I can only imagine what the Prince George Spruce Kings hierarchy was thinking when they first heard the news that the Millionaires may relocate to Chilliwack.
Team president Darcy Buryn likely approached general manager Mike Hawes and asked him how they can generate victories if Quesnel moves. Hawes’ probable response was “good question”. In fact, Hawes most likely deferred the question to head coach Dave Dupas, who possibly returned the inquiry to Hawes by stating something like, “Mike, it is now up to you to schedule more games against Merritt. If we could play 30 of our 60 against the Centennials, I think we will be okay.”
As each year becomes increasingly difficult, on and off the ice, for the Spruce Kings, they could also count on wins each season over the hapless Millionaires.
Okay, laughs aside, last year, the Williams Lake Timberwolves folded and this year there exists the probability the Millionaires will not operate their BCHL team in Quesnel.
This poses the question: Where does that leave the Spruce Kings? The answer is simple, without Quesnel, Prince George will be reduced to an outpost, clinging to life in the far neck of the woods.
The BCHL certainly won’t kick the Spruce Kings out of the league, as long as they are a member in good standing, which is currently the case, however, the league certainly won’t be doing the Kings any favours.
Did the league hesitate to remove the Timberwolves? Is the league going to all extremes to help with a Save the Mills’ campaign in Quesnel?
I have been scratching my head looking for positives for the Spruce Kings in this situation. My only solution (I am stretching as far as I can), is that tripleheaders at the Coliseum should be reduced to doubleheaders and that the team can promote to local prospects that the Spruce Kings are the only Junior “A” franchise in the north. In other words, they won’t have to compete with Quesnel for top talent in this area. This Spruce Kings’ “new” territory would be similar to that of the Cariboo Cougars of the BC Major Midget Hockey League.
I can just hear some critics suggesting that if the Spruce Kings and Mills had combined their team this season, they still would not have competed with Vernon, Penticton or Salmon Arm. But let’s not sound too harsh.
In the past, Penticton would play in P.G. on a Friday and Sunday and Westside would be at the Coliseum on a Saturday. In a similar schedule, the Millionaires would face those two teams on reverse days which meant both clubs had three home dates in as many days. Now, with Quesnel out of the picture, only one team would travel up north on a weekend which should mean just two consecutive games and not three.
The absence of the Millionaires would result in concerns that outweigh any benefits. Travel costs will balloon an estimated $20,000. The closest trip will be six hours to Merritt rather than 1 1/2 hours to Quesnel. Do you think that makes recruiting any easier, telling prospects every bus ride will be long and boring ?
In addition, there will be no rival. The CNC Cup, marketed to be P.G. vs Quesnel, certainly isn’t going to be replaced by Prince George vs Trail. No out of town team will bring its own fans to P.G. like the Millionaires.
The competitiveness will certainly be a factor. In 2009-10, the Spruce Kings played 1/3 of their schedule (20 games) vs Williams Lake and Quesnel, earning many of their victories in those games. It was bad enough that Williams Lake left, but the situation will worsen if the Cariboo can’t field a team.
In retrospect, the BCHL would never have granted expansion to the North (in the 90’s) if they knew there was going to be just one team. Now, it appears the Spruce Kings will be that single team holding down the fort.
The long-term viability of the Spruce Kings franchise will face significant challenges. Therefore, the team needs more leadership than ever. Mediocrity will not be acceptable.
Trail and Powell River are BCHL teams that have survived without a competitor located in close proximity. But these franchises have shown flashes of competitiveness on the ice, especially Powell River.
As a side note, it is interesting that Powell River’s nickname is the Kings and for the last few years they have played like it (winning the Coastal Conference in each of the last three seasons). Meanwhile, in Prince George, the (Spruce) Kings have for the most part played like paupers. That will need to change quickly or P.G. will suffer a similar fate to Williams Lake and Quesnel.
Hartley Miller is the sports director for radio stations 94X and the Wolf@97fm. He also writes for Opinion 250. Send along a quote, note or anecdote to firstname.lastname@example.org.