Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hockey School Countdown

There's only one week of summer left ... well not really, but with everything hockey related that is going on, it kind of feels that way. By the end of the week a new sheet of ice will be in at the Coliseum and the first skaters will start to carve up that ice on Monday August 6th during the Spruce Kings Hockey School.

This annual event is always a highlight of the off-season giving kids and parents a chance to return to the rink and feel the great game of hockey under their feet. The hockey school does get underway with week one starting on the Holiday Monday and running with three separate weeks. Students between the ages of 6 and 14 will take to the ice for the first of two 90 minute ice times a day with a fun off-ice activity to break up the instruction and give the legs a bit of a rest.

Instruction this year will be from long time hockey instructor Brian Toll as well as Spruce Kings Head Coach, Dave Dupas. Also on the ice helping out will be past, present and future Spruce Kings making sure that all the kids get one-on-one instruction. From the skating basics to the powerskating, stick handling, positional play and more, the students this year will be given a good foundation for the hockey season.

The off-ice activities this year will also keep the students entertained with a "sports day" on Monday where they will walk from the rink to the fields off 17th Avenue via the yellow stair case. Tuesday is a pool day at the Four Season Leisure Pool. On Wednesday the students will take to the lanes at the Black Diamond Bowling Alley for some five pin knock down fun. Thursday marks a first for the Spruce Kings Hockey School thanks to the Prince George Golf & Curling Club who will welcome the students to their driving range and putting greens.

On Friday of each week the Hockey School will wrap up with a game and skills competition where the students will have the chance to show off some of their new found moves and abilities. That will be followed with a supplied lunch where the students and parents will get a chance to talk with the instructors before heading off to enjoy a few last days of fun in the sun before another hockey season starts up.

If you or someone you know is interested in getting their child in the Hockey School, there are still spaces left in all three weeks depending on the child's age. For more information give the Spruce Kings office a call at 250.564.1747 or check out the Spruce Kings website and fill out the Hockey School registration form. As a special incentive for the goaltenders out there ... all goalies are being welcome to attend the Hockey School at half price.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Schedule Released

The 2012-13 BCHL schedule has been released and the Spruce Kings games have been posted on the team's website (click here). This is a very favourable schedule when everything is taken into consideration.

The Spruce Kings will have a 56 game regular season spread out over six months. There is a healthy compliment of prime nights on the list with 20 Friday night games (10 home and 10 away) and 22 Saturday night games (11 home and 11 away). As expected there are a total of eight Sunday games (3 home and 5 away), three Thursday games (all at home) and one Wednesday night game (away).

The month to month breakdown should work to the Spruce Kings favour with less than ten games in all but the month of January. With the exception of the final four regular season games on home ice in March, December is the month with the fewest games at six (3 home and 3 away).

Technically the longest roadtrip is eight games but those span a total of 30 days from the three games before the Christmas break to the five in two weeks to start the New Year. The longest home stretch is six games in three weeks from November 23rd to December 9th. No month has more than five home games or less than three. Also the Spruce Kings play no more than three games on back to back nights before getting at least four days off. I really think this makes for a nicely balanced season schedule.

The Spruce Kings open at home against the Trail Smoke Eaters on September 14th followed by the one and only visit of the season from the defending RBC Royal Bank Cup Champion Penticton Vees on Saturday September 15th. Prince George hockey fans will only have one chance to see teams from the Interior Conference.

The Merritt Centennials come North on September 22nd (note the special start time of 7:30pm). Sporting a new name for their franchise, the West Kelowna Warriors will be in Prince George on October 27th. It will be over four months before the other two Interior Conference teams make their lone trip to the Castle with the Vernon Vipers arriving March 1st and the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in for the final game of the regular season on March 9th.

The full interlock schedule allows local hockey fans to see the Island Division teams in the Castle starting with the battle of the BCHL Kings on October 12th versus Powell River. The Alberni Valley Bulldogs also show up in October on the 26th, the Victoria Grizzlies will be the only Island Division team in November and the only game on Remembrance Day weekend on November 10th. The Cowichan Valley Capitals make their lone stop in the Castle on December 7th while the Nanaimo Clippers will wait until February 1st to pay a visit.

Rivalries in the Mainland Division will heat up quickly against the Langley Rivermen, Chilliwack Chiefs, Coquitlam Express and Surrey Eagles. Interesting configuration of games with four of five road games from October 6th to November 2nd and then four of five home games from February 14th to March 3rd against the Langley Rivermen.

Other double headers or quick series see the Spruce Kings play six of their eight games against the Chilliwack Chiefs in a seven week span from January 11th to February 23rd. The Chiefs will play two double headers in the Castle - November 29th and 30th and then again January 18th and 19th. The Coquitlam Express will also play their allotment of games in Prince George in a pair of double headers - December 8th and 9th and January 26th and 27th. The Surrey Eagles play one double header (November 23rd and 24th) and a pair of singles (October 13th and January 31st) in the Castle.

My Games of Note:
Of course the home opener is always the first game of note for everyone, but in this case it is the home opening weekend and the Penticton Vees on Saturday night that I have highlighted. I remind you of March 10, 2012 for my reasoning on this selection. The Battle of the Kings (October 12th) is always a favourite, it just has something to do with the team's names. It seems the Spruce Kings have always had a great rivalry against the Nanaimo Clippers and this year they come to Prince George on February 1st.

Although the rivalries with teams in the Interior Conference just wont have the same feeling this season, there is one that continues on and is sure to evoke enough interest to make these eight games exciting. Although we have to wait until near the middle of the season, the Spruce Kings will be ready for their first meeting (a double header at that) with the Chilliwack Chiefs on November 29th and 30th.

The toughest BCHL arena to play in might be the home of the Surrey Eagles, the Spruce Kings will get their first taste of the Olympic ice surface on October 5th and a week later (October 13th) will host the Eagles. Fans of the Spruce Kings will have to go without seeing the team in person for a month making the December 9th game vs the Coquitlam Express a game of note before the Christmas break. On the other side of that break will be the eventual return to home ice with another classic in the making double header against the Chilliwack Chiefs January 18th and 19th.

I'm sure there are a few other games that will jump off the schedule for you, but no matter what I just hope for an entertaining season that picks up where last year left off. The corporate and fan support was nothing short of amazing and the players fed off the energy of the packed Coliseum and that is really what we all want to experience again this season.

CLICK HERE to download a PDF copy of the Spruce Kings schedule.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Waiting for the Schedule

In essence the BCHL 2012-13 schedule is done but it does require final approval from the sixteen teams and the League before it can be released. That should happen in the next few to 48 hours. I thought I would take this time to throw around a couple of thoughts to get you ready for what will be the Spruce Kings 17th season in the British Columbia Hockey League.

For the first time since joining the premiere Junior 'A' hockey league in Canada, the Spruce Kings will play out of the Coastal Conference. I'm not opposed to this because, given the current map of the BCHL, the only question that the team had to ask itself is whether to turn left at Cache Creek or drive straight through. The latter seems as likely an option as the former. The Spruce Kings will have their four divisional rivals strategically placed within an hour's driving time of each other between Chilliwack and Coquitlam.

The BCHL has reduced the number of games in a regular season by four to 56 and also brought back a full interlock schedule. The 2012-13 games will break down into eight games against divisional opponents and two games against the other teams. There will also be a pair of games played on the League's opening weekend now dubbed the BCHL Showcase where all sixteen teams will play twice in Chilliwack over the three day weekend September 7-9, 2012.

The BCHL Showcase schedule has already been released and has the Spruce Kings playing the Merritt Centennials at noon on Saturday September 8th and then the Langley Rivermen at 6pm on Sunday September 9th. After those two games, the League has worked at balancing out the remaining 54 games with a high priority being placed on playing games on the prime nights of Friday and Saturday.

Those remaining games will feature four home and four away games against the Coastal Conference Mainland Division teams - Chilliwack Chiefs, Langley Rivermen, Surrey Eagles and Coquitlam Express - for a total of 32 games. Ten games will be home and home pairs against the Island Division teams - Nanaimo Clippers, Alberni Valley Bulldogs, Victoria Grizzlies, Cowichan Valley Capitals and Powell River Kings. The remaining 12 games will be a single home and away pair against the more familiar teams of the Interior Conference - Merritt Centennials, Penticton Vees, Vernon Vipers, Westside Warriors, Salmon Arm Silverbacks and Trail Smoke Eaters.

Given the travel demands put on the Spruce Kings, it should come as no surprise to see a few games scheduled on Sundays. There will also be a need to have some mid-week games thrown in there to accommodate other team's travel requirements. I don't think anybody will be surprised by the number of those particular games.

Hockey fans in Prince George can also expect to see a lot more hockey in the city. With Kin I closed for renovations, the BC Major Midget Cariboo Cougars will be playing at earlier times on Saturdays and you may be able to see them at the Coliseum prior to enjoying a Spruce Kings game. The WHL Prince George Cougars schedule was released earlier and this season could see the lowest number of overlapping games between them and the Spruce Kings.

A press release with a PDF version of the schedule is expected to be released and posted here and on the Spruce Kings website either Tuesday or Wednesday.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Getting To Know: Liam Board

Liam Board (27) is inspired by Joe Sakic and Gordie Howe

Spruce Kings General Manager, Mike Hawes has already been busy this offseason acquiring players that will be able to come in and fill some key vacancies with the list of graduates from last season. Shortly after acquiring defenceman Brad Ryan, Hawes was alerted to another player on that Oakville Blades roster that might be able to fit in nicely for the 2012-13 season.

That player is Liam Board, a 1993 born 6' 185 lbs forward from Oakville, Ontario. Considered to be an excellent athlete, Liam can bring an offensive touch while playing in a power forward position. With the interest of major junior teams there, Liam has his eyes set on securing a NCAA Division I scholarship and sees the Prince George Spruce Kings as the perfect opportunity to achieve that goal.

Liam has a fairly impressive stats sheet that includes a gold medal in the Spring of 2011 with the Appleby College mens hockey team. That season he tallied 9 goals and 8 assists for 17 points. The following season with the Oakville Blades he doubled those numbers to 17 goals, 18 assists and 35 points.

He knows the BCHL will be a little tougher but he is preparing for his first time away from home and wants to make a good impression with his new team. Thanks to the likes of Joe Sakic and Gordie Howe, Liam believes that every game is the next chance to leave a good first impression. I spoke to Liam Board over the phone and was left with the impression of a quiet but dedicated hockey player that is going to work hard to make the most of his time wearing the crown.

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