The game beyond the game tonight at Rolling Mix Concrete Arena will be the one going on behind the benches.
Adam Maglio, the second-year head coach of the Prince George Spruce Kings, will be coaching against his longtime friend and former coach, Tyler Kuntz, who took over this season as head coach of the Powell River Kings.
Kuntz, 39, was coaching the UBC Thunderbirds when he first got to know Maglio, who played two seasons for the T-birds as a forward/defenceman from 2010-12. Maglio wanted to continue his hockey career when Kuntz connected him to a job in China and Maglio ended up with the Hong Kong Tycoons as a player/coach, taking over the following season as head coach of an academy program.
"We formed a pretty good bond as a player-coach and his first call when he needed an assistant coach when he took over was to me, and I think that stemmed from the relationship we built when I was playing for him," said the 32-year-old Maglio.
"Tyler's been a big part of my hockey and coaching career, to be honest, and we keep in touch pretty regularly. So it will be a different game - it's going to be strange looking across the bench. We're both pretty competitive guys and neither of us want to lose this one. I have a ton of respect for what he's doing in Powell River. I know they're a disciplined, structured team and it's another tough task for us."
Kuntz worked in the Korean pro league last season as an assistant to Kevin Constantine with the Daemyung Killer Whales. Prior to that, Kuntz served two seasons as an assistant coach with the Vancouver Giants. He was hired at UBC in 2006 and was named head coach in 2014-15, the year Maglio returned to the T-birds.
After two seasons as a Spruce Kings assistant, Maglio took over from Chad van Diemen in 2017 and was a coach-of-the year candidate last season, guiding the team to its first BCHL final.
Included in that playoff run was a five-game series win over Powell River in the Coastal Conference final.
Kuntz offered to help the Spruce Kings last spring just before the playoffs and flew up to Prince George to teach a power-play session, the day after he returned with his family from Seoul.
"I've known Adam for a long time," said Kuntz. "They had a good year. Any time people who have worked with you go on to do well somewhere else, that bodes well for everybody. But (tonight) it's going to be 20 players versus 20 players.
"Both teams will be extremely prepared and detailed and work hard and may the best players win, but you never know. They're teenagers and you never know who's going to show up the night of the game. You just hope more of them do than not."
Nearly half the Powell River roster has returned and Kuntz is counting on those players being doubly inspired from last year's playoff defeat to dig deep for the win tonight.
The Spruce Kings are coming off a pair of solid efforts last week on home ice against the Wenatchee Wild and the Victoria Grizzlies. They outshot and outplayed the Wild through most of last Thursday's game and were rewarded with a 3-2 victory. They came right back Friday with a similar one-sided effort against the Grizzlies but left the rink without a point, losing 4-3 despite outshooting them 58-22. The Spruce Kings (7-3-0-1, third in Mainland Division) spent the week in practice focused on trying to buff up their finish around the net.
"You've got to give their goalie (Kurtis Chapman) credit and their top line credit - Alex Newhook is a special player - certainly we outchanced them and outshot them and it just comes down to a bit more intensity in those hard areas for us," said Maglio.
"We liked our game against Wenatchee, we liked our game against Vic, and most nights if you play that way you're going to end up on top. But at the same time it's kind of a good lesson learned that you need to bear down and capitalize on chances."
The defending BCHL Coastal Division champions fought off a 3-0 deficit and scored three goals in the second period to get back on even terms with the Grizzlies Friday.
"We knew we had a good first (period), we knew we made some mental errors, but overall we needed to stick to our game and we did that," said Maglio. "We learned we are a resilient group, similar to what we were last year.
"We need to bring a little bit of swagger coming in (tonight), a chip on our shoulder. We don't like losing at home. Regardless of how it happened, we need to be better."
Brock Sawyer, who took over as interim head coach in Powell River in late-January, is back as an assistant coach, along with Kyle Bodie.
Powell River (6-4-0-0), second in Island Division) is the least-penalized team in the 17-team BCHL, with just 85 penalty minutes in 11 games. The Spruce Kings are next on the list, with just 98 minutes in the box in 11 games.
Powell River has four solid forward lines and four forwards who are scoring at a point-per-game pace or better, including Ben Berard (9-5-14), Ryan Brushett (5-9-14), Matt Fawcett (3-7-10) and Neal Samanski (2-8-10). Mitch Adamyk has played eight of the 10 games and has a 5-3-0-0 record with a 2.63 goals against average and .903 save percentage.
"I think our goaltending is a strength of the team but I think it could be better, but I also think our team could play better in front of him as well," said Kuntz.
"The honeymoon period was probably the first month - we played five games in the month and then we played the next five in eight days and that was something new to a lot of our players," added Kuntz. "Now it's harder, so the relentless coaching hasn't stopped and so it's will players be adapting to that and the coaches adapting to the needs of the players and knowing when to back off."
The Spruce Kings will be without F Spencer Chapman (lower body), C Michael Conlin (concussion) and D Brennan Malgunas (sick).