A masked man will likely be the hero in the first round B.C. Hockey League playoff series between the Prince George Spruce Kings and the Chilliwack Chiefs.
The Spruce Kings workhorse in the crease, Kirk Thompson (24-22-1), will have to out duel Mitch Gillam (27-18-1), the top regular-season goaltender in the BCHL, in order to help the Kings advance to the Mainland division final.
"We're going to rely on him as much as we've relied on him all year," said Spruce Kings head coach Dave Dupas. "He's going to have to be real good for us and we're going to have to get some scoring."
The Spruce Kings have struggled to generate offence this season, among playoff teams they scored the third fewest goals at 170, only the Power River Kings (160) and Salmon Arm Silverbacks (151) have tallied less. In comparison the Chiefs have found the back of the net 182 times.
Coltyn Hansen led the Spruce Kings in scoring with 50 points and he was tied for the team lead in goals at 21 with Cameron Lawson. Mitch Eden tallied 37 points from the Kings' blueline during the season to sit third in team scoring behind Lawson's 41 points.
During the regular season the Spruce Kings (25-22-1-8) posted a 2-5-0-1 record against the Chiefs (33-21-1-1) but their two victories both came in the final two meetings at Prospera Place in the Fraser Valley. Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-five series will be played tonight and Saturday, 7 p.m., at Prospera Place.
"We're going to go in there confident and we'll see what happens," said Dupas.
In addition to solving Gillam and his .929 save percentage, the Spruce Kings will need to shutdown the Chiefs top line of Austin Plevy (73 points), Luke Esposito (71) and Phillip Zielonka (62). The Chiefs will be without forward Tanner Cochrane to start the series as he serves a three-game suspension - two games for accumulated checking from behind penalties and one game for picking up his sixth misconduct of the season.
Already down a forward after Tyson Witala quit the team in January, the Spruce Kings needed to fill out their roster with affiliate players in their final game last weekend due to various injuries. Lawson missed the Spruce Kings final two games with an "upper-body" ailment, while forward Jeremiah Luedtke (post-concussion) has missed the team's last eight games. Forwards Justin Rai and David Stephens are also recuperating from injury. Defenceman Mark Begart was also rested for the team's final regular season game.
The series moves to the Coliseum for the third game Monday, 7 p.m., and if needed, a fourth game Tuesday, 7 p.m. Game 5, if necessary, would be played in Chilliwack on Wednesday.