Thursday, August 30, 2012

Preseason Test in Grande Prairie

Congratulations all around following a 4-0
preseason win over the Trail Smoke Eaters

The Prince George Spruce Kings are getting a solid taste of life on the road this week. After a drive down to Chase, BC for a pair of preseason games against the Trail Smoke Eaters, the team arrived home Thursday morning. Now a day later the team will be boarding the team's new bus and heading North to cross over the BC/Alberta border for a preseason game against the Grande Prairie Storm.

Friday night's game is the first half of a home-and-home with the Alberta Junior Hockey League team. On Saturday night the two teams will meet in the Castle for the Spruce Kings final preseason tuneup at 7pm. After the weekend the team will have to be down to their 22 man roster in time for the start of the BCHL regular season and a pair of games at the BCHL Showcase in Chilliwack during the weekend of September 7th to 9th.

The Spruce Kings are coming off a pair of preseason wins (2-1 and 4-0) over the Trail Smoke Eaters and are anxious to put themselves to the test against a respected team from the Northern Division of the AJHL. The Storm are coming off a disappointing season in 2011-12 but have done a lot to put themselves back near the top, where they are accustomed to, this season.

At the time of this blog, I did not have a roster from Grande Prairie so I don't have any confirmation as to who might or might not be in the line up for the Storm on Friday or Saturday night. Instead I'll give you a couple of player's names and tell you what I little I know about them starting with Gus Correale. Gus is the younger brother of Spruce Kings alumni Dan Correale who played in Prince George during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons before being traded to the Storm.

Two season later in 2010-11, Dan and Gus played together under Mike Vandekamp. Last year Dan played out his 20 year old season in Nanaimo while the younger Gus played his second season in Grande Prairie picking up 16 goals and 22 assists. This year Gus is will be an 18 year old (birthday Sept 29, 1993) and is also expected to have an even better year than last.

Adam Boytinck has played in the BCHL with the Trail Smoke Eaters before ending up in Grande Prairie at the 2011 trade deadline. Before crossing the border, Boytinck had a record of 8 goals and 17 assists in 64 games over two seasons in Trail. The twenty year old isn't expected to put up big numbers but another twenty year old is. Tanner Labbe was a 40 point forward last season doubling his numbers from his rookie season. A little smaller at 5' 10" Labbe is more suited for the speed of the game at the Junior A level.

Braden Crone is another player that with a slight improvement on the consistency that he showed last season could end up leading the team in scoring this year. Crone is a 19 year old (birthday Oct 9, 1993) in this third season with the Grande Prairie Storm.

There are three goaltenders with the Grande Prairie Storm with Curtis Skip the only one currently carded. David Readman has ties to Prince George having played two seasons with the BCMML Cariboo Cougars. Last season in 25 games, Readman had a goals against average of 2.86 with the Major Midget Cats. The other goaltender on a tryout with the Grande Prairie Storm is Nicholas Kulmanovsky from Fairbanks Alaska. This is Kulmanovsky's first Canadian team having played in previous season with the Alaska Avalance and Wentachee Wild of the NAHL where he posted consistent numbers of 90% save percentage and better than 2.8 goals against average.

As for the Prince George Spruce Kings, they are down to a 24 man roster meaning that there are only two more mandatory cuts to be made before the start of the regular season. This is where these preseason games becomes so important and the individual play on the ice looked at under a microscope. I certainly wouldn't want to be the one tasked with making those final two cuts, but one thing is for sure ... everybody left has earned their look this weekend and have shown that they are capable of playing for the Prince George Spruce Kings and Junior A hockey in the BCHL.

I have enjoyed watching all of the new players with the team this year and can't wait for you to get same opportunity to see them. That chance comes up on Saturday night in the Prince George Coliseum, but if you can't wait until then you can try watching the broadcast of the game from the Canada Games Arena in Grande Prairie Friday night. Because the game is being played at 7:30pm in Alberta, the game will actually start at 6:30pm back home.

The game is scheduled to be broadcast with video and audio on the Spruce Kings Ustream Channel which is a free service with a few annoyances that are out of our control. If you choose to log on using your Facebook account, the commercial content that is aired from the Ustream servers will be significantly reduced. Plus you will have the opportunity of chatting with other viewers of the game.

Preseason Roster (as of August 30th)

G - Liam McLeod (96)
G - Kirk Thompson (92)
D - Latrell Charleson (95)
D - Mitch Eden (94)
D - Trevor Esau (92)
D - David London (93)
D - Skylar Pacehco (94)
D - Brad Ryan (92)
D - Spencer Schoech (93)
D - Karan Toor (94)
F - Liam Board (93)
F - Alec Butcher (94)
F - Bryant Christian (93)
F - Kody Disher (95)
F - Tanner Fjellstrom (94)
F - Coltyn Hansen (92)
F - Ryan Keis (94)
F - Sean Landrey (93)
F - Cam Lawson (93)
F - Jake LeBrun (95)
F - Jeremiah Luedtke (94)
F - Lyndon Martell (93)
F - Chad Staley (94)
F - Tyson Witala (93)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Spruce Kings Win 4-0 Wednesday Night

It was a solid effort from the entire roster in the Spruce Kings second preseason game as they posted a 4-0 win over the Trail Smoke Eaters on Wednesday night in Chase. The win moves the Spruce Kings to a 2-0 record in preseason play as they will now shift their attention to the Grande Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League for a home-and-home series beginning Friday night in Grande Prairie and finishing up Saturday night at 7pm in the Castle.

The Spruce Kings got a great showing on the scoreboard from local hockey products including a pair of goals from Lyndon Martell and a single from Sean Landrey. Tyson Witala, Tanner Fjellstrom and Jake LeBrun also picked up assists. The fourth goal for the Spruce Kings was scored by Minnesota born Bryant Christian and other assists on the four goals came from Chad Staley, Kody Disher, Mitch Eden and Coltyn Hansen.

Immediately following the game the team headed home from Chase with yours truly driving a rental car from Practicar Car & Truck Rentals on Queensway. The team will find themselves in Grand Prairie Friday night for the first half of a home-and-home series with the Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Friday's game is a 6:30pm start local time with plans to have a full broadcast on the Spruce Kings Ustream Channel.

Saturday night the two teams will be in Prince George for the final Spruce Kings preseason game. Game time is 7pm in the Prince George Coliseum, admission is $5.00 for everybody. Tell your friends and drag your neighbours down with you to take a look at this year's entertaining squad and enjoy a great night out with the Prince George Spruce Kings.

Preseason Game Preview: Spruce Kings vs Smoke Eaters

The Spruce Kings go into tonight's preseason game with one win under the belt and looking to double that up on the Trail Smoke Eaters with the back half of the neutral site double header tonight at 7pm. Last night it was the Smokies that opened the scoring with the Spruce Kings tying up the game in the first period on a two man power play advantage. The game remained tied until the late stages of the third when Jeremiah Luedtke was able to knock in a loose puck for the 2-1 victory.

There will be some player changes tonight on both sides of the ice as the teams will opt to go with a little more of an experienced lineup. For the Spruce Kings the notable insertions will be Latrell Charleson who is back from the Moose Jaw Warriors training camp and Lyndon Martell who has opted to leave the Regina Pats for the Prince George Spruce Kings.

Also coming into the lineup for Prince George tonight are Karan Toor who played a handful of games last season as an AP with the Spruce Kings, Coltyn Hansen the twenty year old acquired from the Victoria Grizzlies, Brad Ryan the big tall twenty year old defenceman and local hockey product Sean Landrey. Kirk Thompson will get the start tonight giving the sixteen year old Liam McLeod a much deserved break after a big win for the youngster last night.

The Trail Smoke Eaters will also go with a few new bodies in their lineup with expectations being that Anthony Conti will be in after finishing up at the Calgary Hitmen training camp and Braden Krogfoss from the Kamloops Blazers camp. The Smokies are expected to dress a few more twenty year olds led by Tyler Berkholtz, Djordje Leposavic, Brent Baltus, Garrett McMullen and Alex Holland.

Last night's win by the Spruce Kings didn't come easy as they fought through a 1-1 tie for much of the game. I would suspect that the coaching staff was happy with the overall performance both defensively and offensively but would like to see the Spruce Kings bury more of the chances they created. Tonight however the Trail Smoke Eaters will be looking at tightening up defensively and eliminated that many chances from happening.

If all goes well in the broadcast booth, there will be a solo Spruce Kings broadcast available as Chris Wahl (voice of the Trail Smoke Eaters) will have his own internet connection and broadcast feed. Look for the video to start approximately an hour before the game on the Spruce Kings Ustream Channel or follow the link from the Spruce Kings twitter feed (@SpruceKings) or my twitter (@ron_gallo).

BCHL Preseason Game
Prince George Spruce Kings vs Trail Smoke Eaters
7:00pm from the Art Holden Memorial Arena in Chase, BC
Broadcast Link: Spruce Kings Ustream Channel

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Preseason Game #1

Liam McLeod gets a little breather in his first
BCHL preseason game and first BCHL preseason win

The Prince George Spruce Kings opened up their preseason schedule with a 2-1 win over the Trail Smoke Eaters on Tuesday night in Chase, BC. The two teams started their preseason schedule by driving some eight hours each to meet in a central location for a pair of games. The first one on Tuesday night and a second one Wednesday night at the Art Holding Memorial Arena in Chase, BC ... home to the Chase Heat of the KIJHL.

Following the team's training camp, the Spruce Kings preseason roster was cut down to 28 players with twenty getting the nod for Tuesday night's game. All of the young prospects were a given their first taste of hockey in the BCHL and didn't disappoint with the chance to leave an impression. (preseason roster at the end of this post)

Early in the contest the Spruce Kings were generating offensive zone chances and getting the puck to the net but it would be the Trail Smoke Eaters that opened the scoring at 5:47 when Brent Baltus converted on an odd man rush that was started by his teammate Scott Davidson. After getting the pass from Davidson, Baltus found the sweet spot above the right arm of Liam McLeod.

As the game played out that would be the only blemish on the 16 year old's debut in his BCHL preseason debut. In fact as the game went on, Liam McLeod looked to be gaining confidence, playing with poise and focus. In the early goings of the game, McLeod wasn't tested much as the team kept the puck on the opposite side of center much of the time and were finally rewarded for their work.

At 14:26 of the first period the Trail Smoke Eaters found themselves down a man when Dan Holland was called for holding in the offensive zone. Less than a minute later Kody Disher's hard work at the side of the net looking for a loose puck resulted in another Smokie penalty when Wayland Williams was called for roughing for a tackle on Disher.

That penalty gave the Spruce Kings a 1:13 to work with on the two man advantage. Early on in the power play Jeremiah Luedtke and Chad Staley tried to convert on a cross crease pass only to have Lyndon Stanwood come across and rob Staley of a sure goal with a kick safe. On the next shift it was Bryant Christian that got the play started from the left corner carrying the puck behind the net before getting it to Spencer Schoech. Once Schoech had the puck he made no mistake getting it to Kody Disher in front who was able to tap home the tying goal at 15:51.

Not for a lack of trying but that would be it for the goal scoring in the first period and also in the second period despite the number of shots and chances being created. After the first period of play the Spruce Kings led on the shot clock 21-10 and at the mid way mark of the second period when Trail opted to change out netminders, the shots were still well in favour of Prince George 27-14. The total shots after two periods were 31-17 Prince George but the score remained tied at a goal a-piece.

For much of the third period not much changed until the late stages of the game. While on a power play with about 5 minutes remaining, the Smoke Eaters were that close to taking back the lead with Bryce Knapp standing on the top of the crease with a wide open net. Liam McLeod was able to swing around and coral the puck with his left hand and keep the score tied ... easily the Studio Cuts Crowning Moment of the Game.

The save of the game by the sixteen year old sparked the Spruce Kings and just as the broadcast crew was contemplating what would happen if the game remained tied through sixty minutes, the Spruce Kings turned something out of nothing. With the top line on the ice, Chad Staley and Alec Butcher both had a couple of chances at a loose puck in skates that was too far away for Boeckman to grab and was also too much of a hot potatoe for the Trail Smoke Eaters defenders to get a stick on and clear.

Jeremiah Luedtke was finally the person to find the puck and got two chances at stuffing it in the net which is where it finally ended up giving the Spruce Kings their first lead of the game with 1:22 remaining in the third period. On the next rush up the ice by the Smoke Eaters they pulled their goaltender for an extra attacker but just couldn't find the equalizer although their best chance came after a Spruce Kings miss on the empty net.

One thing players learn and learn quickly about the BCHL is that everything happens a little faster. Just when you think you have lots of time and space, someone from the opposition is on you and taking the puck away. That is basically what happened to Liam Board when he found himself staring down an empty net while cruising through the neutral zone with the puck. Opting to go in for the sure insurance marker, Board was caught from the side and had the puck checked off his stick into the corner, allowing the Smokies to head up the ice the other direction.

Unfortunately for Trail, time would run out on their night allowing the Spruce Kings to lay claim to their first win of the preseason. At the end of the game Trevor Esau was seen collecting the puck presumably to give to Liam McLeod to commemorate his first win in the BCHL. The rookie goaltender ended up making 23 of 24 saves for the win while the team in front of him scored twice on the 39 shots they had on goal.

The Spruce Kings will practice tomorrow morning at the arena before playing the Trail Smoke Eaters in a preseason rematch at the Art Holding Memorial Arena in Chase. Game time is scheduled for 7:00pm and is expected to be broadcasted on the Spruce Kings Ustream channel.

It should be noted that there were some technical issues with the broadcast on Tuesday, the biggest being the lack of internet to allow for two broadcasts of the game. Instead Ron Gallo and Chris Wahl of the Trail Smoke Eaters shared the duties on a tandem broadcast. It is not known at this time if the internet issue or any of the other technical issues can be resolved prior to the drop of the puck but here's hoping as the broadcasters need the preseason tuneup as well as the players.

Preseason Roster

G - Liam McLeod (96)
G - Kirk Thompson (92)
D - Keith Bendall (94)
D - Latrell Charleson (95)
D - Robson Cramer (94)
D - Mitch Eden (94)
D - Trevor Esau (92)
D - David London (93)
D - Skylar Pacehco (94)
D - Brad Ryan (92)
D - Spencer Schoech (93)
D - Karan Toor (94)
F - Liam Board (93)
F - Alec Butcher (94)
F - Bryant Christian (93)
F - Kody Disher (95)
F - Tanner Fjellstrom (94)
F - Coltyn Hansen (92)
F - Kirk Hards (95)
F - Ryan Keis (94)
F - Sean Landrey (93)
F - Cam Lawson (93)
F - Jake LeBrun (95)
F - Jeremiah Luedtke (94)
F - Lyndon Martell (93)
F - Rourke O'Briain (95)
F - Chad Staley (94)
F - Tyson Witala (93)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Preseason Look at the Returners

Trevor Esau enters his third year with the Spruce Kings

As the roster sits now for the preseason, the Prince George Spruce Kings are carrying 28 players with them into the preseason, only six of those finished last season with the team. There are four players that have experience in the British Columbia Hockey League. Fifteen players are considered rookies in the BCHL this year and another three players that have yet to compete in the premiere Junior A league in Canada will be make up the balance.

During the off-season the Spruce Kings worked hard at finding players that could step in and fill the roles of those players that were lost to college commitments, overagers and trades. There is a nice mix of returning players, players with Junior A experience and players that have shown they can step in and make an impact in the game at this level. There are also a few players that are being given an opportunity to gain some valuable experience at a higher level.

They will all head to Chase where some will have to sit and wait for their turn to play on Wednesday while the first wave of twenty players will be up against the Trail Smoke Eaters on Tuesday night. The two games are being played at the Art Holding Memorial Arena in Chase at 7pm both nights. I should mention that plans are to provide a video broadcast of the game on the Spruce Kings Ustream Channel.

Based on the recent Training Camp and the three Intra-Squad Games, the players to watch wearing the Crown to start the preseason include the returning players led by, or rather backed by Kirk Thompson. A 20 year old in his final year of junior eligibility, Thompson will have something to prove between the pipes and will want to improve on his previous season record of 15 wins, 2.83 goals against average and 90.60 save percentage.

On defence Trevor Esau will be the leader; an assistant captain last season, I wouldn't be surprised to see him wear a different letter this year while logging a ton of time on the blue line. Skylar Pacheco is also returning for his second season with the Spruce Kings after winning Rookie of the Year last year. In the training camp, Pacheco showed that he has the ability to be an offensive player and picked up a pair of goals in the Intra-Squad game because of his ability to jump up in the play and finish what he started.

The third returning defenceman is the seventeen year old Latrell Charleson who will be joining the team in Chase after skating at the Moose Jaw Warriors camp this past weekend. In Moose Jaw, Latrell showed his strength during the fitness testing getting the best distance in the medicine ball toss. Fans in Prince George liked what they saw in this youngster in the second half of last season and the expectation is that he will be coming in bigger and stronger making him a punishing force for opposition forwards to deal with.

Up front the Spruce Kings will have Sean Landrey and Tyson Witala back as 19 year olds this season. During the summer Landrey was working up in Fort St. John and the work in the oil patch paid off with a noticeably stronger presence from Landrey. Witala also put on some size and showed what we hope was only a small part of what he will be able to do after being instrumental in erasing a three goal deficit in the third Intra-Squad game with two goals and an assist in less than two minutes.

Returning to the BCHL after playing elsewhere last season are Cameron Lawson, Coltyn Hansen and David London. Lawson, Hansen and London were all acquired from the Victoria Grizzlies in the trade that granted the Fitzgerald triplets their wish of playing closer to home. All three had good showings at the Training Camp led by Coltyn Hansen who scored three goals in the third Intra-Squad game. Cameron Lawson had a very consistent camp scoring once in all three games and adding a pair of assists. London played a solid game on the blue line and picked up a pair of helpers over the weekend. The 19 year old defenceman also had a good showing in the fitness testing and is just another one of those pieces on the blue line that will make it tough on opposing forwards.

I'm going to the let the "rookies" play a couple of games before taking a closer look at them, but really quick I just want to say that the future looks bright for the Spruce Kings as seen this past weekend during the Intra-Squad Games. From players that could light the lamp to defenceman that made it tough for many others to move freely through the zone, this team looks like it is ready for any preseason test thrown its way starting with the Trail Smoke Eaters Tuesday night from Chase, BC. Catch the game broadcast on the Spruce Kings Ustream Channel.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Training Camp Day 3

Bodies all over the place for the tying goal

The big event for Day Three was the third and final Intra-Squad Game between Team Blue and Team White and true to my expectation, this game delivered!

The Training Camp this year was considered to be a small one with 38 players attending for the weekend. Many of the players were either returning players or players that had been carded in the off-season. The remainder of the camp consisted of players that were either looking for a chance to fill an available spot or knock someone out of contention. There were also a handful of players that are considered to be great prospects for the team but may be a season away from being ready to play Junior A hockey in the BCHL.

The teams were made up in advance by the Spruce Kings General Manager, Mike Hawes, who used his knowledge of the players coming in to make up two fairly balanced team. As the weekend progressed it is now safe to say that he nailed it as can be seen in the results of the three Intra-Squad games and even in the fitness testing and practice times.

On Friday night, Team Blue applied all the pressure early and only seemed to ease up when the game seemed to be well in hand. Final score in the first intra-squad game was 4-2 in favour of Team Blue. The following night was a completely different story with Team White applying all the pressure right to the final whistle. Although there was no scoring in the first period and Team Blue even scored the first goal early in the second, Team White won the game 4-1 on the strength of a three point night by Jeremiah Luedtke (2G, 1A).

With the three game series tied at a win a-piece, the game on Sunday had all the makings of a very competitive one. It was all that and more featuring some great goals, big saves, hard hits and a lot of fiestiness between the two teams.

Team White carried the momentum of the win the night before into this game and applied the pressure early with Liam Board getting the first really good scoring chance only to be turned aside by Liam McLeod. Moments later Skylar Pacheco carried the puck in feeding it up to Ryan Keis who in turn dropped it back from Pacheco. The shot from the right point was perfect finding the top corner on the short side at 4:36 of the first period.

Team White continued to carry the play and two minutes later Riley Hawes found himself crashing the net much to Rourke O'Briain's displeasure. The two were given coincidental minors for roughing. Team Blue started to rally shortly after this and caused some grieve for Team White who ended up taking a pair of penalties twenty seconds apart putting the Team Blue on a two man advantage.

Coltyn Hansen (9 Blue) tips in his first of three

The top line for Team Blue wasted little time in finding the open man on the right side of the crease with a perfect pass and perfect tip-in to tie the game up. The play was started by Lyndon Martell who left the puck in the corner for Cameron Lawson. From deep in the corner and through traffic, Lawson found the tape on Coltyn Hansen's stick at 10:49.

That's how the first period would end, tied 1-1 but with Team Blue coming on from the mid point of the period and it showed on the shot clock as they led that stat 12-6. The second period was another low scoring affair with teams trading goals before the goalie change. As they did in the first, Team White opened the scoring in the second period when Kirk Thompson saw nothing but white jerseys up the ice.

With Team Blue dumping the puck into the zone and going for wholesale changes, Thompson picked up the puck and quickly fed it up the ice to Chad Staley who in turn passed it up to wide open Jeremiah Luedtke as he crossed the opposition's blue line. The shot itself was nothing more than a quick snap shot that eluded Liam McLeod giving Team White their second lead of the game 2-1 at 5:28 of the second period.

Team Blue would answer back six minutes later with Rourke O'Briain's first of the weekend at 11:45 after Kirk Hards dished out a nice pass from behind the goal line. Cameron Lawson was also in on the play after keeping it in the zone knocking down the clearing attempt. Again the teams would head to their dressing rooms tied, this time 2-2 with Team Blue still leading on the shot clock 20-15.

I have to rewind here a bit to talk a little bit about a Prince George player that I can't wait to see in a Spruce Kings jersey full time. Kirk Hards is a small player that plays with a big edge and isn't afraid to cause a little commotion when he's on the ice. The agitator reminds me of a Zac Rasmussen with the buzzing capabilities of any one of the Fitzgerald triplets.

With about a minute and a half remaining in the second period, Hards followed the play into the crease and never let up getting in a little extra shot. As he skated away, the usually mild mannered Skylar Pacheco came over and grabbed Hards to let him know he can't do that. Unfortunately for Pacheco it cost him two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct at 18:39.

To start the third period Team Blue were all standing at the bench rallying the players on the ice with the familiar stick slap on the boards. The rally cry worked and worked quickly as Coltyn Hansen scored his second goal of the night again on the powerplay and again on the nice pass from Lyndon Martell with Mitch Eden getting the other assist.

The goal seemed to rejuvenate Team Blue especially the top line when they came out for the second shift of the period. Hansen picked up his hat trick goal and again it was Martell with the first assist at 4:00. The goal took the wind out of the sails of Team White and the next ten minutes of the game didn't seem to generate too many chances until Tyson Witala was sprung on a breakaway. Witala had everything going for him but just couldn't tuck the puck under Adam Griffith.

To make matters worse for Team White, the top line for Team Blue came back out and again Lyndon Martell was the setup man this time for Cameron Lawson who scored his third of the weekend to put the game out of reach at 5-2. Did I say out of reach? Apparently nobody told Team White or at least Tyson Witala wasn't listening.

Witala who had been robbed on the breakaway just a shift earlier made no mistake with the pass from Pacheco to bury his first of the game at 16:13. Team White called their time out, drew up a play and left the Witala line out there and it resulted in a fourth goal for Team White just 35 seconds later. Witala found the loose puck on a goal mouth scramble and buried it with assists credited to Liam Board and Brad Ryan.

Jeremy Matte with the save of the game

If the time out wasn't the Studio Cuts Crowning Moment of the Game, the save Jeremy Matte made off Lyndon Martell was. The setup man on four of Team Blue's goals found himself streaking down the left side on an uncontested 2-on-1 only to have his shot stopped by Matte. Spencer Schoech picked up the puck for Team White and went the other way finding the man with the golden touch. Tyson Witala's bid at a hat trick was stopped but Chad Staley was right there to put in the tying goal at 18:25.

Both teams tried to end it in regulation but there was no denying this one going to a shootout to determine a winner. Team Blue went first electing to go with Lyndon Martell who tried to sneak the puck in on the far side but somehow Matte kept it in front of the goal post even as it came off it's moorings. Chad Staley was given the first shot for Team White and he too would be stopped.

The second shooter for Team Blue was Cameron Lawson who tried to pull Matte off the far post. For a 5' 8" goalie, Matte has pretty good leg extension and was able to get a toe on the shot sending it wide. Team White sent Jeremiah Luedtke up next who went right down the middle. When Adam Griffith wouldn't give up the five hole, Luedtke just picked the corner, putting the pressure on Team Blue to score with their third shooter.

Team Blue elected to go with the defenceman Mitch Eden who came in tight on the forehand and was poke checked before he could get the puck over to his backhand side. The save completed the comeback for Team White who were down by three goals with less than four minutes remaining in the game. As Todd Doherty (Team White coach) said in a tweet after the game, "#teameffort."

It was an entertaining game to watch and the 350 plus fans in attendance showed their appreciation throughout the game especially in those final minutes as they watched the comeback. Also on hand to watch all the games, practices and fitness testing were the coaches and scouts who had the unenviable task of informing players afterwards if they would be staying or not for the exhibition season.

At the time of this blog, I only have an unofficial list of players so I will leave it until tomorrow. The players that will be sticking around for at least a few more days will be practicing on Monday and then heading to Chase for a pair of preseason games against the Trail Smoke Eaters on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Spruce Kings will also play a home-and-home series against the Grande Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League on Friday in Grande Prairie and Saturday in Prince George at 7pm.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Training Camp Day 2

Chad Staley prepares to launch the medicine ball
during fitness testing

Day two of the Spruce Kings Training Camp was highlighted by the fitness testing at the Factory Hockey Training facility. The testing was based around what players went through at the NHL Draft Combine in Toronto featuring the beep test, medicine ball toss, lateral jump, pull ups and a mixture of other physical tests designed to measure the players overall strength and conditioning.

The standouts in the fitness testing included Jeremiah Luedtke who made it to level 13-4 in the very tough beep test. In this test the player has a measured length of time to go 20 meters. The time between beeps, when players have to reach the end of each length, is shorter as the test continues. The other big test was the 12 pound medicine ball test that saw Trevor Esau complete a toss of 42 feet, 7 inches.

In all the physical testing took over an hour to complete right in the middle of the day after the morning practice and the evening intra-squad game. An interesting comment I overheard from one of the scouts in attendance spoke to how the fitness testing is becoming an important part of the whole process because of the importance put on off-season training. Kinda makes hockey a year round sport.

Day two finished off with the second intra-squad game with Team White knowing they had to do something after dropping a 4-2 decision the night before. A good sized crowd for an unadvertised game was on hand and were treated to highly entertaining contest with lots of shots, scoring chances, hits and hard work on display.

The game started with Team White setting the tone and tempo for the rest of the night getting three early scoring chances off some hard work. Team Blue was able to weather the early storm and come up with a few chances of their own. Really the story of the first half of the game was the goaltenders who both posted scoreless opening periods. Jeremy Matte turned aside 10 shots for Team White while Adam Griffith stood tall stopping an even dozen for Team Blue.

Jeremy Matte making one of his 18 saves on the night

The scoreless tie was broken 1:34 into the second period when Cameron Lawson tapped in his second of the training camp off a nice setup from Lyndon Martell and Sean Landrey. Team White kept up their pressure and were rewarded shortly after with the first of two on the night from Jeremiah Luedtke. In the right place at the right time, Luedtke was able to tap a loose puck into the open side of the net before being checked. Spencer Schoech (pronounced shook) took the original shot that deflected off a defenceman's skate.

That would be it for the goal scoring on the starting goaltenders with Matte stopping 18 of 19 shots during his time in net for Team White and Griffith making 21 saves for Team Blue. Shortly after the goaltending change, Team White was given their third power play chance and used up only 15 seconds to setup the eventual game winning goal - Ryan Keis from Alec Butcher and David London.

Less than two minutes later, Team White doubled their lead with Riley Hawes scoring the goal with helpers going to Chad Staley and Jeremiah Luedtke. Hawes was a last minute addition to the game after another player was unable to go. One player's misfortune becomes another's opportunity! The teams went to the dressing rooms with Team White leading on the scoreboard 3-1 and the shot clock 27-22.

For the longest time it looked like that would be it for scoring as neither team seemed to be able to create good enough chances. That led to some spirited play and few more odd-man situations. With less than three minutes to play a couple of returning players got caught up together and Landrey ended up with the worst of it after flipping Kirk Thompson's stick out to the blue line.

Jeremiah Luedtke had a great game
finishing with two goals and an assist

Landrey was assessed a double minor giving Team White an opportunity to finish the game with the man advantage. Less than 20 seconds into the powerplay Luedtke was again found to be in the right spot at the right time and able to snap home his second of the game with helpers going to Skylar Pacheco and Brad Ryan. The final shots were extremely close with Team Blue getting to within one (33-32) but unable to get anything past Thompson.

With the intra-squad series now tied at a win a-piece and Team White with a slight edge in the goals for and against category (6-5), this sets up for an interesting tiebreaker Sunday afternoon at 1:30pm in the Coliseum. Prior to the game both teams will have one more practice, Team Blue at 9:00am and Team White at 10:30am.

Following the game will come the difficult decision of deciding who and really how many players will stay on for the exhibition season that gets underway on Tuesday. The Spruce Kings are playing four preseason tuneups starting with a double header against the Trail Smoke Eaters in Chase on Tuesday and Wednesday night. Following a day off, the Spruce Kings will play the first half of a home-and-home series in Grand Prairie against the Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. The lone home game in the preseason will go Saturday night in the Coliseum against the Storm.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Training Camp Day 1

Skylar Pacheo scores on this shot for Team White

The Prince George Spruce Kings opened their training camp today at the Coliseum with a total of 38 players (4 goaltenders, 12 defenceman and 22 forwards) in attendance. The numbers this year are a little lower than in past years but that has allowed for the camp to be broke into two teams immediately and pit the teams against each other in three intra-squad game.

After a first look at the players in team specific practices, the two teams reconvened at the Prince George Coliseum for the first of those intra-squad games. Early on Team Blue imposed their way keeping Team White pinned in their own end. Shots on goal prior to the first goal were 7-1 for Team Blue. Kirk Thompson got the start for Team White showing good positioning with the opposition getting some good shots.

Alex Bartel was the first to solve Thompson getting Team Blue on the board at 11:12 of the first period after he found the rebound off a Mitch Eden point shot. Team Blue would go up 2-0 five minutes later when Bryant Christian (yes the younger brother of Spruce Kings alumni Jordy Christian) converted on a play set up by Lydon Martell and Jake LeBrun. That's how the first period would end with Team Blue leading 2-0 on the scoreboard and 17-6 on the shot clock.

Already with three penalties in the first period including one that spilled over into the second, Team White found themselves down in that stat category as well but did a perfect job on the penalty kill. That perfect job went one step farther when Team White found themselves short handed again. Skylar Pacheco was given a gift tip into the neutral zone and wasted no time turning it into a break away. Looking once into the middle for some help and finding none, Pacheco took the shot beating Liam McLeod with the unassisted short handed goal at 5:24.

Before the midway mark of the second period Cameron Lawson made his presence noticed in the game turning on the jets a couple of times. At 9:50 Lawson broke in untouched and snapped a quick wrister that fooled Thompson sneaking in under the goaltenders arm. It was a sour note to end on, but that goal marked the goalie change bringing in Jeremy Matte for Team White and Adam Griffith for Team Blue.

As if the dirty little wrister wasn't enough, Lawson danced around a couple of defenders deep inside the zone and dangled out in front of the net. A quick pull of the puck slid just into the toe of Matte and no further. Matte looked good for his time behind the pipes and was beaten only once by arguably the best line on the ice especially for Team Blue.

Karan Toor got the play started with a point shot from the left side that ended up on the stick of Bryant Christian. Christian was stopped but a juicy rebound in the slot with Lyndon Martell cruising through quickly found the back of the net making it a 4-1 lead for Team Blue.

The third period seemed to be a little more intense with a few big hits and some extended gatherings around the net, but not much on the scoreclock. Chad Staley was the only one to register a goal in the final frame but perhaps it was too little too late as Team White just couldn't seem to fully recover offensively. Staley's goal (assists to David London and Liam Board) would come with 1:38 remaining in the third period and that's how the game would end with Team Blue winning 4-2.

Final shots on goal were 39-30 for Team Blue. Kirk Thompson made 20 saves and Jeremy Matte stopped 15 shots in the loss, Liam McLeod had 11 and Adam Griffith turned aside 17 of 18 shots. Team White was penalized four times while Team Blue received two minor infractions. Neither team was able to capitalize on the man advantage but Team White did have that short handed marker.

The officials went with the four man system, Brendon Creyke and Bill Hudyma wore the red stripes while Nick Albinati and Ritchie Rodgers worked the lines. The officials introduced the full set of BCHL rules into the intra-squad game including the no change icing and no change for clearing the puck out of play from the defensive zone.

Tomorrow morning the players will report back to the Coliseum for team practices where they will go over some of the things the coaching and scouting staff picked up in the first game. After the practices, the teams will head over to the Factory Hockey Training facility for some off-ice fitness testing. After the dinner break, the teams will drop the puck for their second intra-squad game beginning at 8pm in the Prince George Coliseum.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

New Assistant Coach

Today the Spruce Kings released their staffing for the coming season with the announcement of two new names and few familiar names and roles. The announcement centered around the new assistant coach coming in to replace Kurt Walsten who spent last season in the role before taking a similar position with the Drumheller Dragons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

Brad Rihela accepted the assistant coaching position with the Spruce Kings and comes with a nice hockey resume. Rihela has spent the past two seasons coaching in the Lower Mainland with the Seafair Minor Hockey Association and last year worked as a head coach with the BC Hockey High Performance U16 program.

Along with the assistant coach, the Spruce Kings also named a goaltending coach. Blake Buckham is a resident of Prince George who has helped young goaltenders in the Prince George Minor Hockey Association and spent last season working with the Prince George Midget Female hockey team.

That sets up the Spruce Kings nicely with a full compliment of coaches behind the bench with head coach Dave Dupas and returning assistant coach Jason Garneau along with the video coach Colton Buffie. The other announcements were for Tom Bohmer who has stepped down from his position last year as an assistant coach, but will remain a consultant for the team.

I had an opportunity to talk to the new assistant coach about coming to Prince George and taking on the position with the Spruce Kings. It was interesting to find out that he has ties to the city and is looking forward to getting to the Coliseum and getting started with the club.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Three Player's Thoughts

I have now had an opportunity to speak to all three players that were acquired in the six player trade with the Victoria Grizzlies and can tell you that all three share the same enthusiasm about getting up to Prince George and making an immediate impact.

The players are Coltyn Hansen, Cameron Lawson and David London; although all three come via the Grizzlies in exchange for the Fitzgerald triplets only Hansen and Lawson played last season in Victoria. London was with the Cowichan Valley Capitals for the season and an off-season deal saw London moved to Victoria in time for the this trade.

All three players were very accommodating with the interview and expressed how excited they were to be coming to Prince George. In the interviews you will hear a little bit about who they are as players and get a feeling for how excited they are to come to Prince George.

David London
6' 01" 205lbs
March 7, 1993

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Coltyn Hansen
5' 11" 170lbs
November 11, 1992

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Cameron Lawson
5' 07" 170lbs
January 16, 1993

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Spruce Kings Add Defenceman

Mitch Eden is seen celebrating a goal as a member of
Team Canada East at the 2011 CJHL Prospects Game

True to his word, the Spruce Kings General Manager, Mike Hawes has made a tweak to the team's roster with the addition of '94 defenceman Mitch Eden. Eden played the past two seasons with the Huntsville Otters of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. This player is a player and comes highly touted for his offensive abilities from his position on the blue line.

Mitch Eden was selected in the 3rd round 58th overall in the Ontario Hockey League's Priority Selection Draft by the Oshawa Generals. Last season Eden's major junior playing rights went to the Kitchener Rangers.

For the past two seasons Mitch has been playing Junior 'A' hockey with the Huntsville Otters and demonstrating his offensive talents. In a combined 89 games he registered 10 goals and 34 assists getting twice as many goals last year and close to double the points over his rookie season.

Education is a key component to this 18 year old's desire to continue playing Junior 'A' hockey and he has his sights set on getting a NCAA Division I scholarship. He doesn't like leaving things to chance and knows that the British Columbia Hockey League and the Prince George Spruce Kings have a proven track record of graduating players through to the college ranks and beyond.

Mitch Eden is another player that the Spruce Kings fans will quickly rally behind and help put on the radar; which will be beneficial. Along with the accolades, abilities and desire, Eden is a late '94 born player making him eligible for the NHL Draft in 2013.

In a scouting report published last year at this time Mitch Eden is described as a player with all "the offensive tools to play the powerplay at (a high) level and is capable of putting up some quality numbers." The report goes on to say that Mitch Eden "should develop into one of the top guys on the blue line and does have the skills to be considered a potential NHL pick."

When you look at the Spruce Kings roster today there are a number of unfamiliar names with Mitch Eden being only one of those names. Look a little deeper and you will see a team that is taking the shape of one that has depth, experience and will provide for an entertaining game every night.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fitzgerald Triplets Trade

The Fitzgerald Triplets Request Trade

On August 9, 2012 the Prince George Spruce Kings officially announced a trade that saw the Fitzgerald triplets (Myles, Leo and Gerry) dealt to the Victoria Grizzlies in exchange for Coltyn Hansen, Cam Larson, David London and future considerations. The trade is a significant one for the Spruce Kings and Prince George hockey fans who loved to watch the triplets on the ice last season.

This was a trade that had to be handled delicately because of the uniqueness of the situation. It's not often that a General Manager is tasked with finding a new home not just for three players, but three siblings that were born only minutes apart from each other and have done many things together including playing hockey for the past two seasons on the same line. The Fitzgerald triplets in unison also requested the trade citing a proximity to their own home as a primary reason.

Knowing that you have an asset like the Fitzgerald triplets on your roster but also knowing that they would like to be moved isn't an easy feat to undertake, but it is one that Spruce Kings General Manager Mike Hawes was able to patiently work through. Perhaps one of the biggest turning points in this offseason deal was the announcement that Bill Bestwick was returning to the BCHL as the Victoria Grizzlies Head Coach and General Manager.

In his last season with the Nanaimo Clippers, Bestwick had recruited the Fitzgerald triplets to play for him and in their first year they quickly became a line that turned heads. At the end of the 2010-11 season, changes in the Clippers organization marked the end of the Bill Bestwick era and ultimately the end of the Fitzgerald triplets in Nanaimo.

It was then that Mike Hawes negotiated a deal with Mike Vandekamp of the Nanaimo Clippers that saw the Myles, Leo and Gerry along with Jesse Ursic dealt to the Spruce Kings in exchange for Josh Bryan, Scott Milnthorp and Trevor Fitzgerald (no relation). The three players were off season acquisitions for Prince George that never played for the Spruce Kings. Jesse Ursic did start the season in Prince George but was later traded to Victoria in exchange for Michael Colantone.

The Fitzgerald triplets were quickly embraced by the hockey fans in Prince George and as the season progressed they developed a defensive side to their game and quickly became the shutdown line. With their ability to cycle the puck and buzz the net they tired out many a player on the other side of the ice and to at least that extent allowed the Spruce Kings top line to go out there and do what they did best last season.

This year of course things will now be a lot different with the Spruce Kings roster. After the trade with Victoria there are only six returning players from last season (Latrell Charleson, Trevor Esau, Sean Landrey, Skylar Pacheco, Tyson Witala and Kirk Thompson). There are also a few other familiar names of players that suited up as APs with the team (Karan Toor and Tanner Fjellstrom).

The acquisition of the new players leaves the Spruce Kings brass content with the team on paper but as you will hear in this interview with the General Manager, don't be surprised if there is another tweak to come. Certainly it won't be any where near the magnitude of today's trade!

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