As big goals go, it’s hard to fathom 15-year-old Finn Williams will score one more important to the Prince George Spruce Kings’ cause than the one that will go down in history as his first career B.C. Hockey League point.
Not only was his goal Saturday night at Rolling Mix Concrete Arena a game-winner, but this wasn’t just a game. It was Game 2 of the Fred Page Cup championship series and it came at a key moment for the Spruce Kings, who went on to defeat the Vernon Vipers 4-1 to take a 2-0 series lead.
Sean Donaldson started the play, carrying the puck out of the Kings’ end along the left wall and he pushed it up to Williams, who thought he was going to offside by the time he gained possession. But linemate Nick Wilson took over the rush and while getting covered by a pair of Viper checkers his shot was blocked and the puck was left for Williams who flicked it on goal and it found the top corner of the net behind goalie Aidan Porter.
“I just saw it sitting there and I wanted to get it off quick without the goalie seeing it with a bit of careen and it’s cool it went in,” said Williams. “Hopefully there’s some more to come but it was good to get that one out of the way.”
The bench erupted and Kings defenceman Max Coyle, Williams’s 21-year-old billet brother, skated out to join the celebration and picked up the puck to toss it to trainer Rick Brown. No doubt that rubber biscuit will go on prominent display in the Williams household in North Vancouver.
“That’s huge for that kid,” said Coyle. “He’s fitting in good here and the guys are loving him. You love to see that for a young kid like that, he’s super-talented and he’s going to do some stuff in hockey I think. Something like that just brings us together.”
Despite his youth, Williams has added scoring punch and a fierce mentality that sets the tone for the fourth line, blending well with seasoned BCHL veterans Donaldson and Wilson. They’re each making noticeable contributions in both ends of the ice and have added a new dimension to an already potent Kings’ lineup.
“Depth is huge in the playoffs and they came up with a big goal tonight, that line can play out there and they’re doing a good job and it’s nice to see Finn get his first of probably many in this league at a big time in a big moment in the finals here,” said Kings head coach Adam Maglio.
Williams joined the Kings for four games in the season, called up from the Burnaby Winter Club midget prep team as an affiliate player. He rejoined his BCHL teammates for the Victoria series and is here to stay for the next two seasons while he prepares for a college hockey future at the University of Michigan.
“It’s been amazing, it’s cool to learn from the older guys in this room and the coaches and be a part of this run we have going right now,” said Williams.
Saturday’s win, in front of sold-out crowd of 2,112, was the nine straight at home for the Spruce Kings, who improved their playoff record to 14-1. They’ve won 22 of their last 24 games, a streak that started Jan. 25. But just like in Game 1, there were times in Saturday’s game the Kings had to be wondering how they’d be able keep the Vipers from winning.
“They’re a good team, probably the best team we’ve played so far, just the hard work they’re giving,” said Coyle. “You can’t relax, you can’t be at your heels, they’re dumping and hammering on you. They’re a hard-nosed team and they’re hard to play against.”
The Vipers were the aggressors through most of the first period and built an 11-4 edge in shots in the first 16 minutes but had nothing on the scoreboard to show for it. Kings goalie Logan Neaton picked up where he left off as the first star in Friday’s 3-1 Game 1 victory and was dialed in on his duties.
“We’re doing our best to play our game and we’ve got guys working hard and we’re just not getting the bounces,” said Vipers winger Jesse Lansdell, who’s hoping a change of scenery with the series switching to Vernon for the next two games will get his team out of its scoring funk.
“I think we’re doing the right things out there but we just need to bear down on our chances. The goal was to get a split and we weren’t able to do that but we’re happy with how we played and I think we’ll use that momentum to bring the games back to Vernon and come put with the same effort and hopefully have better results.”
Aside from a goalpost Chong Min Lee hit three minutes in, the Kings didn’t get much of a sniff at the Vipers’ net until the 16:42 mark when defenceman Layton Ahac unleashed a hard snapshot from the ringette line with Ben Brar standing just outside the crease. Brar got the blade of his stick on the low shot and scored his second goal of the series, almost a carbon copy of his gamewinner Friday.
The Kings’ second period was their strongest. After Williams put them up 2-0, 3:46 into the period, the Vipers cut the lead in half with an own-goal that came right after the mid-period media timeout. Jagger Williamson caught up to long dump-in from Brendan Kim to beat out an icing call and got the puck over to Lansdell, who tired to feed Logan Cash in front, but the puck deflected in off Ahac’s skate.
Late in the period the Vipers got themselves in penalty trouble and had two players in the box when Dylan Anhorn put the puck into defence partner Nick Bochen’s wheelhouse. Bochen got all his might into the high shot and Porter had no chance at stopping it. That gave the Kings a 3-1 lead to take into the second break.
“We didn’t have a great start but we stuck with it and that’s Spruce Kings’ hockey,” said Ahac. “It’s a completely different style they play. We played Chilliwack and Victoria (the previous two rounds) and they have unbelievable skill but they weren’t as physical. This team is super-defensive and they hit a lot.”
The Vipers survived a few close calls with the Kings still on the power play to start the third period and Porter was there to make the saves. Lansdell, who came up with a bloody welt on his nose after crashing face-first into the corner boards late in the second period, put a shot off the crossbar behind Neaton six minutes into the third period. Neaton bailed his team out with three more quality saves as the period approached the midway mark and the Kings were under siege when Lucas Vanroboys was sent off for slashing. The Vipers got some good looks at the net but were foiled by the shot blocking of centre Dustin Manz, who sacrificed his body three times on the penalty kill to keep the puck away from Neaton.
“(Neaton) was very composed in the net and credit to our guys as well, some huge blocks there on the kill and at the end of the game,” said Maglio. “Those are big-time plays and everyone did their job tonight and we’re pushing towards our goal here. It’s a tight series, they’re a good hockey team and we have to keep pushing and keep taking care of our end and making sure we’re focused.
“We like where we’re at, obviously, but it is going to be a different road game down there and we have to be ready.”
Two more wins and the Kings will be celebrating the first BCHL championship of their 23-year history. The best-of-seven series resumes Tuesday in Vernon with Game 4 to follow on Wednesday. If a fifth game is needed it will be played Friday at RMCA.
LOOSE PUCKS: The BCHL winner will play the Alberta Junior Hockey League champion, either the Brooks Bandits or Spruce Grove Saints, in a best-of-seven Doyle Cup series. The Bandits beat the Saints 3-2 in double-overtime Saturday in Brooks, site of the national junior A hockey championship, May 11-19.
Fred Page Cup championship
PRINCE GEORGE SPRUCE KINGS VS. VERNON VIPERS
(Spruce Kings lead best-of-seven series 2-0)
Vipers 1 at Spruce Kings 4
1. Prince George, Brar 4 (Ahac, Cozzi) 16:42
Penalties – Williamson Ver (interference) 9:10, Coyle PG (hooking) 11:47,
2. Prince George, Williams 1 (Wilson, Donaldson) 3:46
3. Vernon, Lansdell 6 (Williamson, Kim) 10:19
4. Prince George, Bochen 3 (Anhorn, Cozzi) 18:51 (pp)
Penalties – Latta Ver (tripping) 17:29, Young Ver (cross-checking) 18:22..
5. Prince George, Brar 5 (Cozzi) 19:20 (en)
Penalties – Vanroboys PG (slashing) 10:41, Kim Ver (high-sticking) 16:19
Shots on goal by
Vernon 14 5 9 -28
Prince George5 9 13 -27
Goal – Vernon, Porter (L,12-7); Prince George, Neaton (W,14-1).
Power plays – Ver: 0-2; PG: 1-5.
Referees – Ward Pateman, Jeff Eden; Linesmen – Riley Balson, Cody Wanner.
Attendance – 2,112 (sellout).
Scratches – Vernon: D Will Dow-Kenny (healthy), F Nicholas Cherkowski (healthy), F Lane Zablocki (healthy); Prince George: D Liam Watson-Brawn (upper body, day-to-day), F Tyler Schleppe (healthy), F Spencer DenBeste (healthy), F Craig MacDonald (healthy).