BROOKS, Alta. - Last time they met the Oakville Blades, it took the Prince George Spruce Kings the better part of a period before they found their stride.
Knowing the stakes are much higher tonight (6 p.m. PT start) when they face the Blades in a sudden-death semifinal for the right to pay for the national junior A hockey championship Sunday afternoon, the Kings plan to be more vigilant from the get-go.
In their tournament-opening game on Sunday against Oakville, the Kings found themselves trailing late in the first period on a Peyton Reeves power-play goal 15 minutes in.
"We got off to a bad start in that game, down 1-0, but outscored them 5-0 in the last 40 minutes of the first game," said Kings left winger Nick Poisson. "If we come out with that urgency and that compete level from the start ,we should be happy going into Sunday."
The Blades (2-2) defeated the Ottawa Senators 7-4 in their final preliminary-round game to finish third. The Spruce Kings (3-1, second place) suffered their first loss in the tournament Thursday night, a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the host Brooks Bandits (4-0).
The winner of the Blades-Kings game will move on to the championship game against either the Bandits or fourth-place Senators (1-3), who play each other in the other semifinal today at 1 p.m. PT.
The Mike Tarantino-coached Blades scored 16 goals in the national championship preliminary round, second only to Brooks (17) and Oakville allowed 20 goals. Spencer Kersten won the scoring race with a goal and five assists for six points. Reeves (4-1-5) and Garrett Pyke (0-5-5) have also averaged a point per game or better.
Oakville went 16-3 in the Ontario Junior Hockey League playoffs, then reeled off four straight wins to capture the Dudley Hewitt Cup as Central region champions.
"They're a good team, they have a good forward group, they're fast," said Kings goalie Logan Neaton. "No one gets to the national championship semifinals by fluke so we have to take them seriously and be ready to go. They're a team we know we can beat but you can't take anybody lightly. We know they're a skilled group so we've got to be prepared going into it."
The Spruce Kings scored 15 times and were the best defensive team of the tournament with just five goals allowed in their four preliminary games.
They have six players who put up at least a point per game, including Poisson (4-0-4), Ben Brar (2-3-5), Dylan Anhorn (1-4-4), Dustin Manz (1-4-4), Chong Min Lee (2-2-4) and Patrick Cozzi (1-3-4).
Poisson doesn't want to look beyond the semifinal but like the rest of the Kings he'd love to have another shot at the Bandits, the hometown favourites this week at Centennial Regional Arena.
"It's been us and them since the Doyle Cup where we've been growing a hatred for each other and you want to come out and win it all and I think they're the team to beat," said Poisson.
The Spruce Kings will try to improve on their 23-4 playoff record.
"We're just going to focus on our own game here, they're a team that has some offence and can skate decently well and we need to just play our game," said Kings head coach Adam Maglio. "We'll be ready to go."
Sunday's final starts at 2 p.m. PT.