Monday, February 20, 2012

Passion, Dedication and Commitment ... Thank You!

"Thank you" just doesn't seem like enough after seeing the Coliseum filled to capacity (and quite possibly beyond capacity), but when you're still in awe 24 hours after the fact that's all I've got. Thank yous go out to the fans that came out in full force Saturday night, the volunteers that tried to keep everything organized and functioning smoothly, the players for dealing with the nerves that come from playing on a large stage. The biggest thank yous have to be reserved for those in the corporate community that made this a reality.

It all started with the Save On Foods locations in Prince George coming on board early in the season as corporate supporters of the Prince George Spruce Kings. The sponsorship grew from the sign on the outside of the press box and the official discount supplier of Spruce Kings tickets to the intangible component of passionate event promoter. The highlight of that passion was seen this past weekend with the capacity crowd on hand for the game and truck shootout.

Sponsorships come in many forms and take on different roles within the Spruce Kings organization and as an organization, I can tell you that the Spruce Kings welcome input and ideas from those that want to provide support for the club. There are some sponsors who are quite happy to provide advertising dollars for the display of their business and others who like to contribute with the exchange of goods and services. There are also those that develop a sense of ownership and a deep desire to see the team succeed.

Save On Foods, and Overwaitea before that, have been a part of our community for over 50 years. During that time they have developed deep roots in Prince George and operate with a focus on representing the community they serve. One of the first things they did was to offer a discounted ticket option for Spruce Kings regular season games. The Save On Foods Family Ticket Voucher is available for $20 and provides admission for up to six people to one regular season game. That by itself is huge as it provides a discount of $4 on the walk-up prize of adult tickets, and four more people can still come in on the same voucher.

Save On Foods decided to take their involvement to another level and wanted to have a Save On Foods to recognize their staff. From there the idea started to go viral and led to the truck shootout contest that we saw in the second intermission with two fans getting a chance to win a Dodge Ram SLR 1500 truck from Northland Dodge and the Northland Auto Group. Hub International/Barton's Insurance came on board with the required insurance. Also joining the party was Pepsi, the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group and the Prince George Citizen.

The buzz created around the Save On Foods night is nothing short of awesome and it hasn't been confined within the bowl either. The Spruce Kings have been receiving messages congratulating the team on its attendance numbers and the overall atmosphere from around the BCHL. So why stop there? The management group of the four Save On Foods in Prince George certainly isn't thinking that their work here is done. They are planning something for the final weekend of the regular season and the double header against the Penticton Vees on March 9th and 10th.

Before I close off this post, let me just make it official and thank the management and staff of all four locations of Save On Foods in Prince George. The management team consists of Brian Gandy - Spruceland, David Blackmore - Parkwood Place Downtown, Mike Jakabowski - College Heights and Richard Bullen - Hart Highway. Your passion for the game and commitment to the Spruce Kings is greatly appreciated by all of us!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Tough 3rd Period Leaves a Sour Taste

Their was good news and bad news coming out of tonight's game. The good, over 2100 fans took in the contest, a capacity crowd. The bad, they unfortunately were not able to witness the Spruce Kings seventh win in a row. The crowd was buzzing for the start of the contest, both for the chance to see the Spruce Kings, as well, everyone in attendance had a chance to go home with a brand new truck. The anticipation was at a maximum, and the first period did not disappoint as number 9 in your program opened up the scoring against his former club with a filthy goal. His brother Myles would add the only assists, and the crowd was quickly showed just how talent these bunch of players can be.

The lead would only last for about seven minutes though as the games eventual first star, Brenden Forbes, put a puck past Kirk Thompson that he most certainly wanted back. It was a dirty goal, but the Clippers didn't care, they were on the board. Two minutes later though, Jarryd Ten Vaanholt would intercept a clearing attempt and score an even filthier goal that Leo Fitzgerald did earlier. All in all, it was an entertaining period of hockey that saw the Spruce Kings as the aggressors.

The second period didn't see any goals scored, but it saw a ton of penalties and chippy play from both sides. It was apparent that neither team wanted to give up the lone contest of the season to the other. But, it was the Clippers who proved to want it more in the third. Not only did the score the only goals of the period, they carried most of the play, attacking from all angles. The tying goal and the eventual game winners came just 1:58 apart, as Graeme McCormick and Mason Blacklock helped pushed the Clippers to victory.

It was a disappointing end to a game that had so much buzz around it. The trucks were not given away, as the fans missed on the shoot to win, and the Kings came up empty handed. A big amount of the credit should go to Nanamio's defensive play and game plan tonight. IN their own zone, the entire Clipper squad constantly had active sticks that were breaking up passes and shots. In the Spruce Kings zone, they were often found cycling the puck and creating good scoring opportunities while wearing down Prince George. AS the game went on, you could see that the Spruce Kings were fatigued from the Clippers hard work and from the emotional win they endured just last night. Credit Nanamio's goaltender Bill Faust as well, as he stood tall when they needed him to be.

For a complete recap of the box score and to see the three stars, click here

Next Up:

The Spruce Kings now have all week to think over this loss and get prepared for a 3 game road trip. Next weekend they will face Westside, Salmon Arm and Penticton over a three day period. Thanks again to all the fans who helped make tonight a sell out crowd. Go Spruce Kings

"Tip, Tac, Toe"

Going into the game, both teams talked about the playoff atmosphere they were anticipating. By the time the game came to a close, everyone was talking about the playoff atmosphere that we all just experienced. It was one of the best games we've seen this season at the Castle as the Spruce Kings topped the Chiefs 4-3 in overtime. The game was played in front of over 1000 Prince George faithful, all of which were rocking all night long. Although it didn't start out all roses for the Spruce Kings.

The first period started a way we hadn't seen yet this season, as Ben Woodley was in the box before the puck was even dropped. It was eventually announced that Woodley had left the ice too late after warm up and was accessed a minor. The Chiefs took full advantage of this, scoring 36 seconds in to take the early lead. Derek Huisman was given the official marker as he took a feed on top of Swabb and made no mistake. Prince George wasn't ready to lay down that easy though, as they carried the play soon after the goal and began pressing and challenging Chiefs goaltender Mitch Gillam. I took 10 minutes, but Michael Colantone eventually put home a Jarryd Ten Vaanholt pass on the power play to make it 1-1. The period would end that way with the shots 16-8 in favour of the Spruce Kings.

The second period didn't see any goals exchanged, but it did see plenty of fine end to end action. But the third period was a completely different story as the play and teams were blown wide open. Michael Colantone would score his second power play goal of the game to help the Spruce Kings take their first lead of the game. The Chiefs worked quickly though to end that, as Trevor Hills scored just 5 seconds later to make the game even once again. It would stay this way until the 9 minute mark as Jarryd Ten Vaanholt, the games eventual first star, scored Prince George's first even strength goal of the game. It would be Ten Vaanholt's 3rd point of the night as he was easily the best Spruce King skater.

Things would get even more wild with about 6 minutes left as Michael Colantone was hauled down on a short handed breakaway. The building was buzzing as Colantone stepped up at centre to take the penalty shot, but they would quickly be sat down as he lost control of the puck and Gillam made an easy save. 39 seconds later, the Spruce Kings fans would have even less to cheer about as Derek Huisman scored his 2nd of the night on the power play. Then, with 1:30 left in the period, Chiefs defencemen Matthew Hutchinson took a holding penalty to put the Kings a man up. They couldn't do anything with it during the 3rd, but they took that momentum with them into overtime.

After a quick break, both teams hit the ice, 4 Spruce Kings and 3 Chiefs. Pg would add a few chances, but the man advantage proved in affective for the first time in the game. Luckily for the 1056 in attendance, it didn't matter as Gerry Fitzgerald would send them home happy after redirecting home a Ben Matthews pass. It was a play that we dubbed in the booth “Tip, Tac, Toe” and it would help lift the Spruce Kings to victory, but more importantly give them 2 points more in the standings.

At the start of the contest, Todd and I talked about how we thought this had all the makings of for a “game of the year” candidate. Luckily for ourselves and the fans, that's exactly what we got. Both goaltenders made some fine saves with Gillam ending up facing 43 pucks. Both teams had some fancy work in the offensive zone and both threw their weight around. The bottom line, these are two very evenly matched teams across the board, and it's a treat to watch

To recap tonight's game with the official box score and to check out the Three Stars, click here

Next Up:

The Spruce Kings will now turn around and get set to host the Nanamio Clippers tomorrow night. The game is a big one for fans as the Spruce Kings and Save on Foods will be attempting to give away a truck during the second intermission. So make sure to get down to the Castle for 7pm. If you can't, then be sure to listen in with myself and Todd for FREE on our Ustream channel

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Clean Sweep

The Prince George Spruce Kings headed out on the road for three games this weekend starting with a double header in Trail and then a Sunday afternoon game in Salmon Arm. Before the first puck dropped the Spruce Kings knew they were five points back of the Merritt Centennials for 2nd place in the Interior Division with two games in hand. When the final buzzer sounded, the Spruce Kings had completed the weekend sweep playing both of their games in hand on Merritt and taking over second place in the Interior Division.

Gerry Fitzgerald scored two game winners and set up the third
as the Spruce Kings swept their weekend set

The weekend started out in Trail against the Smoke Eaters. Zack Rassell had the Spruce Kings on the board first; the Smoke Eaters were able to tie it up before the end of the first but that would be as close as they would come. Gerry Fitzgerald scored the eventual game winning goal 47 seconds into the second period. Jujhar Khaira scored both of Prince George's goals in the third period including an empty netter to get the Spruce Kings a 4-1 win.

On night number two and with the Merritt Centennials sitting idle scoreboard watching, the Trail Smoke Eaters opened the scoring on the powerplay. It would take almost five minutes before the Spruce Kings would tie it up, but they did exactly that with Gerry Fitzgerald's first of two in the opening period at the 9:00 mark. Myles Fitzgerald gave the Spruce Kings the lead with an unassisted tally at 13:12 and Gerry Fitzgerald scored the game winner at 17:49.

The Trail Smoke Eaters would not go away and would not let the Spruce Kings nurse their lead. After a scoreless second period, the Smokies scored a short handed tally in the first minute of the third period. Jujhar Khaira answered that goal back to re-establish the two goal lead and the eventual 4-2 win for the sweep of the double header in Trail.

After the game, the Spruce Kings hit the road for Vernon getting in just after 3 in the morning. With a long bus ride behind them, the players got as much sleep as they could before heading to Salmon Arm for their third game in as many days. Over the years in the BCHL, three game road trips are not uncommon for the Spruce Kings but coming home with a winning record is. In their 17 season history in the premiere junior league in Canada, the Spruce Kings have brought home 5 points out of a possible 6 only twice before - in 2004 and 2006.

The Spruce Kings wouldn't start writing their own history until after they found themselves down 1-0 at 6:47 of the first period. Sixteen seconds later the player that wears jersey 16 for Prince George led his team's top line down the ice and completed the play that tied the game at 1. Jujhar Khaira scored his 27th goal of the season with assists to Paul De Jersey and Michael Colantone. Less than a minute later a pair of former Silverbacks combined to give the Spruce Kings a lead they would not relinquish when Jarryd Ten Vaanholt scored the first of his three on the night off a Paul De Jersey rebound.

Before the first period was done the Fitzgerald triplets put themselves on the score sheet with the goal that would stand up as the game winner from Leo, Myles and Gerry Fitzgerald. It was more of the same in the second period as the Spruce Kings converted on back to back powerplay chances to open a 5-1 lead on goals from Paul De Jersey and Gerry Fitzgerald. For De Jersey the goal was his BCHL leading 40th of the season. Myles Fitzgerald would complete the Fitzgerald hat trick as all three brothers scored in the game, Myles goal coming at 9:55 of the second period. That gave the Spruce Kings a 6-1 lead after two periods of play.

Jarryd Ten Vaanholt ended a goal scoring lull that lasted over 13 minutes when he scored an unassisted goal at 3:08 of the third period and would complete the hat trick for himself with his third of the night at 7:56. The Salmon Arm Silverbacks, who had opened the scoring, would also score the game's last goal but that would be as close as they would come.

The Spruce Kings 8-2 win, their fifth in a row and their 27th on the season, propelled the team past the Merritt centennials in to second place in the Interior Division with 60 points (27-17-2.4). The Spruce Kings, with ten games remaining in the regular season, return home for a pair this weekend against the Chilliwack Chiefs Friday night and the Nanaimo Clippers Saturday night. Both games are expected to be well attended with the game Saturday expected to draw the largest crowd the Coliseum has seen in recent years.

The BCHL Championship trophy, the Fred Page Cup, will be on display at the Coliseum for both games and on Saturday night there will be a chance for two fans to win a pickup truck each in a promotion put on by Save On Foods, Northland Dodge and Hub International. For more information, contact the Spruce Kings office at 250.564.1747.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Stretch Drive

and Weekend Preview

With just 13 games remaining in the regular season it is safe to say that the Prince George Spruce Kings are well into their stretch drive towards the playoffs and, knock on wood, their first appearance in the post season in three seasons. With the team on the road for a double header this weekend against the Trail Smoke Eaters and a Sunday matinee affair in Salmon Arm before returning home, six points would be a nice touch.

I've already knocked on wood, but to be sure I'll do it again before previewing three games against teams that the Spruce Kings not only have a winning record against but an undefeated record against. A year ago it was the Spruce Kings that found themselves where there opponents are now and for a few on the roster they also remember how important it was for morale to go out and look for wins where they weren't otherwise found.

The Spruce Kings will have to be focused on the task at hand starting with the puck drop at 7:30pm Friday night in the Cominco Arena and the first of two in a row against the Trail Smoke Eaters. The Smokies may find themselves on the bottom rung of the Interior Division ladder, but they have been performing at a better than .500 pace since reeling off back to back 5-4 overtime wins against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks and the Surrey Eagles. They also picked up wins against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs and the Chilliwack Chiefs to start off the month of February before dropping a 3-1 decisions to the Vernon Vipers earlier this week.

One of the players that has been leading the Smoke Eaters of late is former Spruce Kings forward, Connor Tiechko. After starting the season in Prince George, Tiechko finds himself playing a prominent role for the underdogs this weekend but appears to have gained his confidence and scoring edge. With the Spruce Kings last season, Tiechko scored 13 goals and 13 assists in 58 games and after starting this season with only one assist in six games, Tiechko has equaled his goal output of 13 in just 31 games and also has 16 assists, good for second on the team scoring with the Smoke Eaters.

After the double header on Friday and Saturday nights in Trail, the Spruce Kings will head over to Salmon Arm for their seventh meeting of the season against the Silverbacks. Coming off back-to-back losses in Prince George last weekend and getting a scheduling favour with Saturday night, this game could be the most important of the weekend set. The Silverbacks feel that they were a few posts and some bad luck away from a better outcome in their games against Prince George. With the recent memory of playing them and being fresh themselves, the Silverbacks can be expected to come out fast and hard against a road weary team Sunday afternoon.

Although the Spruce Kings matchup favourably in every stat, they can't let that become a crutch for them this weekend with points at a premium. Currently sitting five points back of the Merritt Centennials, Prince George will end up playing both of their games in hand that they have on the Cents. The Merritt Centennials will be in Vernon to take on the Vipers on Friday night in a game that has a significant impact on the Spruce Kings desire to maintain or improve on their current position in the Interior Division.

Before the team headed out on the road for this road trip, I did catch up with the team's General Manager and talked a little bit about the season so far and the portion still remaining. I asked Mike Hawes to talk about the season so far and what lays ahead for the Prince George Spruce Kings.

download audio file

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Spruce Kings Want A Victory For The Vees

Penticton Vees have the Spruce Kings blessings
as they go for 30 consecutive wins

On Tuesday February 7th 2012, the Penticton Vees are poised to complete the formidable task of reeling off 30 consecutive wins and they have the backing of the Prince George Spruce Kings even though the team's General Manager has a connection to the original record set back in the 1989-1990 season. Mike Hawes was playing for the New Westminster Royals to start the season that saw a talent heavy squad run the table through the better part of season and collect two points from 29 straight opponents.

As Mike Hawes told me in this interview, it wasn't an easy task back then and it certainly can't be thought of being any easier this time around with the Penticton Vees equaling that record and now poised to go one better. There is expected to be a packed house at the Prospera Centre, home to the Chilliwack Chiefs and the site of this historic game. No matter the outcome, it will be historic either for the Penticton Vees who will set the new record or for the Chilliwack Chiefs who will be known as the giant slayers, doing something 29 teams before them couldn't do.

In 47 games, the Penticton Vees have only lost 3 times in regulation time and twice more in overtime. One of those overtime losses was at the hands of the Prince George Spruce Kings in the Coliseum, the other overtime loss was to the Merritt Centennials and that was the last time the Vees lost a game this season. The three regulation time losses were to the Vernon Vipers, Trail Smoke Eaters and the Chilliwack Chiefs; so you know the team formerly known as the Quesnel Millionares believe that they can find that magic formula again and do what has seemingly become the impossible.

The game takes on an interesting perspective for the Prince George Spruce Kings and especially for Mike Hawes. As mentioned, the Spruce Kings General Manager has a connection to the existing record but more importantly there is a little more at stake in the game for Hawes. The Chilliwack Chiefs are currently three points back of the Prince George Spruce Kings with a game in hand - the game being played tonight. A Chiefs loss and the Spruce Kings maintain their pace over their rivals and can head out on the road with a little breathing room.

A Vees win and of course the legend of the Interior Division Juggernaut will grow. So I had to ask Mike Hawes which way he was leaning in this big game and he gives us the answer after he talks a little bit about the 1989-1990 New Westminster Royals and his small role on that team.

download audio file

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Make That Six in a Row VS. Salmon Arm

Tonight the Spruce Kings had a task in front of them that they had failed to accomplish two weekends in a row. Against Chilliwack and Vernon the two previous weekends, they would win the first game, but then lose the next night at the Castle. Heading into tonight, it's a thought that was on many people's minds, could they topple Salmon Arm again? The difference between the other two squads and this one? It's a team they had beaten 5 times already this season. It's a team that they had outscored 20-9 through those 5 games. And it's a team, that would help them get over the hump tonight.

The first period was an explosion of offence for the Spruce Kings as they scored goals fast and furiously. Myles Fitzgerald started things off 2 minutes in as he and his brothers moved in on a three on one. Latrell Charleson would add the only assist on the opening goal. Just over 2 minutes later Jarryd Ten Vaanholt would convert on a beautiful passing play started off by Ben Matthews and Ben Woodley. It was a highlight reel goal that got the Castle rocking and Salmon Arm scratching their heads for an answer. Unfortunately for them, while they were looking for a way out of this mess, Paul De Jersey was going to work, adding his league leading 39th goal of the season. His line mates Jujhar Khaira and Michael Colantone would each get a point on the play, and that would take us into our first break.

The second period saw the Silverbacks come out with a purpose as they caught the Spruce Kings sleeping. Garrett Hendrickson would get the first Salmon Arm tally 2 minutes in, after some nice work from Mike Berry and Jeff Kennedy. It seemed that the Silverbacks were primed and ready for a comeback, but then the Spruce Kings would provide what we named in the broadcast booth, the crowning moment of the game. Zack Rassell stepped out of the box after serving a 5 minute major for fighting and raced into the Silverbacks zone. He would then steal the puck and find a streaking Jarryd Ten Vaanholt who would put home his 2nd of the night. It was the hard work and hustle of Rassell that made the play, and although it didn't go down as the game winner, it did halt the Silverbacks early momentum. Brendan Kennedy and Jujhar Khaira would trade goals for each side before the end of the period.

The third started out in favour of the Spruce Kings this time, as Myles Fitzgerald would score his 2nd of the hockey game. Morgan Zulinick would add two power play markers to make things a little interesting towards the end, but there was no mistaking which team was the better on the ice tonight. With the win, the Spruce Kings move their season series record versus the Silver backs to 6-0. They have out scored the Silverbacks in those 6 games 26-13.

When it was all said and done, we saw a lot of the same from the Spruce Kings that we've seen throughout the season. When they are on, they can put up points and goals like mad men. They can paint a master piece on the ice when all the cylinders are firing. But, they did have a few different alert signals pop back up. They seemed to take their foot off of the gas pedal for a bit in the second period, which didn't hurt them tonight, but it is something that you cannot do against the Penticton's of the league. Also, Kirk Thompson made some fine saves tonight, but a few of the goals he most certainly wants back. But at the end of the day, a win is a win and lessons can be taken to move forward with. They have 13 games left in the regular season, and as Todd and myself said during the broadcast, they control their own destiny at this point.

To read the official box score of tonight's game, click here

Next Up:

The Spruce Kings will now get ready for three in a row on the road next weekend against Trail and Salmon Arm. It should also be noted that the Chilliwack Chiefs lost to Trail tonight, so the Spruce Kings now have a 3 point lead for third place in the division. Chilliwack has a game in hand, but that game will be played against the high flying Vees. Enjoy the week, we'll be back with you Friday to get yo set for the divisional weekend.