Spruce Kings face playoff rivals
Will they be preparing for the Chilliwack Chiefs or Surrey Eagles?
This weekend on the road, the Prince George Spruce Kings will see both rivals in the B.C. Hockey League’s Mainland Division. In all likelihood, they’ll open their BCHL playoff schedule in the Lower Mainland against one or the other next month.
Tonight in Surrey, the Spruce Kings meet the Eagles for the last time in the regular season. If previous results are a sign of what’s ahead, they may be hoping to return to Surrey in five weeks.
The Eagles lead the five-team Mainland Division standings with 28 wins, 12 losses, two ties and three overtime defeats (28-12-2-3). Yet they’ve had a tough time with the third-place Spruce Kings.
Eleven points separate the teams, Prince George sporting a 21-16-1-7 mark. But the Spruce Kings have enjoyed a 4-0-0-3 record against the Eagles this season.
Sandwiched between the rivals, Chilliwack sits second at 27-16-1-1. While the Chiefs sit five points behind the division frontrunners, they’ve had an easier time with the Spruce Kings, with six victories in as many games.
The Chiefs and Eagles play different styles.Spruce Kings head coach Dave Dupas is quick to point out how they’ve struggled with one of them.
“Our difficulty, and we’re going to have to find an answer to it here soon, is playing those big, physical teams,” Dupas says. “We’ve had trouble against Langley and we’ve had trouble against Chilliwack.”
The fourth-place Langley Rivermen (18-19-1-5) sit eight points behind the Spruce Kings. With two games in hand and four regular-season meetings with the Spruce Kings left, third place is far from decided. The last-place Coquitlam Express (18-28-1-0) are five points behind Langley, but have played four more games than the Rivermen. With nine games left, the Express needs to string together wins fast and get help just to sneak into the playoffs.
While a playoff spot appears to be a lock for the Spruce Kings, they know better than to rest on their laurels. They aren’t mathematically qualified yet and with 11 regular-season games remaining, they’ll want to use the next month to improve their game in time for the postseason.
This weekend won’t be easy.
“Realistically, if go down there and we can knock one of those teams off in their building, I guess it’s a weekend that we’ll just say OK, we’ll take the .500 and we’ll just get out of town,” Dupas says. “But the fact of the matter is that they’re two very tough buildings to win in and we’re going to have to play our best hockey to compete in those buildings.”
The Spruce Kings are coming off a 1-1 weekend at home. After downing the Eagles 4-1 on Jan. 31, they lost 2-1 to the Island Division’s Nanaimo Clippers on Feb. 1.
Schedule – Nine of the Spruce Kings’ 11 remaining games are against divisional opponents. They’ll see Langley the most, with one doubleheader against the Rivermen next week (Feb. 14 and 15) and another next month (March 2 and 3). Both two-game sets will unfold at the Coliseum.
The Spruce Kings’ regular-season schedule concludes on March 9 against the Interior Division’s Salmon Arm SilverBacks.
“Something drastic has to happen for us to catch Surrey or Chilliwack at this point,” Dupas says. “Conversely, something drastic has to happen for Langley or Coquitlam to catch us.”
Scholarship – Last week, the Spruce Kings announced that goalie Kirk Thompson secured an NCAA Division 1 scholarship. Thompson, a 20-year-old Surrey product, will join the American International College Yellow Jackets (Springfield, Mass.) for the 2013-14 season.
Dupas was pleased to see their netminder get rewarded for his efforts.
“He’s such a good kid, and he works so hard, and I think that we were all getting frustrated. But I could just imagine how he was feeling when he’s seeing goalies that night after night he’s outplaying, and they’re already sitting there with a scholarship, and he wasn’t getting one and that was real frustrating. There was a lot of schools talking to him all year, but they end up going with somebody else. For what reason, I’m not sure because he’s everything that you can possibly want. He’s a quick goalie, he works real hard, he’s got a good attitude.”
New King – The Spruce Kings will have another Prince George product when they hit the ice in the fall.
Cariboo Cougars forward Braiden Epp has committed to the Spruce Kings for the 2013-14 season. Epp, 16, has recorded 25 goals and 55 points in 32 games this B.C. Major Midget League season.
Lineup – After missing a few games to heal a strained knee, forward David Stephens will be back in the Spruce Kings lineup. Defenceman Kevin Guiltinan missed the last two games with a hip injury and is also expected back.