Thursday, June 28, 2012

Getting To Know: Brad Ryan

Brad Ryan (2) is a big defenceman at 6'5" 210lbs

Brad Ryan is a newly acquired defenceman that will be making it difficult for the opposition to get in and setup in the Spruce Kings zone. The twenty year old from Mississauga Ontario was acquired in a trade with the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League where he had spent the previous three seasons earning a reputation as a big strong defenceman with an offensive upside.

And he is big standing 6' 5" before he puts on his skates and weighing 210 pounds. In his first year, Ryan earned a roster spot on a team that was considered very deep and very talented; going on to compete in the RBC Royal Bank Cup in Dauphin Manitoba.

During his time with the Blades Ryan played in 95 regular season games and 34 post season games picking up a combined total of 3 goals, 56 assists and 223 minutes in penalties. Now in his last year of junior eligibility Ryan is looking to make an impression with a NCAA program and the opportunity couldn't be better for him.

With the likes of Ben Matthews and Ben Woodley graduating and Chase Golightly moving onto the collegiate ranks himself, there are a few key vacancies to be filled on the blue line. Perhaps with his size and his puck moving abilities the transition from last year's defensive core to this year's will be seamless.

Brad Ryan seems to think so as he told me in a phone interview. I was able to talk to him about what he knows of the BCHL and the Spruce Kings and also what he knows about himself.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Building On Success

Building on the success of last season won't be an easy task for Spruce Kings General Manager Mike Hawes, but it is a challenge that he is looking forward to. This past season saw the Spruce Kings enjoying success both on and off the ice. The team maintained a top four positioning in the Interior Division throughout the year and saw a number of players find personal success as well.

From scholarships and individual league awards to a NHL Draft pick, there are many highlights to the 2011-12 season. As a team, the fondest memory may be of the March 10, 2012 game played in front of a sold out crowd in the Coliseum. On this night the Spruce Kings did what so many before could not do - end the Penticton Vees epic winning streak that spanned the previous 42 games. That one win became the exclamation mark on a season that brought back the passion of the game to the hockey fans of Prince George.

Spruce Kings celebrated a 5-2 win over the Penticton Vees
on March 10, 2012 in front of a sold out Coliseum
(photo courtesy LG Photography)

When the season started there wasn't huge expectations but rather a lot of hope and wishful thinking. As the season wore on and the wins continued to be tallied up, the Spruce Kings fans became a lot more vocal and started rallying behind their team. The excitement and anticipation of a game could be felt all over the city. Appreciation of the hard working lunch bucket ethic could be heard in the appreciative sounds of fans sitting on the edge of their seats in the friendly confines of the Coliseum.

Only one player had a NCAA Division I scholarship when the season started and that was Jujhar Khaira who had committed to Michigan Tech for the 2012-13 season when he was just a sixteen year rookie. As the season progressed others started getting their calls to collegiate hockey starting with Khaira's linemates - Paul De Jersey (Providence College 2012-13) and Michael Colantone (University of Massachusetts-Lowell 2012-13).

After the season came to an end on the ice, three more players committed to NCAA hockey programs for the 2012-13 season including Chase Golightly (Robert Morris University) who still had a year of eligibility with the Spruce Kings. Jarryd Ten Vaanholt went with Elmira College and Ben Matthews to the University of Alaska-Anchorage.

The turnaround on the ice led to some noteable achievements off the ice. Perhaps none more significant than the BCHL scoring title being won by the stellar if not shocking offensive numbers put up by Paul De Jersey. Maintaining well over a point a game average after kicking around the BCHL in previous years also led De Jersey being named the Interior Conference MVP.

The Spruce Kings had four players in the top 20 among the League leading scorers led by De Jersey (41G, 57A, 98Pts). Jujhar Khaira was the top 17 year old player and 10th overall in the League with 79 points (29G, 50A). Michael Colantone was only a few spots behind at 14th with 74 points (33G, 41A). Rounding out the top twenty was Jarryd Ten Vaanholt (31G, 36A, 67Pts).

Of course the highlight for personal achievement had to be the third round selection of Jujhar Khaira by the Edmonton Oilers as the 63rd overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Khaira becomes the second Spruce Kings player to be drafted directly from the club after Brad Fast held the honour from 1999 when he was selected 84th overall in the 3rd round by the Carolina Hurricanes.

So who now will fill those vacancies and lead the Spruce Kings offensively, defensively and even off the ice during the 2012-13 season? That is a question that only a full season can answer but one thing is for sure, there are a number of candidates already preparing to make an impact while wearing the crown. Their first chance comes up at the August during the team's main camp that runs August 24-26th at the Coliseum.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Jujhar Khaira: The Story of Determination

The Edmonton Oilers drafted Jujhar Khaira
63rd overall in the 3rd round

This past weekend was the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and as expected our very own Jujhar Khaira was able to realize a long time goal for himself and in the process has reinvigorated the Spruce Kings faithful with a renewed passion for the team. New and old fans alike over the past two seasons have watched this young man continually excel both on and off the ice. When you thought he had reached a new pinnacle of success he was on his way to another.

Playing the game he loved, Jujhar achieved star power with the Spruce Kings and the Edmonton Oilers feel they struck it rich with a player that flew under the radar. That might be an understatement knowing that he was overlooked by every Major Midget and Major Junior team as a fifteen year old.

They say things happen for a reason and this was one of those things. Besides being passionate about hockey, Jujhar is also very focused on education. The Spruce Kings and indeed the BCHL have long sung the praises of pursuing the collegiate route when it comes to the game of hockey. Having the opportunity to play in the premiere junior 'A' league in all of Canada also provided Jujhar with the opportunity to receive a NCAA Division I scholarship.

That happened for the young man just over a month into his rookie season as a sixteen year old. The accolades didn't end there as WHL teams started courting the young man to determine his level of commitment to the Spruce Kings and the education route - turns out that commitment was unwavering.

Jujhar showed an unmatched level of determination to be better than he was even the game before. He would continually set goals for himself and do what needed to be done to meet and exceed those expectations. While the World Junior A Challenge was going on in 2010, I remember Jujhar asking me why he wasn't playing in that event. It was obvious that was where his sights were set.

He was selected to represent Team Canada West in the 2011 WJAC held just minutes from his home in Langley, BC. The team went on to win gold and as precious as that medal was, the biggest source of pride came from wearing and getting to keep his Team Canada hockey jersey. After that his next goal was to make the most out of his seventeen year old season and his first year of draft eligibility.

While away at the WJAC, his scoring numbers dropped as he missed a handful of games. When he returned his goal was to climb back up that ladder and be the best seventeen year old in the League ... he achieved that goal as well. Jujhar was so focused at being the best that on many nights he outplayed the 18, 19 and 20 year old players on the ice. It was that work ethic that resonated with the fans in the stands that included NHL scouts on many nights.

Now that Jujhar has achieved his goal of hearing his name called in the NHL Entry Draft, I can safely say that his next goal will be to play his first NHL game. I don't see him letting that date be too far away and he will do whatever it is to get there. He will work exceptionally hard at his next stop on the path to fully realizing his dreams ... I just hope that is at Michigan Tech with the Huskies, but that is something for another blog.

It has been interesting over the course of the past few days to see the pictures, watch the videos and read the articles on Jujhar Khaira, a simple Google search will pull up a few pages of results. I have included one here that I was unaware of previously but sums up Jujhar from the perspective of a hockey fan in Prince George ... thank you Ben Berland.

The story of Jujhar Khaira is a tale of never giving up and making the most of your opportunity.

Khaira came to the Prince George camp in 2010 as a result of a Spruce Kings scout who insisted they take a look. The Kings likely thought at best they would give the kid a taste of a junior A camp, send him back to Tier 2 Midget hockey and try again in a year.

Like many, my first thoughts of this young lad were, "too small, too slow, and not strong enough." That was in the fall of 2010 watching him at PG Spruce Kings main camp, as he skated about the ice with a wide track stance, some touch around the net, and a relentless determination. At the time, I thought that determination would not make up for the lack of size and strength. Boy was I wrong.

After two days, Khaira was signed to a card and didn't have to make the trip back down south. Good news for a kid who was never once considered for a spot on a lower mainland BC Major Midget Hockey League squad. His story of being passed over is eerily reminiscent of another BC player, Cam Neely. Perhaps the Kings took a look at his father's size (6'4"), his athletic background (talented volleyball player when younger), and decided to give 6' Khaira a chance. Perhaps they saw the determination and saw a player who totally wants the puck on every shift, particularly in the big moments of a game, but is totally a team player.

The young man drafted by the Oilers 63rd overall, became a player in the short two seasons with the Spruce Kings. The Kings play in the BC Junior Hockey League, which is considered by many to be one of the top Junior A leagues in Canada. To play in Prince George is somewhat of a struggle as your nearest opponent is a mere 7 hour bus ride away. If you are going to play here, you must be committed.

The next time I saw Khaira was March 9 2012 as the Kings were trying to stop the juggernaut known as the Penticton Vees and their 42 game winning streak (As my luck would have it, they would break the streak the next night when I wasn't there.)

Khaira was now 6'2", and a runaway freight train. His real strength is on the fore check, in which he uses both his size and his skating ability to the max. Although he doesn't possess incredible foot speed, his read and react skills are excellent, which can be an exceptional hockey skill to have (easier to teach foot speed than read and react particularly with older players).Wide track skater that reminds me of Kent Nilsson (for all you old timers out there), or Milan Lucic. Has good stickhandling skills and prefers to play the role of playmaker more than shooter. Shooting is excellent, and will shoot when needed, but prefers the pass.

The game I saw, he played in all situations and was put out particularly when the Kings started in their own zone. His real strength is in the offensive zone, but he can play all three zones sufficiently. Mentally, Khaira has an exceptional mind that seems to master new skills, tactics, and systems very quickly. He is a player who can fit into any system and master it quickly.

Sources tell me that he is an exceptional student in school, and an exceptional young man off the ice. I think he is the kind of kid who would stay in college for the full four years, but would consider a jump to the pros if the right situation presented itself.

Locals have commented that many a night, many NHL scouts were in Prince George (can't figure out any other reason for them to be here), and many of them were quite impressed with Khaira. Locally, the other players that come to mind when comparing Khaira, are Brett Connolly (Tampa Bay) and Ryan Howse (Calgary Flames system). Personally I see a high water mark of someone like Dave Bolland of Chicago, or a low water mark of Darcy Hordichuk. Khaira has the type of determination, adaptability, and work ethic to make the jump to the Oilers one day and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he did.

My only beef is that they next time I go to watch Khaira play; it will cost me more than $12!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Howse Guest

Time for another one of those archived newspaper clippings about Spruce Kings alumni on the verge of going pro. The interesting thing about this one is that it actually covers two former players - Ryan Howse (2006-2007) and Mike Lalonde (1998-2001). These two players share a unique bond despite never wearing the Spruce Kings jersey at the same time. Steve Ewen of the Province discovered that connection in October of 2008.

Alumni Ryan Howse had an interesting connection with the
team before ever putting on the crown himself.

Howse Guest

by Steve Ewen, The Province Newspaper

Long before he was a Chilliwack Bruins sniper, Ryan Howse had a gig in junior hockey. His family billeted players from the BCHL's Prince George Spruce Kings.

Principal among them was Mike Lalonde, 27, now a left winger with the ECHL's Stockton Thunder who lived with Howse's family for two years, the last in 2000-01.

"Ry was a riot and only wanted to play hockey outside or on PlayStation, but was very respectful," Lalonde remembers of Howse, 17. "I am sure he would have wanted to play in the driveway a lot more but his mom wouldn't let him ask me. Roxanne wouldn't let him bug me on game days but most times I was out there, playing goalie for him and his friends.

"I never knew he was what he was until after I finished school and he was a big deal in the Prince George minor hockey system. I always knew he loved the game, and I think he always will and will play pro someday if he keeps working."

Lalonde, a Chetwynd native, went on to play at Michigan State University. He still spends a couple of weeks every summer with Howse and his family, part of preparations for the hockey season.

And he checks out the WHL website regularly. He has to like what he's seeing this year from Howse, Chilliwack's first-ever draft pick, the third overall choice in the 2006 bantam draft after a 108-goal season.

Howse heads into tonight's visit from the Kelowna Rockets (Prospera Centre, 7 p.m., 88.1 FM) with five goals and one assist in six games. That comes after counting 10 goals and 17 points in 54 games as a rookie last season.

Six of those goals came in the final 21 games, when he started to get shifts on Chilliwack's top two lines.

"Coming in as a 16-year-old, you don't know what to expect," says Howse, who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds. "It was a shock to me not scoring, not touching the puck a lot.

"Towards the end of the year, I started playing with Oscar Moller and Mark Santorelli and Brandon Campos. You get the puck a lot with them. I got used to it and this year I felt so confident coming in because I had a great finish last year."

Howse won't play with Campos this year, who graduated from the WHL at the end of last season. He likely won't line up with Moller and Santorelli, either, since both are catching on with pro teams.

The good news in that? He'll get ice time galore, and, with this his NHL draft season, it's the ideal time to get that shot.

Lalonde will pay close attention to that NHL interest. He admits to thinking about the chance of playing with or against Howse in the pro ranks.

"Hopefully, he doesn't have to spend anytime in the ECHL," says Lalonde. "If we did get to play one another I am sure we would have a little brotherly rivalry and would want to beat one another. It would definitely be my pleasure to play against the little kid I used to play goalie for in the driveway."

Advice for the NHL Entry Draft

Nick Drazenovic, selected by the St. Louis Blues in 2005
(AP Photo/Paul Connors)

There is an air of nervous excitement around the Spruce Kings right now heading into the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. This weekend all the big brass from the 30 NHL teams will converge on the Consol Energy Center Pittsburgh to call out the names of 211 young hockey players and put them in a position to make their dreams come true.

Two Spruce Kings players are poised to be in that select group - Jujhar Khaira is the highest ranked BCHL'er at 74th among North American Skaters and Paul De Jersey who led the League in points to win the Brett Hull Scoring Title. Both players have been getting a nice share of media attention especially Khaira who was among the 105 invitees to the NHL Draft Combine in Toronto.

There is nothing that anybody can do now for either of those players but wait and see if a NHL team will get up on stage and call out their name. The first selections in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft will be made beginning late Friday afternoon with the Edmonton Oilers currently holding the first overall pick. A total of 30 picks will be made in that first round on Friday night with the remaining selections being made throughout the day Saturday.

It is this second day of the Draft that is the most taxing on players and their families who will be waiting with baited breath for any hint that the name they are waiting to hear gets called. One Prince George player that knows and remembers all to well this process is Nick Drazenovic. I had a chance to speak with Nick recently and I asked him what he remembered about that day the St. Louis Blues called out his name in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

PG Citizen: BCHL Decides 2012-13 Playoff Format

[Spruce] Kings GM Hawes likes his club's chances of joining post-season party

by Sheri Lamb, Citizen staff

Mike Hawes had some satisfaction after the British Columbia Hockey League's annual general meeting.

The Prince George Spruce Kings general manager was content with the decisions made at the meeting in Richmond, June 7-9, including the decision on the new playoff format. Hawes said there was some arguing as each general manager tried to finagle the best for his team but in the end there was compromise.

Tyson Witala leaps to deflect a shot against
the Merritt Centennials during the 2011-12 playoffs

"Everybody knows they need to bend a little bit to help their partner out in the league," said Hawes. "At the end of the day everybody ends up getting a schedule they're fairly content with."

At meetings earlier this year, the BCHL decided to return to three divisions, with the Coastal Conference being split into the Island and Mainland Divisions. The Kings were also transferred from the Interior Conference to the Coastal Conference and will play in the Mainland Division.

No playoff schedule was decided upon until last weekend. In the two Coastal divisions, four of the five teams will qualify for the playoffs, with the top seed facing the fourth seed and the second and third seeds facing off. In the Interior, the top four of the six teams will qualify for the post season.

The two Coastal Divisions will play a best-of-five series in the first two rounds, switching to a best-of seven in the conference final. The playoff between conference winners for the Fred Page Cup will also be a best-of-seven series.

The Interior Conference will have two best-of-seven rounds with the winner advancing to the final.

"We did that just to make sure the number of games potentially played are about the same as what will potentially be coming out of the Okanagan so that the two teams that play in the league finals will have played approximately the same number of playoff games," said Hawes.

If all series were to go the distance, the Coastal finalist would play 17 games with the Interior finalist having played 14.

The league also decided on its 56-game schedule - four less games than last season - including two games that'll be played in Chilliwack at the BCHL's inaugural Showcase Weekend, Sept. 7-9, at Prospera Centre.

"I was happy with the way ours turned out to be honest," said Hawes. "Our home schedule looks really good. We're going to have three Thursday games and three Sunday games and aside from that the rest of our games will be on Fridays and Saturdays at home this year. For us, that's quite a good schedule."

The schedule, pending governor's approval, should be released by the end of June.

Hawes said he also likes the fact the Kings will see more than one team in Prince George on a number of weekends.

"There will be some doubleheaders with the teams from our division coming up, but they'll be a lot of weekend games where we'll get two or three different opponents in," said Hawes. "I prefer it that way.

"I'm not a huge fan of the doubleheaders," he added. "It's always hard for the home team to win both ends of a doubleheader."

The Kings will face their fiercest rival, the Merritt Centennials, when they open the season at the showcase at noon, Saturday, Sept. 8 and then their face new division rival, the Langley Rivermen, in the final game of the event Sunday at 6 p.m.

"That couldn't have worked out any better for us," said Hawes. "If we're going to play anybody it might as well be Merritt, who we had some real tough battles with last year and the team that knocked us out in the playoffs. We shouldn't have any trouble at all getting up for that game."

The Centennials earned a 4-0 sweep of the Kings in the first round of the playoffs in March.

Against their new division rival, the Kings will be looking to get the upper hand on the Rivermen early in the season.

"Not only is it going to be a big event for our players individually, it's also a big event for our team," said Hawes. "Those two games are definitely going to help to get us going and get us ready for our home games the following weekend."

As for the showcase weekend, Hawes said it's been a long time coming for the BCHL, as the other three western leagues have staged the event for several years.

"It's something that I'm definitely happy our league has gone to," he said. "We probably should've gone to it before now."

By having all 16 teams play two games in a single location, it allows scouts from various NCAA schools, and NHL teams, easy access to watch multiple players.

"Our league is heavily scouted as it is so prior to this year we didn't think it was a necessity but moving forward it is definitely something we can use to our advantage," said Hawes about why the BCHL waited so long to implement the showcase. "It maybe took us a little longer to realize that."

Other decisions the GMs made during their weekend get together included scrapping the 15-year-old player rule, increasing the roster from 21 to 22 players, adding a 30-day injury list in addition the the 60-day injury list and continuing to implement Hockey Canada's junior A supplement initiative for another two seasons.

Hawes said last season the league added the 15-year-old draft to gain more exposure for for the young players and the league, but it didn't seem to have the desired effect in drawing more attention.

"We decided, for this year, that we would scrap it and put some thought towards trying something different," said Hawes.

Two years ago, BCHL teams carried 23-man rosters, which was reduced to 21 last season but much to Hawes' delight teams will have an additional body to play with in the 2012-13 season.

"Definitely a good thing," said Hawes. "To me, [21] wasn't a good number to function within. For most teams in the league when you run into injury problems and stuff like that it definitely creates some hardship for teams trying to find players trying to fill their roster."

Hawes said with 22 players teams can each carry an extra forward and an extra defenceman.

The GMs also tweaked the wording on an old rule, which stated each team in the league had to have one 16 year old and one 17 year old player on their roster. The new rule states, "Every team is required to have two players 17 or under."

It gives teams the opportunity to carry two 17 year old players, two 16 year old players or one of each. Hawes said the Kings have traditionally carried at least one 16 year old and he doesn't see that changing.

Already signed by the Kings is 1996-born goaltender Liam McLeod of Kamloops. Hawes said as the Kings' roster sits presently McLeod would work in tandem with 20-year-old veteran Kirk Thompson in the net.

The BCHL board of governors has until June 25 to vote on the 2012-13 schedule.

Hawes doesn't count out Kings hosting Showcase Weekend

The B.C. Hockey League's decision to implement the showcase weekend where scouts from around the NCAA and various professional teams have a one-stop shopping trip to view prospective players could open up opportunities for the Prince George Spruce Kings.

The inaugural showcase weekend will take place in Chilliwack, Sept. 7-9, with each of the 16 teams playing two regular-season games each.

Kings general manager Mike Hawes said he's open to putting in a bid to host the event in the future.

"It's something we can consider but, obviously, being geographically challenged would create a bunch of extra costs within the league for teams to have to travel up," said Hawes. "That being said, I wouldn't rule it out. Who knows? We'll see what the future brings."

The Kings showed they could host multi-team events in 2007 when the Royal Bank Cup was staged in Prince George. In order to host the showcase, a team would need two ice surfaces - preferably at one location.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Spruce Kings Alumni Called Up by the Pittsburgh Penguins

I have been posting a couple of newspaper stories dug up from the archives on former Spruce Kings that were knocking on the doors of pro hockey. Today this story jumped to my attention featuring a Spruce Kings alumni that was called from his NCAA team to become a black ace on a Stanley Cup winning team. Since 2009, when Brad Thiessen first had his taste of the NHL, he has as recently as this past season made headlines around the League posting his first win against the Columbus Blue Jackets and also picked up wins against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets.

Brad Thiessen was acquired by the Prince George Spruce Kings from the Penticton Vees at the trade deadline on January 10, 2005. He played 10 games in the tail end of that season picking up 5 wins and 4 losses. It was the following season that will be forever etched in the Spruce Kings record books, for it was the 2005-06 season that Thiessen really shined in the BCHL and started down the path that would eventually lead to the NHL.

In his 19 year old season, Thiessen played in 36 games for a total of 2058 minutes between the pipes with a goals against average of 2.89 and a save percentage of .925. As impressive as those numbers are, the number that Brad Thiessen owned was for shutouts posting five of them. Three of which came in consecutive games to set a record of 250 minutes of shutout hockey that still stands today in any amateur league.

A year after arriving in Prince George, Brad Thiessen was again the subject of a trade deadline deal that sent him to the Merritt Centennials. Thiessen would not play his last year of eligibility in the BCHL, instead opting to go on to the NCAA ranks with Northeastern University. After his third season with the Huskies, Thiessen signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins as an undrafted free agent and started playing for the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins of the AHL.

This past season was another banner year in the hockey career of this Spruce Kings alumni who has achieved numerous awards and recognition for his contributions on the ice. The memories that this young man has accumulated over the years is nothing short of phenomenal. He shares one of them with Emanuel Sequeira of the Penticton Western News in this article dated June 12, 2012.

Bradley Thiessen, who played in the BCHL with the Spruce Kings,
stops Rick Nash in his NHL debut and first NHL win.

BCHL alumni loved call up with Penguins

by Emanuel Sequeira - Penticton Western News

Bradley Thiessen received congratulations in a surprising way after helping the Pittsburgh Penguins double up the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 on Feb. 26.

"I got shaving cream pie in the face from Kris Letang," said Thiessen, a BCHL alumni, whose career started with the Penticton Panthers/Vees, and also had stops in Prince George and Merritt. "It was after the game and the coach was talking and he came up behind me. They got me good on that one."

The Aldergrove resident, who has spent the last three seasons with the American Hockey League's Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, said the experience was awesome as he made 21 saves.

"It was something that you always work towards. That's the goal is to be able to play in the NHL and be able to get there and play games," said Thiessen, who is 72-37-0-4 with 13 shutouts in the AHL. "Being able to contribute to winning for the team was a lot of fun."

Thiessen liked that his NHL debut against the Blue Jackets was in the afternoon. It didn't allow him the time to sit around and worry about it or think about it all day. He also had his family and fiancé in attendance for support.

"Skating on the ice and hearing the national anthem and all the fans and what not kind of hits you," said Thiessen, who played three years at Northeastern University. "It was pretty cool just to be able to be a part of."

Thiessen admitted to feeling nervous, especially because of who he had wanting to make him look bad.

"It's the NHL and you have Rick Nash coming down on you and other guys like that, it's definitely a little nerve-wracking," he said.

Eventually he felt comfortable and that he belongs in the NHL. Adding to that feeling was playing with the Penguins young studs like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Letang and Jordan Staal.

"You get a lot of good practice with those guys," he said.

As for being around Crosby and Malkin, Thiessen said the best way to describe them is that they are just regular guys. Great teammates who care about the team and fun to be around.

"Having a front row seat from the bench, on the ice and in practice was a great experience," he added. "They are both extremely talented. There would be times during games one of them would do something and you just say, 'Wow' because there are not many players who can do some of the things that they do."

At season's end, Thiessen's future has become uncertain after the recent signing of Tomas Vokoun, acquired from the Washington Capitals to be Marc-Andre Fleury's backup.

"I have to talk to my agent and see what the options are and what direction Pittsburgh is heading," said Thiessen, a restricted free agent. "Vokoun and Fleury are pretty established goalies. Looks like they are set there."

But Thiessen believes he is ready to be a backup. Getting wins under his belt gave him the confidence to believe.

"It would be nice to have the opportunity where I can fight for a spot to play in the NHL," said Thiessen, whose favourite goalie was Felix Potvin growing up and more recently is Fleury.

Monday, June 11, 2012

League Changes

From the British Columbia Hockey League

June 11, 2012

For immediate release:

The British Columbia Hockey League held its annual general meeting in Richmond June 7, 8 and 9 with governors approving a number of changes that will take effect in the coming season.

First, the new BCHL playoff format was officially unveiled. The league goes to a three-division alignment for the 2012-13 season. In the Coastal Conference, which is now made up of the Island Division and Mainland Division, the top four of the five teams in each division will qualify for post-season play (#1 vs. #4, #2 vs. #3). Best-of-five series will be played in each the first two rounds to determine conference finalists and the Coastal Conference final will be a best-of-seven.

In the Interior Conference, which consists of the six-team Interior Division, the top four teams will qualify for post-season play (#1 vs. #4, #2 vs. #3). Two rounds, each a best-of-seven, will be played to determine a conference champion. The Fred Page Cup finals will also be a best-of-seven series.

Alterations to the BCHL regulations were approved with significant changes being that the affiliate draft of 15-year-old players is discontinued, that rosters will now consist of 22 players instead of 21, that coaches are allowed to place an injured player on long-term injured reserve which would free up a spot on the 22-man roster and that penalties are now possible for players with damaged pants.

The Junior A Supplement initiative, begun in the 2010-11 season to curb fighting and checking-from-behind infractions, was also extended for two more seasons. Finally, a sub-committee made up of BCHL coaches was officially approved. This body, which brings concerns from among the league’s coaching ranks to the board of directors, is co-chaired by Mike Vandekamp of Nanaimo and Jason Williamson of Vernon.

Please feel free to contact the league office should you have any questions.

Brent Mutis, BCHL communications director

A Sample of What's to Come

This past weekend the BCHL governors met in Richmond to go over different aspects of the coming season including a day long meeting to put together a schedule. Although all the teams have had their input and have a good idea of what their season will look like, it is only tentative. The League has to go through all of it and look for inconsistencies before sending it back to the teams for final approval before releasing it to the public.

Without getting into specific dates and opponents for games in the season, there are other items that are now known. The BCHL will open the 2012-13 season in Chilliwack with a Showcase event featuring every team playing two regular season games. The Showcase is obviously great for the Chiefs and hockey fans in the Fraser Valley who will get to see every team in the League on September 7, 8 and 9th. It is also good for the League, the teams and the players as the event will attract a large number of scouts looking to get a good sense of the players they should be keeping an eye on through the season.

I have often tried to relay the message that the first few games of the regular season are huge. An early start out of the gate helps to build confidence as the season starts rolling. For rookies or those returnees that started to get noticed at the tail end of the previous season, this becomes an opportunity to serve notice that they are ready to play in the premiere Junior A hockey league in Canada. For those players that may have taken a little too much time off from preparing for the season, it could be the first and last time they get a scout to look at them - it really is all about that first impression.

Spruce Kings fans will get their first impressions of the new team with the start of the team's main training camp on Friday August 24. The camp will feature a short list of players that attended the Spring Camp, returnees from last season and of course some of the new recruits that have been acquired or are about to be acquired through the off-season. The training camp consists of a series of scrimmages along with physical testing conducted by X-Conditioning designed to gauge the strength and conditioning of the players. On Sunday August 26 the main camp will feature the annual Blue and White game where players will get one last chance to show the fans, scouts and coaching staff that they have what it takes to wear the Crown.

Again no specific dates or opponents, but the plans are well underway for the exhibition season. In past years the Spruce Kings have played a home-and-home series against teams from other leagues and the same can be expected this year giving fans a chance to see how their team stacks up against an unfamiliar opponent. The Spruce Kings are also contemplating a neutral site game or two to give the players as much game action as possible leading up to the start of the regular season. As mentioned, the Spruce Kings will start the season on the road at the BCHL Showcase in Chilliwack with a pair of games.

The BCHL has trimmed off four games from its previous 60 game regular season to go with a leaner 56 games. After the pair at the Showcase, the Spruce Kings will have 54 games remaining - 27 of them at home. The BCHL Showcase schedule has been finalized and is now available online here. The Spruce Kings will be playing at noon on Saturday September 8 against the Merritt Centennials and the last game on Sunday at 6pm versus the Langley Rivermen. These games will count against the regular season total number of games but will not count against the formula used to develop the remainder of the schedule.

For the first time since joining the British Columbia Hockey League for the 1996-97 season, Prince George will play out of the Coastal Conference from inside the Mainland Division. Gone are the usual rivals in the Penticton Vees, Vernon Vipers, Salmon Arm Silverbacks, Trail Smoke Eaters, Westside Warriors and Merritt Centennials. Now it will be the Chilliwack Chiefs (formerly the Quesnel Millionaires), Coquitlam Express, Surrey Eagles and Langley Rivermen. Being in the Coastal Conference also means games against the Island Division teams: Nanaimo Clippers, Alberni Valley Bulldogs, Cowichan Valley Capitals, Victoria Grizzlies and Powell River Kings.

The configuration of games is expected to consist of eight games against teams within the Mainland Division and a full interlock with all remaining teams. Four at home and four away against the Chiefs, Eagles, Express and Rivermen for a total of 32 games. That leaves a pair of games, home and away against the remaining eleven teams for a total of 22 games. With the release of the Showcase schedule, the Spruce Kings will play the Merritt Centennials three times and the Langley Rivermen a total of nine times.

The travel schedule and home games are pretty much on par with how they have been in the past; the Spruce Kings will be going on three game road trips and hosting the occasional double header in the Castle. The final weekend of the season is on March 9 and 10th followed by the playoff run that still needs some fine tuning but is expected to consist of a shorter first round in the Coastal Conference. The top four teams from the Mainland Division will meet in the first and second rounds which will both be best of five series. The Coastal Conference Finals will be a best of seven leading up to the BCHL Championship series, again a best of seven, and then the Western Canadian Championship in Nanaimo to determine the Western Region Representative at the RBC Royal Bank Cup.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Adams Ready to Thrash 'em

The next newspaper clipping I found on a Spruce Kings alumni is for Bryan Adams (no it isn't from the Summer of '69) as he was getting ready to start playing professionally with an expansion NHL team - the Atlanta Thrashers. Of course the Thrashers are no longer in Atlanta after the franchise moved north of the border to become the new Winnipeg Jets in 2011. This article is circa 1997 and is presented here as it appeared in the Prince George Citizen.

Former Prince George Spruce King signs two-year deal with expansion Atlanta

by Ted Clarke, Citizen Staff

Don't be surprised if Bryan Adams picks up a bit of a Southern drawl over the next few years; where he's going, that just comes with the territory.

The 22 year old former Prince George Spruce Kings left winger has agreed to terms on a two-year contract with the NHL's newest team - the Atlanta Thrashers.

"The contract is on the way and it's a done deal," said Adams' mother Alice from the family home in Fort St. James. "He's very happy with it and so are we."

Adams is still in Lansing, Michigan attending summer classes at Michigan State University. He was on a fishing trip and could not be reached for comment Friday.

Alice Adams said Montreal and Dallas were the other NHL teams that expressed interest in signing Adams as a free agent. On the advice of former Buffalo Sabres/Los Angles Kings defenceman Larry Playfair, who lives in Fort St. James, Adams hooked up with agent Jeff Solomon of California, who helped negotiate the deal June 2.

"I think he was a bit intimidated going to Montreal," she said. "They have a lot of depth in Montreal and it's a new team in Atlanta. The management there is very strong and (Playfair) feels they will be very fair to the players."

The six-foot, 182-pound Adams was the second leading scorer on the Spartans with 21 goals and 16 assists in 42 games. As an assistant captain he led the Spartans to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association title. The Spartans' season ended at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, where they lost 5-3 to New Hampshire in the NCAA Frozen Four semi-final.

The Thrashers will fly Adams and the other rookie prospects who have no pro experience to Atlanta July 5 to meet team officials. They begin play in their first season in October and have promised Alice and her husband Bill an all-expenses paid trip there if and when he plays his first NHL game.

"We hope it will be this winter," Alice said.

The Thrashers top farm team will be the Orlando Solar Bears of the International League. So either way, the family's first road trip of the season will be to someplace warm.