After six days between games, the Prince George Spruce Kings will climb back on that horse Wednesday night when they return to the friendly confines of Rolling Mix Concrete Arena.
Considering their opponent is the undefeated Penticton Vees, the Kings are coming to the rink prepared for what could be a rough ride.
The Vees are considered one of the teams to beat this season in the B.C. Hockey League’s Interior Conference and so far they’ve lived up the hype, with five regulation wins in their first five games to start the season.
The Spruce Kings have also gotten off to a great start and sport a 5-1-0-0-0 record heading into Wednesday’s game. Each team has 10 points, but the Spruce Kings are pegged third in the league standings behind Penticton and the Salmon Arm Silverbacks (4-0-1-0-0), who each have better winning percentages than Prince George.
The Vees and Spruce Kings swept their games last week at the BCHL Showcase in Chilliwack.
The Kings defeated the Wenatchee Wild 4-1 on Tuesday, then topped the Victoria Grizzlies 3-2 the following night, handing the Coastal Conference frontrunners their first loss of the season. Penticton scored a 4-1 victory over the Langley Rivermen on Wednesday, then beat the Surrey Eagles 6-2 on Thursday.
Spruce Kings head coach Alex Evin appreciates the efforts that go into the Showcase, which gathers all 18 BCHL teams together in one city and serves as a convenient stage for U.S. college and pro scouts to get a look at all the players who might warrant scholarship or NHL draft consideration.
“We played five good periods down there and they were our last five periods,” said Evin. “We were awful to start the game in Wenatchee (the Spruce Kings had 18 turnovers in that 20-minute span) but the last five periods were really good.”
Wednesday’s game marks the return of centre Finlay Williams to Prince George, where he began his BCHL career in 2019. He joined the Spruce Kings from the Burnaby Winter Club right before the playoffs that year and went on to play eight games in the Kings’ postseason romp to their first BCHL championship. Williams played one more season with the Kings and asked for the trade that sent him to Penticton in the summer of 2020.
Williams, 18, has two goals and five assists and is tied with Josh Nadeau for the team lead in points, each with seven through five games. Williams, the Vees captain, is committed to the University of Michigan next season.
The Vees also have three players with rich NHL bloodlines. Joshua Niedermeyer, a 17-year-old defenceman, is the son of Scott Niedermeyer, a four-time Stanley Cup champion with New Jersey and two-time Olympic gold medalist. Nineteen-year-old left winger Jackson Nieuwendyk’s father is longtime NHL centre Joe Nieuwendyk, who won Stanley Cups with Calgary, Dallas and New Jersey. Vees’ 17-year-old left winger William “Beanie” Richter, is the son of Mike, the former New York Ranger goaltending great who backstopped the team to the Stanley Cup in 1994.
“It’s a really good, talented hockey team, they’re always one of the better teams in the league and it’s a good test for us to see where we’re at, hopefully we’re ready,” said Evin.
The Kings boast two forwards in the top-five in league scoring. Nick Rheaume has four goals and six assists for 10 points in six games, while John Herrington is right behind him in fifth place in the scoring race with five goals and nine points. Killian McGregor Bennett is clicking beyond a point-per-game pace with one goal and seven assists in six games.
“Actually, we’ve got contributions from the bottom of our lineup, I think they’ve scored five or six goals now, so I think everyone is starting to chip in, which is what you need,” said Evin.
Defenceman Ben LeFranc, an 18-year-old from Penticton, has also had a hot hand lately. He scored twice in the Wenatchee game and now has three goals and an assist in five games.
“He’s very mobile, he’s good on transitions and it’s nice to see him jumping into the right places in the o-zone and shooting the puck with a purpose,” said Evin. “I think if he does that he’ll see success.”
Evin hasn’t named his starter in goal Wednesday but he has two quite capable choices in Aaron Trotter and Jordan Fairlie. Trotter held the Kings in the game during their rocky opening period against the Wild, while Fairlie had to be at his best late in the Victoria game when the Grizzlies were buzzing the Kings’ net pressing for the equalizer.
Winger Linden Makow (broken collarbone) remains sidelined. The Kings are otherwise reasonably healthy.
It’s a busy week ahead for the Spruce Kings. They take on the Vees again Friday in Penticton, then visit the Merritt Centennials on Saturday. The Cents should be well-rested with no other games this week until they face the Kings.