The game started at 2 p.m., Alberta time but the Prince George Spruce Kings did not have their clocks in sync at the national junior A hockey championship Sunday afternoon in Brooks.
They weren’t sharp in the early going and fell behind the Oakville Blades, and it could have been worse by the time the period ended.
If the Kings were worried at that point it didn’t show.
They stormed right back with three goals in a dominant second period and beat the Blades 5-1, handing Oakville its second loss of the tournament.
Chong Min Lee, who fired the game-winner a week ago in the Kings’ Doyle Cup-clinching Game 6 win over the Brooks Bandits, tied the game 2:06 into the second period and the Kings did not let up while outshooting the Blades 20-3 in the period.
Patrick Cozzi gave them the lead with the eventual gamewinner, 5:20 into the second, and Ben Poisson added a power-play goal midway through the period to give the Pacific regional champs some breathing space.
“We didn’t play up to our standards in that first (period),” said Kings head coach Adam Maglio. “Right from the get-go, I’m not too sure what it was but we weren’t ready to compete. We thought it was just going to happen for us and maybe thinking about Oakville and their quick turnaround after their game last night against Brooks.
“We were much better in the second and third and settled in but you can’t do that in these types of tournaments so we have to make sure we figure out a way to adjust for tomorrow.”
Kings defenceman Dylan Anhorn said the team’s familiarity with the Centennial Regional Arena, having played there three times a couple weeks ago in the Doyle Cup series, helped his team deal with the pressure of playing their first game at the national tournament.
“We maybe came out a little complacent in the first period but once we got our legs in the second we started to play the game we know and love and got the result we wanted,” said Anhorn.
“Maybe we got a little ahead of ourselves going into this game and it’s a good lesson to learn actually going into the rest of the tournament, that you can’t take anyone lightly, you don’t get here by accident.”
The Kings had better skating legs and showed more urgency in their strides in the second period and took advantage of an Oakville team that lost its first game 7-3 to the Brooks Bandits less than a day earlier.
Defenceman Jay Keranen made it a 4-1 game 41 seconds into the third period and Nick Poisson capped the scoring at 9:54, rifling in a cross-ice feed from defenceman Nick Bochen while Blades defenceman Jack Lyons was serving an interference penalty.
Keranen missed four games of the Doyle Cup series with an upper-body injury and he and Liam Watson-Brawn, who got hurt in the Victoria series, added their years of junior experience to the blueline. The Kings dressed six defencemen and 12 forwards for Sunday’s game.
“That was a huge boost for us, both mentally and physically,” said Anhorn. “Those guys are veteran players and they help us out a lot. Getting them back was a huge boost for us and I think we responded well from that and they definitely helped us get the win today.”
The Prince George power play struggled in the first period despite three chances, including a 97-second 5-on-3 advantage that went without them mustering a quality shot. They ended up 2-for-6 on the power play while Brooks finished the game 1-for-5.
Logan Neaton made 19 saves to preserve the win as the Kings outshot the Blades 41-20.
Lee jumped on a rebound of a Max Coyle shot and scored with a quick backhander to beat Blades goalie Will Barber. Lee plays the right side on a line with the Poisson brothers and he stood out as the player of the game for Prince George. His goal came right after Cozzi came close to scoring on a partial breakaway.
“(Lee) definitely had legs and good energy in that second and it was a big goal, it kind of gave us some momentum,” said Maglio. “We just have to make sure we find our game for 60 minutes here.”
Barber was replaced after the fifth Kings goal after blocking 34 shots. Chris Elliot stopped the one shift he faced the rest of the game.
The Kings very easily could have trailed by two or three goals in the first period when Oakville offence drew some life after captain Peyton Reeves had given the Blades a 1-0 lead, 13:59 into the game. Harrison Israels put a shot off the inside of the post behind Neaton with about four minutes left in the opening period and the Blades just missed on another open look at the net not long after that.
The Kings will be back on the ice Monday night (6 p.m. PT, webcast on hockeycanada.ca) to face the Ottawa Junior Senators. The Senators blanked the Portage Terriers of Manitoba 3-0 Saturday afternoon. The Terriers (0-2) went on to lose 5-3 Sunday night to the host Brooks Bandits (2-0).
Anhorn said he expects the Senators to try to use their size to their advantage in Monday’s game.
“They’re a little bit bigger, a little bit heavier and we’ll be ready for that physical game,” he said. “That’s kind of how we liked to play throughout the BCHL playoffs. I think we’re going to be prepared now that we got our legs going and we’re going to be ready to go tomorrow night.”
Prince George will play Portage Wednesday night (6 p.m. PT), then will close out the round-robin tournament Brooks on Thursday night. Semifinals will be played Saturday and the final is set for next Sunday at 2 p.m. PT.
National junior A hockey championship
In Brooks, Alta.
Prince George Spruce Kings vs. Oakville Blades
Spruce Kings 5 Blades 1
1. Oakville, Reeves1 (Kersten, Pyke) 13:59 (pp)
Penalties – Jones OAK (holding), Brar PG (unsportsmanlike conduct) 6:10, Amanal OAK (hooking) 9:50, Kersten OAK (hooking) 10:12, Lee PG (hooking) 13:44, Ahac PH (roughing), Girhiny OAK (roughing) 15:45, Keranen PG (roughing), O’Hara OAK (slashing) 15:54, Ricketts OAK (interference) 16:27, Ahac PG (interference) 19:08.
2. Prince George, Lee 1 (Coyle, B.Poisson) 2:06
3. Prince George, Cozzi 1 (Anhorn) 5:20
4. Prince George, B.Poisson 1 (Cozi, Welsh) 10:55 (pp)
Penalties – Kersten OAK (high-sticking) 9:04, Jones OAK (hooking) 16:53.
5. Prince George, Keranen 1 (Brar, Manz) 0:41
6. Prince George, N.Poisson 1 (Bochen, Brar) 9:54 (pp)
Penalties – Williams PG (slashing) 3:12, Lyons OAK (interference) 8:21, Bochen PG (holding) 13:10, Cunningham PG (high-sticking) 19:24.
Shots on goal by
Prince George14 20 7 -41
Oakville 10 3 8 -21
Goal – Prince George, Neaton (W,1-0, 21-20); Oakville, Barber (L,0-2, 39-34) and, at 9:54 of third, Elliot (1-1).
Power plays – PG: 2-6; Oak: 1-5.