Chief problem for Spruce Kings continues
The Prince George Spruce Kings haven’t had an answer for the Chilliwack Chiefs.
They may believe they know what it takes, but the results so far this season have turned out wrong. In five head-to-head B.C. Hockey League games, the Chiefs have come out victorious.
Four of the Chiefs’ five triumphs were regulation victories at the Coliseum, including a doubleheader sweep on the weekend. The other was a 3-2 overtime win at Chilliwack’s Prospera Centre on Jan. 11.
The teams have three dates remaining in their eight-game regular season set, all in Chilliwack. It begins tonight, game time scheduled for 7 p.m. The Spruce Kings will also visit the Chiefs’ barn twice next month, Feb. 9 and 23.
The Spruce Kings remain third in the five-team Mainland Division with 19 wins, 14 losses, one tie and six overtime defeats (19-14-1-6). The Chiefs lead the standings at 26-12-1-1, one point ahead of the Surrey Eagles (24-11-2-3). The Langley Rivermen (16-16-1-5) are fourth while the last-place Coquitlam Express (17-24-1-0) round out the division.
While the Spruce Kings won’t win the season series against the Chiefs, there are opportunities ahead to gain confidence against their divisional rivals. But minutes after Saturday evening’s game ended, with the losing result fresh in his mind, Spruce Kings head coach Dave Dupas wouldn’t hide his frustration.
“It’s just real difficult to win when your margin of error is that low,” he said. “We haven’t scored more than two goals in any game against these guys, and we have to find a way to score more goals.”
The numbers above centre ice were identical Friday and Saturday night, 4-2 victories for the visitors. Even the scoring summary was similar. In each game, the Chiefs found the back of the net first and rounded out the scoring with an empty netter. The Spruce Kings pulled within one with a third-period marker.
Chiefs starting goalie Mitch Gillam played a leading role each night. On Friday, he stopped 46 shots. He recorded 30 saves on Saturday. Kirk Thompson took both losses in the Spruce Kings’ net.
“The frustrating thing is that the guys just played well all weekend. They really did. They played well all weekend,” Dupas said of his players. “It was a tough, hard-fought series. Besides saying to them, ‘guys, you got to score more’, what else can we do?”
In Saturday’s game, forward Chad Staley and defenceman Mark Begert scored for the Spruce Kings. The Chiefs were led offensively by Austin Plevy, who tallied three assists. Philip Zielonka (two goals), Luke Esposito (one goal, one assist) and Spencer Graboski (two assists) had two-point games. Josh Hansen also scored for the visitors.
The Spruce Kings finished 1-for-5 on the power play, while the Chiefs were 0-for-4 with the man advantage.
Spruce Kings defenceman Mitch Eden hasn’t been surprised by the goaltending battle between the two starters. He credits Thompson for keeping them in games.
“He’s an unbelievable goalie. He’s helped us. He’s won so many games for us. Every time he’s in net, you know that you have a chance to win and we had a chance to win tonight,” he said on Saturday evening. “He stood on his head and unfortunately we just couldn’t bury at the other end.”
Gillam’s success against the Spruce Kings this season includes shutouts at the Coliseum on Nov. 29 and 30, 6-0 and 2-0 victories.
“(The Chiefs) have a good goalie and maybe he’s in our heads and stuff like that, but the fact of the matter is that we have to score,” Dupas said.
The Spruce Kings play the Express on Saturday and Sunday at the Coliseum. Saturday’s contest will begin at 7 p.m. while Sunday’s game is a 3 p.m. matinee affair.