Getting the first win in a championship series is never easy in hockey.
That was proven Friday night (April 12) for the Prince George Spruce Kings, who sacrificed body, mind, and some of Logan Neaton’s blood to pull out a 3-1 victory over the Vernon Vipers in Game One of the B.C. Hockey League (BCHL) Fred Page Cup Final.
“I’m thankful it wasn’t anything too serious,” the Spruce Kings goaltender explained after a puck knocked off his helmet in the second period causing a bloody nose. “It popped me in the face obviously, which was good because it kind of woke me up a little bit. And, it honestly didn’t hurt as bad as it looked, so we’re all good here.”
The American import recorded his 13th win of the 2018-19 playoffs in 14 starts, earning Prince George a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series before a ruckus, 2,112-strong Rolling Mix Concrete Arena (RMCA) crowd.
He, as the game’s First Star, stopped 23 of 24 shots from the visiting Vipers, and the victory also extends the Spruce Kings home-winning streak to 16 games; eight-for-eight in the post-season.
.@SpruceKings salute the crowd after a rough-and-tough contest to start the 2018-19 BCHL Fred Page Cup Finals 👋 They’re now 8/8 at home in the playoffs with a 3-1 victory over @VernonVipers | #CityOfPG @GoBCHL @PGMatters pic.twitter.com/80ldDvCQ4I— Kyle Balzer (@KyleBalzer) April 13, 2019
In keeping with his humble mentality, Neaton credited his entire team for backing him up when the puck got in their zone and remaining calm in the heat of the moment.
“Team defense was key for us in this game. I think we did a good job bearing down late in the third period because it was tough to give up that one goal, but at the end of the day, I think we had a good response. We dialled back in quickly, found a way to win, and now we’re looking at tomorrow night [April 13].”
The goal Neaton refers to was Vernon’s 1-1 tying goal before the 10-minute mark of the final frame as the officials gathered at centre ice to decide if Jesse Lansdell’s stick was above his waist when he deflected the puck.
After a brief discussion, the referee’s call stood as a good goal despite arguments from Neaton, the Prince George bench, and the fans.
However, the Spruce Kings would resume play, which led to Ben Brar’s game-winning goal three-and-a-half minutes later to get to 2-1.
Captain Ben Poisson potted an empty-netter from the other side of the rink, 180 feet according to Spruce Kings’ social media, for his team-leading 11th goal of the playoffs and nailing the last spike in the Game One coffin with a 3-1 win.
Lucas Vanroboys was the other scorer for Prince George, lighting the first lamp of the contest less than five minutes into the second period for the 1-0 advantage.
.@SpruceKings strike first in @GoBCHL Fred Page Cup Final. 1-0 with 13 minutes left in the second period against @VernonVipers #bchl #sprucekings #playoffs #fredpage #vipers #vernon #cityofpg @PGMatters pic.twitter.com/KMXZ53buO9— Jess Fedigan (@jj_fedigan) April 13, 2019
The tilt had its physicality, but the officials decided to let the boys play sans four total penalties.
Neaton said it’ll be important for his red, white, and blue squad to erase everything that happened Friday in preparation for whatever challenges may come in Game Two.
“Whatever happens, happens; that’s the same focus we’ve had all year,” he explained. “We need to look ahead to the next game and in the playoffs especially, you got to have a short memory whether it’s for the good or the bad. You always need to build a refocus and key-in the next night. We know they’re going to come back hard because they’re a good team. They play physical and fast, so we’re going to be ready for them.”
The second contest against Vernon goes for tonight, 7 p.m. at the RMCA with what will likely be another sold-out show.
The Spruce Kings will try to make it a 2-0 Finals advantage before hitting the road for Games Three and Four on Tuesday (April 16) and Wednesday (April 17).
Game one of the Fred Page Cup final lived up to the hype! The Spruce Kings take game one over the Vipers with a tightly-contested 3-1 victory on home ice.— BC Hockey League (@GoBCHL) April 13, 2019
Check out the highlights in #BCHLin60! pic.twitter.com/Z71b2d3hbk