It was all over before it even began for the Portage Terriers.
After three straight losses to start the national junior A hockey championship in Brooks, Alta., they knew there was nothing they could do to extend their season when they lined up Wednesday night to face the undefeated Prince George Spruce Kings.
The Manitoba champions had nothing to lose, knowing they’re going home early, eliminated from playoff contention, and the Kings showed no sympathy, winning 5-1 to improve to 3-0 and move back into a first-place tie with the Brooks Bandits.
It didn’t take long for the Kings to show why they’re one of the favourites to be playing for the trophy Sunday afternoon. They broke out to a 3-0 lead in the first period on goals from Dylan Anhorn, Chong Min Lee and Ben Brar and never looked back in what has to rate as their most dominant game yet at the five-team tournament.
“Our gameplan was to play with pace and use our o-zone time to our advantage,” said Kings captain Ben Poisson.
Prince George certainly took advantage of the Terriers’ loose defensive coverage and had the Terriers chasing their own tails in the Portage end often in the game. Anhorn got the Kings started, just 55 seconds in, when he took the puck in the right circle and avoided Sam Huston’s stick-check attempt as he dragged it into the slot, firing high over Nathan Moore’s blocker.
Lee made it 2-0 with his second goal of the tournament at 7:53. Lucas Vanroboys used his big body to dig the puck out of crowd in the corner for Lee and he went low with his shot to the far side and the puck found the net inside of Moore’s skate.
Brar's goal was a rocket from the circle, at 16:01 of the first.
Kings goalie Logan Neaton, who notched the win to improve his playoff record to 21-3, saw very little action until Jay Keranen took a penalty a minute before the first intermission. Neaton came up with a slick toe save to deny Chase Brakel and got some help from the goalpost when Huston fired from the point with 10 seconds left in the period.
Keenan Rancier took over for Neaton to start the second period for his first game action since the Kings’ last game of the BCHL regular season Feb. 23 and was forced to make a tough save early with the Terriers still on a power play which carried over from the first period. It was one of the few times the Terriers’ offence had any kind of pressure in the Kings’ zone. They outshot Portage 44-10 and through three games have built a 114-44 shot advantage. Rancier stopped six of seven shots he faced.
“You know what Logan Neaton is, he’s pretty spectacular and you can’t really put Keenan in until you come to a game like this,” said Kings defenceman Max Coyle. “He deserved 100 per cent to be in that game. He’s got one of the best attitudes as a hockey player I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”
The Kings have not been severely tested in any of their games this week in Brooks. They skated to a 5-1 win over the Oakville Blades in their opener Sunday, then shut out the Ottawa Junior Senators 4-0.
Five Spruce Kings scored goals Wednesday and they’ve now outscored their national opponents a combined 14-2. They weren’t sure what to expect from the Terriers, who had a one-goal lead on the Bandits Sunday until the last minute of the second period, eventually losing 5-3.
“Some of the other teams have been having troubles with them and we decided to go in there as hard as we can and it ended up working out for us,” said the 21-year-old Coyle.
“They were out and I’m not sure if they could do any better. I think they just kind of gave up. They had a couple of older guys who decided, ‘It’s the last game of my hockey career, why am I going 100 per cent?’ That was kind of their mentality for the game.”
The Terriers took seven minor penalties in the first two periods and five of them were stick infractions. The Kings’ power play has been deadly this week in Brooks, scoring on four of its 11 chances (36.4 per cent) heading into Wednesday’s game, and they struck again 6:42 into the second period. Nolan Welsh was in perfect position to jam in a loose puck in the crease that got behind Moore after Coyle let go the point shot. That was the only goal of the second period.
In the third, the Terriers got their only goal 3:39 into the period. Orca Weisblatt was down on both knees with the puck in the face-off circle when he passed into the slot. The puck ticked off the stick of Kings defenceman Liam Watson-Brawn right to Braden Billaney and he had an open net to shoot the puck in behind Rancier.
Lee and Nick Poisson combined for the fifth P.G. goal a few minutes later on a 2-on-1 break. Lee’s shot bounced off Moore’s trapper and Poisson picked up the rebound just outside the crease and roofed in his third goal of the tournament.
They know it’s going to be a different story tonight (6 p.m. PT) when they play the host Bandits to close out the round-robin tournament in a game to determine first place. The teams met in a hotly-contested Doyle Cup series which the Kings wrapped up in six games on May 4. Tonight’s winner gets to choose which semifinal game they will play on Saturday, either at 1 or 6 p.m. PT.
The schedule has worked in the Kings’ favour, giving them three games in Centennial Regional Arena to get used to the rink before they have to face the Bandits.
“The way we’re looking at it right now is it’s going to come down to us and Brooks, if everything goes as planned, and we’re excited to get our first crack at them playing in front of a packed building,” said Poisson. “We haven’t seen them in a little bit, we had a good series with them so it should be a good one. They’ve got a special night going so it should be a sold-out game and it should be fun.”
Oakville and Ottawa, both 1-2, will meet today at 1 p.m. PT to determine third place.
LOOSE PUCKS: The Terriers were eliminated from playoff contention Tuesday afternoon when they lost 2-1 to the Oakville Blades to fall to 0-3. The Terriers won the Manitoba Junior Hockey regular season with a 46-11-2-1 record and went 12-2 in the MHJL playoffs, then beat the Saskatchewan league champion Battlefords North Stars is a seven-game Anavet Cup series… Portage la Prairie will host the NJAHC next year…. All Spruce Kings games are being broadcast live on CFIS FM 90.3 with Kyle Anderson and Brendan Pawliw providing the play-by-play and colour commentary… Thursday’s games and the two semifinals on Saturday will be webcast on hockeycanada.ca. Sunday’s final at 2 p.m. PT will be televised live on TSN 3… Victoria Grizzlies centre Alex Newhook was named Wednesday the most valuable player in the CJHL. Newhook won the BCHL scoring race with 38 goals 64 assists and 102 points. Other finalists for the award were: F Josh Tripp, Swan Valley Stampeders (MJHL); F Dylan Holloway, Okotoks Oilers (Alberta Junior Hockey League); F Brodie MacArthur, Summerside Western Capitals (Maritime Hockey League); and G Jett Alexander, North York Rangers (Ontario Junior Hockey League).
National junior A hockey championship
In Brooks, Alta.
Prince George Spruce Kings 5 Portage Terriers 1
1. Prince George, Anhorn 2 (N.Poisson, Manz) 0:55
2. Prince George, Lee 2 (Vanroboys) 7:53
3.Prince George Brar 2 (Ahac) 16:01
Penalties – Gorski POR (tripping), Mickoski POR (slashing) 12:23, Billaney POR (cross-checking) 16:01, Keranen PG (hooking) 18:51.
4. Prince George, Welsh 1 (Coyle) 6:42 (pp)
Penalties – Brakel POR (slashing) 5:51, Funk POR (elbowing) 7:39, Or.Wesibalt POR (slashing) 15:49.
5. Portage, Billaney 1 (Or.Weisblatt, Moffatt) 3:39
6. Prince George, N.Poisson 3 (Lee) 7:59
Penalties – Watson-Brawn PG (elbowing) 15:25, Shindell POR (interference) 18:02.
Shots on goal by
Portage 3 2 5 -10
Prince George 20 12 12 -44
Goal – Portage, Moore (L,0-2); Prince George, Neaton (W,2-0, 3-3) and, at 0:00 of second, Rancier (7-6).
Power plays – Portage: 0-3; PG: 1-8.
Players of the game - Portage:Orca Weisblatt, Prince George: Dylan Anhorn.
Attendance – 1,001.
It was all over before it even began for the Portage Terriers.