Spruce Kings' scoring touch a cause for concern
The season starts Saturday and, ready or not, the Prince George Spruce Kings will step into the spotlight at the B.C. Hockey League Showcase in Chilliwack to face the Cowichan Valley Capitals.
Winless in three preseason games, the Spruce Kings have one major concern heading into their 18th season in the BCHL.
Who's going to supply the offence?
The Kings were outscored 12-4 in the preseason and that is a definite cause for concern.
The Kings announced their 22-player roster Wednesday, which includes nine returning players. Back for more are forwards Bryant Christian, 20; Chad Staley, 19; Jeremiah Luedtke, 19; Justin Rai, 19; Sean Landrey, 20; and Jake LeBrun,18; as well as 19-year-old defencemen Mitch Eden, Karan Toor and Skylar Pacheco.
Aside from Eden, who ranked third in team scoring with 37 points last season, Christian (11-22-33) is the leading returning pointgetter among the forwards. Staley had nine goals and 27 points and Rai chipped in 11 goals and 24 points in 2012-13.
"All the second- and third-year guys are going to have to step up produce the points for us," said Dave Dupas, back for his third full season as Spruce Kings head coach. "With all these new faces and most of these new guys coming out of midget, we'll be young and there's going to be a learning curve. Our worry right now is where the scoring will come from. They're all good players, It just depends on how quickly they pick it up."
Also up front among the 13 forwards are 19-year-old Brent Lashuk of Kamloops (acquired in a trade from West Kelowna); 18-year-olds Cole Todd (Kamloops) and Riley Hawes (Prince George); as well as 17-year-olds Mike Painchaud (Delta), Mitchell Barker (Kamloops), and Braiden Epp and Derek Bulmer (both from P.G.).
Seven defencemen are on the roster including offensively-gifted newcomer 18-year-old Danny Kiraly (Glendale, Ariz.), 19-year-old Caleb Thompson (Oklahoma City), 20-year-old Christian Weidauer (Keswick, Ont.) and 18-year-old Prince George minor hockey product Stephen Penner. At six-foot-three, 190 pounds, Weidauer has some leverage as the biggest of the blueliners.
"We'll be a bit bigger up front than we were last year and a bit smaller on D but we'll be more mobile, and it's just a matter of them getting up to speed," said Dupas. "Our transition from defence to forwards will be better this year."
The Kings showed marked improvement tightening up their defensive play in the space of two exhibition games against Merritt. Outshot by 30 in a 5-2 defeat at home, the shot count was in the Kings' favour in the rematch Saturday in Merritt but they still lost 4-1.
Both goaltenders are new to the territory, including 20-year-old Alex Murray, an import from the Burlington Cougars of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and 18-year-old rookie Jesse Jenks, who played major midget last year for the South Island Royals.
"Alex was brought in to be the starting goalie," said Dupas. "He's looked good in the games he's played and he's given us a chance to win."
Hawes, a rough-and-tumble six-foot-three, 190-pound winger who spent most of last season with the Prince George midget Tier 1 Cougars, earned himself a junior A roster spot by showing he's not afraid to take a hit and his willingness to dish out more than his share of punishment in return. Team toughness is not a concern to the Spruce Kings' staff.
Now helping Dupas as a full-time assistant coach is Colton Buffie, who served two seasons as the team's video coach. With 13 new faces in the lineup, Dupas said it's been difficult covering all aspects of the game in such a short exhibition season condensed even more by the time involved travelling to games. The Kings will have practiced only six times by the time they leave for Chilliwack on Friday.
n The Kings dealt 19-year -old defenceman Luke Formica to the Winkler Flyers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) for future considerations. The team also has signed Brogan O'Brien, 16, a six-foot-one 172-pound forward, to play for the 2014-15 season. O'Brien will skate this season in the B.C. Major Midget League for the Cariboo Cougars.