Wins have been difficult to come by this season for the Prince George Spruce Kings.
Now 13 games into the season, the defending B.C. Hockey League champions have had their struggles on the ice and it’s hard not to blame injuries to key players as an overriding cause.
The good news for the Kings is they are getting healthy again. Defenceman Cole Leal, who suffered an ankle sprain in the season-opener against Surrey, Sept. 6, is back on the blueline.
Right winger Nolan Welsh, the 20-year-old Spruce Kings captain, is close to returning from a torn hip flexor muscle and will be a game-time decision tonight when the Kings host the Chilliwack Chiefs in a two-game set at Rolling Mix Concrete Arena. He’s missed the past eight games.
Forward Chong Min Lee, who suffered a concussion last Friday in the Nanaimo game at RMCA, won’t play tonight but could be back in the lineup for the Saturday rematch if he clears concussion protocol. Lee, 20, ranks fourth in team scoring with six goals and 13 points in 12 games.
Defenceman Nick Bochen, a key cog on the power play, remains sidelined with a day-to-day high-ankle sprain. Like Welsh, he got injured Sept. 22 in Coquitlam. Centre Fin Williams is out with a deep cut on his lower leg. He was hurt in the second period of Saturday’s 1-0 loss Salmon Arm when he and Silverbacks forward Drew Bennett tumbled feet-first into the boards and Williams was cut by Bennett’s skate.
The Kings will also be without left winger Jake McLean, who is out with the flu.
“It’s tough, we’re obviously down a lot of key players,” said Kings head coach Alex Evin. “In the games we haven’t played poorly, it’s just a younger team with a lot of new faces and we haven’t found ways to win. Our group needs to learn how to win. We’ve been games where we’re close, with opportunities to score late to win or tie it and haven’t done it. We’re allowing a lot of goals at the start of periods and that kind of hurts and if we can clean up those areas we’ll start to see more success in the win column.”
The Kings (4-6-2-1) are currently fourth in the Mainland Division, seven points behind Chilliwack (8-5-1-1). The Chiefs have played two more games than the Spruce Kings.
“They’re more of a high-end skill type of team and they’re fast and score goals with a good goalie (Mathieu Caron) and a mobile defence corps,” said Evin. “It will be a good test for us but it’s team we can play well against though if we’re on our game.”
Chiefs forward Peter Reynolds, a 16-year-old who ranks third in team scoring with 12 points, including four goals, has been picked to play for Canada in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Medicine Hat and Swift Current, Nov. 2-9.
Game time at RMCA is 7 p.m. Tonight is the Spruce Kings’ Cancer Awareness Night promotion.