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Prince George Spruce Kings keep home-winning streak alive, even Doyle Cup series

Regional Championship knotted at 2-2 after ‘Kings top Bandits in Game Four

Home continues to be as sweet as it is for the Prince George Spruce Kings, even after a two-and-a-half week hiatus.

The red, white, and blue kept the winning streak at the Rolling Mix Concrete Arena (RMCA) alive Wednesday night (May 1), defeating the Brooks Bandits 3-1 in Game Four of the 2019 Doyle Cup for their 16th win in a row in their own barn, and to even the series 2-2.

Prince George has not lost a contest on home ice in 2019 thus far and they also avoided their first three-game losing skid since Jan. 4 to 6 while on the road in B.C. Hockey League (BCHL) regular-season play.

“I think it’s the fans that really make the difference,” said forward Patrick Cozzi after the victory, crediting the 1,908-strong for not giving up on his team. “I know we have the best fans in junior hockey and the atmosphere is just incredible every single time we play here.”

Fans rallied behind the Spruce Kings after Brooks lit the first lamp of the game eight minutes into the opening frame while on a man-advantage, carrying a 1-0 lead into the intermission.

Prince George was fortunate to get a power-play of their own moments into the second period, allowing Nolan Welsh to tie it up at 1-1.

The 19-year-old tapped in a pass from Dylan Anhorn right in front of the Bandits’ net.

Cozzi followed suit with less than two minutes left in the second stanza, going nearly from end-to-end to give the home team a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes of play, also getting some help from Anhorn to start the rush.

“They turned it over and I got the puck,” the Greenlawn, New York product explained as the goal came a day after his 21st birthday. “I was going to drive it wide, but they kind of left the middle open. I just cut to the middle really quickly, just threw it on the net, and it was lucky enough to go in. So that was nice to get that goal for sure.”

Shortly before the end of the middle frame, a Brooks player covered a loose puck in his own crease in an attempt to stop the play, which rewarded Prince George with a penalty shot.

Layton Ahac was selected to possibly give the ‘Kings a two-goal advantage going into the next period, but goaltender Pierce Charleson stopped the puck with his left pad.

A quiet third period saw the Spruce Kings maintain a strong presence when it came to playing around the boards against a rather big-and-tall Bandits squad, an attribute Cozzi believes gives his teammates the extra edge.

“I think we just got to keep playing physical on them,” he said. “That’s a big thing for us; we’re a pretty physical team even though we’re not the biggest, and I think we’re wearing them down right now because our conditioning is top notch. If we just keep hitting them, we’ll wear them down even more even though they may be bigger than us.”

Welsh added an empty-netter with 31 seconds left in regulation and Prince George would hang on for the 3-1 victory.

Logan Neaton came up clutch once again at the RMCA for the Spruce Kings, stopping 18 of 19 shots from their Alberta opponents in his 21st consecutive start between the pipes in the post-season, while Charleson made 25 saves on 27 shots on the other side of the rink.

Trailing 1-2 in the regional championship final before last night, and for the first time in any playoff series this year, did not sit well for Prince George coming back home.

“Down there, we weren’t competing as hard as we should’ve, myself included,” said Cozzi when asked about what the difference was from losing back-to-back games in Brooks to winning Wednesday’s game. “I really don’t want to make excuses for us. We didn’t play our best games over there and I think our guys really realized that. We all came together, had a big meeting earlier today about how we can compete better, and everyone responded really well.”

With the Game Four victory, the Doyle Cup is now a best-of-three series.

This means in addition to Game Five being played tonight (May 2), 7 p.m. at the RMCA, Prince George will host a Game Six on Saturday (May 4).

If the Spruce Kings and Bandits win one each and force a Game Seven, that will be played Sunday night (May 5), also a 7 p.m.