Spruce Kings open with preseason win in Merritt

A couple of ex-Merritt Centennials came back to haunt their former teammates Saturday night in Merritt.

Twenty-year-old forwards Hunor Torzsok and Christian Buono, acquired by the Prince George Spruce Kings from the Centennials over the summer in separate trades , both made offensive contributions in 4-1 Kings’ win which started the exhibition season for both teams.

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Torzsok collected two assists, one of which set up the winning goal from 16-year-old rookie Max Borovinskiy, while Buono also picked up a helper in the victory.

“Obviously it’s different for them, going back to play their former team, but they handled themselves quite well and it was nice to see them and a lot of other guys contribute with points and goals,” said Kings head coach Alex Evin.

“I was trying to spread out some experience with our youth and those guys kind of took on a leadership role with their lines. I really liked our effort, not just offensively but on the back-check. There could have been 100 penalties called in that game between both teams, so discipline is something we’re going to have to be cautious of. It was our first game and our effort and energy was so high and now we have to manage our sticks a little better going forward.”

The Kings went 1-for-8 on the power play. Merritt was 0-for-8.

Rowan Miller, who played last season for Powell River, opened the scoring for the Spruce Kings on a power play midway through the first in period when he banged in a loose puck in the slot after Buono put the puck on goal. About a minute later, Borovinskiy made it a 2-0 count on a 2-on-2 rush into the Merritt end. Torzsok fed him the puck and Borovinskiy beat his check with a quick move and went to the opposite side with his shot on goalie Josh Dias.

Corey Cunningham, the Kings leading goalscorer last season with 26, notched his first of the preseason 3:27 into the second period. Cunningham’s quick feet allowed him to pressure the Merritt defence, after the Cents won a defensive-zone face-off, and Cunningham intercepted a clearing attempt and tucked a backhander in behind Dias.

“It was our first game and there’s a lot of things we haven’t touched on yet in regards to team play, but the guys were competitive from the start and they were playing to win,” said Evin. “It was nice to get a win, it feel really good.”

Nick Rheaume, a new Kings’ recruit from Sherbrooke, Que., scored the fourth goal for Prince George at the 15:55 mark of the second period after taking a pass from Torzsok. The Cents got on the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena scoreboard late in the second period when Jerzy Orchard slid a low wrister into the net, the only goal Aaron Trotter allowed in his BCHL debut.

Trotter, a 19-year-old from Victoria, joined the Spruce Kings this fall after three years at Shawnigan Lake School. He stopped 27 of 28 shots for the win. The Kings outshot Merritt 32-28. Trotter is being groomed as the backup to 19-year-old incumbent Carter Woodhouse.

“We’ve only been practicing for eight days and we haven’t really covered our defensive zone team play and I thought Aaron made a lot of good saves, a couple point-blank opportunities you  hope to not give up in the future,” said Evin.

“He was pretty shaky with rebounds at the start but as the game went on you could see he got more comfortable. Credit to him, he played pretty well.”

LOOSE PUCKS: The same teams will meet again in Merritt on Friday, Oct. 23. The Cents and Spruce Kings will play again two days later in a Sunday matinee at Rolling Mix Concrete Arena. No fans will be permitted in the stands due to the pandemic. The games will be webcast on Hockey TV… The Spruce Kings’ bus was delayed for two hours while emergency crews worked to clear an accident scene late Saturday night which closed Highway 97 about 10 kilometres north of Cache Creek… Austin Spiridakis, an 18-year-old forward acquired from Alberni Valley, is nursing a minor lower-body injury and did not dress for Saturday’s game but will be practicing this week at the Kin Centre…. American-born right winger Keiton Klein joined the Kings’ camp last week and played Saturday on a live with Kolton Cousins and rookie John Herrington. Klein, an 18-year-old from Bellingham, Wash., is a product of the Everett Junior Silvertips program overseen by Turner Stevenson.

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