie twins, Scott and Spencer, Cody Bardock, Skylar Pachecko and 16 year old Michael Klonarakis. There are also a few names that have survived through the grueling training camp that the Spruce Kings staff want to see play in a game scenario; Eric and Patrick Chore, Colby Braaten, Karan Toor and the young goaltender, Robert Friesen who is the sone of Spruce Kings alumni Rob Friesen (RMJHL 1994-1996).

The final name on that 21 player roster is Mattia Bortolotto and the Spruce Kings are wondering if the last five letters in his name will pay off after the 18 year old defenceman from San Mateo California was released by the Cougars earlier in the week. Looking good in practice through the week, Bortolotto will now get a chance to show what he can do in a game situation along with the rest of the cast of players set to represented the Crown in the neutral site game against the Merritt Centennials.

The Centennials are in the same position as the Spruce Kings after reducing down their preseason roster earlier in the week. The Cents will go with a mixed roster of returning vets and promising young prospects. Click here for a PDF copy of the team's 21 player roster. Game time is 7pm from the South Cariboo Recreation Centre in 100 Mile House. The local radio station will be providing play-by-play coverage but it is not clear at this time if that broadcast will be available for fans in Prince George or Merritt to listen to. The Spruce Kings will be providing information from the game on the Spruce Kings twitter feed which streams on the Spruce Kings website.