In the aftermath of another loss for the Prince George Spruce Kings, a 1-0 decision on home ice Saturday to the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, a troubling trend continues for the defending B.C. Hockey League champions.
Injuries to key players are decimating the Spruce Kings.
Top-line centre Fin Williams became the latest victim when he suffered a deep cut on the back of his calf, sliced by the skate of Silverbacks forward Drew Bennett when they both tumbled feet-first into the boards at Rolling Mix Concrete Arena early in the second period Saturday. Williams didn’t realize the extent of the injury until his second shift of the period when he tried to skate and had no power in his leg and he was taken to hospital in an ambulance.
That came less than 24 hours after Kings forward Chong Min Lee suffered a concussion in a blindside hit late Friday’s game, a 4-3 shootout loss to the Nanaimo Clippers.
“It’s tough, it seems like when we seem like we’re going to get healthy someone else has something bad happen to them,” said Kings head coach Alex Evin. “It’s unfortunate, we can’t get down about it. We have enough bodies to roster a hockey team and we need guys to elevate their game to fill in for guys that are hurt and I think we’re a little inconsistent in that department.”
The Silverbacks came out hitting and used their size to their advantage, especially in the first two periods, but could manage only one goal, thanks largely to tall shadow cast by Kings 20-year-old goalie Jett Alexander, who played one of his strongest games since joining the Kings from Ontario in the off-season.
Alexander stopped 29 of 30 shots. The one that beat him, 2:40 into the second period, came on a 4-on-3 advantage with Salmon Arm on the power play. Salmon Arm captain Akito Hirose spotted Hunter Sansbury all alone in front of the Kings’ cage and fed him a pass the Silverbacks defenceman buried into the net.
Alexander came up with a huge save with about five minutes left in the second period when he dove to get his blocker in the way of a shot from Nick Martino, set up perfectly on a 2-on-1 pass from Domenic Garozzo.
“It’s frustrating, I feel like this weekend me and the team were kind of at opposite ends of the spectrum,” said Alexander. “Last night I thought we put forth a really good effort and if I make one big save we win in regulation. Tonight I felt like I played a good game and battled as hard as I could and to their credit, their goalie played well too and made some really big saves in the third when he had to.”
The loss was the fourth in the past five games for the Spruce Kings (4-6-2-1), who remain fourth in the Mainland Division.
“It’s frustrating. I don’t think we can use that excuse that we’re gelling, we’re still getting chemistry going,” said Alexander. “We’re getting (close to) 15 games into the year, we’re a quarter of the way through. Guys have to start looking in the mirror and figuring out what we need to do to win as a group.
“Hopefully this is kind of an awakening for the guys because we need everybody pulling in the same direction. It’s got to start now. We have big guys out of the lineup and I think young guys need to seize the opportunity here.”
The Kings cranked up the intensity in the third period and got several quality cracks at the net being defended by Ethan Langenegger. But the third-year BCHL veteran from Kamloops didn’t flinch and made 20 saves for his first career shutout. One of the Kings’ best chances came with about five minutes left when Tom Richter stripped the puck from Bennett and laid a backhander on goal that was turned aside by Langenegger’s blocker to preserve the lead.
The Kings had the Silverbacks’ pinned in their zone late in the game and got Alexander to the bench for the extra skater in the final minute but he had to return to the crease when defenceman Mason Waite hooked Noah Wakeford to the ice rather than allow him a shot at the empty net.
“We were down a goal and we played in the third with desperation and that’s good to see, we’ve got to play all three periods like that,” said Kings winger Nick Poisson. “(Alexander) had an unbelievable game and we just didn’t do anything to help him.
“It’s hard when you lose so many core guys from last year but we brought in a lot of good players this year. We just need guys to step up. We’ve got injuries and openings available, guys just need to seize it up.”
Kings captain Nolan Welsh is getting close to returning after missing six games with a torn hip flexor and defenceman Cole Leal is due to resume skating after missing all but one game with an ankle injury. Defenceman Nick Bochen is still in recovery mode for a couple weeks with an ankle sprain and Lee is not expected to play next weekend.
The win was the 10th in 13 games for the Silverbacks who improved to 10-2-1-0 to pull to within two points of the league-leading Penticton Vees.
“We don’t have much junior experience with just five guys back but the team has bonded very well I think that showed tonight a little bit,” said Silverbacks head coach Scott Atkinson, at 67, the BCHL’s senior skipper.
“We like play a little heavier version of puck possession. I don’t think we were very heavy on the puck today but we played hard. We had a bit of difficulty managing the puck, we had a long bus ride after an overtime game against a good Chilliwack team (Friday)and I was quite happy with the effort.
“This is always tough place to play and this is a real positive for the team.”
The Vees (11-1-0-0) suffered their first loss of the season, shut out 4-0 by the Alberni Valley Bulldogs Saturday in Port Alberni. The Vees and Silverbacks face each other for the first time Wednesday in Salmon Arm. The Kings resume their four-game homestand Friday against the Chiliwack Chiefs.