The Prince George Spruce Kings aren’t prepared to call off their playoff plans yet.
But they’re running out of games.
Only five contests remain on the B.C. Hockey League 2009-10 regular season schedule for the Spruce Kings, who sport a record of 16 wins, 34 losses, a tie and four overtime defeats (16-34-1-4). Prior to their Tuesday evening home game against the Penticton Vees, the Trail Smoke Eaters were holding down the Interior Conference’s seventh and final playoff position with a mark of 17-30-1-5. With 40 points, they were three points up on Prince George with two games in hand.
Closing out their regular season with a trio of games against the Interior and Coastal Conference basement-dwellers may work to Prince George’s advantage. But before the Spruce Kings can prepare for the Williams Lake TimberWolves and Burnaby Express, they’ll travel to the Okanagan to meet the top two teams in the Interior Conference, the Vernon Vipers on Saturday and Penticton Vees on Sunday.
Collecting a victory against either team is a daunting task for the Spruce Kings. At 44-6-0-3 entering their home game against the Merritt Centennials on Tuesday evening, Vernon led the 17-team league with 91 points. The Vees were just two points behind at 43-7-0-3. The Spruce Kings still haven’t been able to defeat a team with a winning record this season, and with playoffs around the corner and the team needing wins to quality, there couldn’t be a better time to end that streak.
“We’re just taking it period by period, shift by shift. You got to do what you can do,” 20-year-old Spruce Kings forward Zac Rasmussen said. “You can’t wait around for other people to do stuff for you, like the other teams in the standings, so you got to go into every night expecting them to win. If they’re going to win, you got to win to hopefully keep pace and you got to hope they lose. You just got to go in shift by shift, try and win your shift you’re in and go from there.”
Saturday’s 8-5 defeat to the Victoria Grizzlies may turn out to be crucial to the Spruce Kings. They recovered from deficits on three occasions, but never took the lead. Grizzlies forward Alex Allan scored the game winner in the high-scoring affair, picking up a rebound and sending the puck past Spruce Kings goalie Andrew Walsh. To start the play, the Grizzlies picked the puck up off a crucial turnover, as defenceman Reid Blinkhorn couldn’t control it
Allan, who played for the Spruce Kings last season, managed a goal and two assists against his former team. But the top Grizzlies player on this night was forward Dylan Nowakowski, who scored four goals, his final marker of the empty net variety. Dustin Mowrey had a pair of goals, while Wesley Myron also scored for Victoria.
Forward Sammy Muchalla led the Spruce Kings with a goal and three assists. Rasmussen scored twice and added two helpers. RJay Berra tallied a goal and two assists., while Nick DeSousa also scored for the home team, which outshot the visitors 49-35.
Winning goalie Ryan Holfeld put forth a solid effort between the pipes for the Grizzlies.
Rasmussen’s offence helped the Spruce Kings finish 2-1 on their recent three-game homestand, as they defeated the TimberWolves 6-2 on Wednesday before downing the Nanaimo Clippers 5-2 on Friday. The wins came after a four-game Island road swing in which they collected only one point in a 4-3 overtime defeat at Nanaimo on Jan. 27.
Rasmussen, named the BCHL Player of the Week, credits linemates Muchalla and Berra.
“I came back after the road trip kind of in a bit of a slump and I just kind of took off,” he said. “I think I got seven or eight goals in the last three games, which is unknown for me, usually as a checker, grinder-type guy, trying to mix it up. But it feels great.”
The Spruce Kings and TimberWolves meet in a week in Williams Lake. The same two teams are slated to hit the Coliseum ice next Friday before the Spruce Kings host the Express the following evening to close out the regular season.
Muchalla, who’s going to be leaving the organization to play NCAA Division 1 hockey at Northern Michigan University next season, knows the Spruce Kings dug themselves in a hole in their quest for a playoff spot.
“We’re going to keep pushing, but it’s going to take a big effort from everybody. We need to play 60 minutes now and we got to battle hard every game and it’s going to come down to wanting it and just executing now.”