Spruce Kings ready to start playoffs
The Prince George Spruce Kings may have a masked man who’s capable of stealing games on the ice.
But let’s make no mistake. In this B.C. Hockey League playoff series, against these Chilliwack Chiefs, they’ll need all hands on deck offensively.
Aside from the obvious benefit of home-ice advantage, the biggest reason the Chiefs are favourites in the Mainland Division semifinal best-of-five series is their offence. On the surface, it may not seem like much of a difference: at 182 goals, the Chiefs scored only 12 more times than the Spruce Kings in 56 regular-season games.
But the Spruce Kings don’t have game breakers like the Chiefs. Two of the league’s top five scorers, Austin Plevy (73 points) and Luke Esposito (71 points), are linemates in Chilliwack.
When they’ve been successful, the Spruce Kings haven’t relied on any one line. You’d have to scroll down to 25th in individual league scoring to find their points leader. Coltyn Hansen recorded 50 points to lead the team in that department.
The Spruce Kings have also battled consistency. For long stretches during the regular season, they struggled around the opposition’s net.
“The difference is we have to score goals. Our power play has to really help us out here,” Spruce Kings head coach Dave Dupas says. “We have to score some goals. We have to make sure that we’re trying to shut down that top line of theirs and get some timely scoring, so it’s scoring by committee for us, the way it’s been all year. If we play solid in our zone, limit their power-play opportunities, I think we have a good chance.”
The Spruce Kings are no longer a playoff-bound team locked in third place. The BCHL playoffs begin this evening, and the Spruce Kings have an opportunity to win their first playoff series since 2005.
The Mainland Division’s second versus third set begins tonight in Chilliwack. The teams will play again Saturday evening before the series shifts to Prince George for Game 3 on Monday (7 p.m. at the Coliseum).
Game 4, if necessary, will unfold on Tuesday evening at the Coliseum. If a fifth and deciding contest is required, it’ll be held back in Chilliwack on Wednesday night.
In a short series, every game is important.
“Obviously we’d like to win two, we can’t afford to lose two, but we’ll take a split down there,” Dupas says of this weekend. “But we have to play well. That’s the main thing, play well, have some confidence coming back into our building.”
Goaltending has provided a boost to both teams. With the talent between the pipes, this may be one of the BCHL’s lowest-scoring series.
Bruins starting goalie Mitch Gillam was named the BCHL Most Valuable Player for the Coastal Conference this season. He’s sported a 2.53 save percentage and .929 save percentage with four shutouts in 46 games this season.
Spruce Kings netminder Kirk Thompson’s stats are less impressive, but his efforts between the pipes have told the true story. He’s given the team in front of him a chance to win in most of his starts, and has been named a star in many Spruce Kings’ victories.
Coaches on both sides know that making life difficult for the opposing goalie is a key to winning.
“He’s played extremely well since Christmas,” Chiefs head coach/GM Harvey Smyl says of Thompson. “We need to make sure we’re around him, trying to get second opportunities, get in tight so he knows we’re there. When we get ops we need to execute.”
The Spruce Kings finished their regular season schedule with 25 wins, 22 losses, one tie and eight overtime defeats (25-22-1-8). At 33-21-1-1, the Chiefs recorded nine more points.
Chilliwack won the season series with six wins in eight games. But the Spruce Kings won the last two meetings with the Chiefs, both victories in Chilliwack.
The Spruce Kings are seeking their first playoff series win since 2005. They’ll try to use the position of underdog to their advantage.
“I don’t think too many people are giving us a chance to win this thing,” Dupas says.
- with files from the Chilliwack Progress