Safe to say the Coquitlam Express is a much-improved team.
There was plenty of room for improvement for a Coquitlam crew that went through the entire 2017-18 B.C. Hockey League season with just 10 victories. That train wreck of a season is now a distant memory and the Express has picked up steam with the addition of five new players committed to NCAA teams next season.
The Prince George Spruce Kings will find out firsthand how much Jason Fortier's Express has ramped up its game when they play host to their Mainland Division rivals tonight and Saturday night at Rolling Mix Concrete Arena.
"I certainly think they're improved, they do have a lot of new faces and seeing their two games this past weekend it looks like they have some good offensive abilities for sure," said coach Adam Maglio.
"Their D are pretty active in their O-zone - they like to get in there and try and help create, they have a pretty good crew and their top-six (forwards) are pretty fast and offensive-minded. We have to be aware of who's on the ice for them. They look a little more mobile on the back end this year in all three zones. They play a run-and-gun, attack game and we need to make sure we're structured and organized and in good spots to nab their speed."
One of those new college recruits now playing for the Express is Chase Danol, acquired Saturday from the Surrey Eagles in a swap of forwards that sent Eric Linell to the Eagles, hours before the Express went to Surrey and skated to a 4-2 win. Danol, a 19-year-old forward, is committed to Bowling Green for 2019.
Three Express defencemen are college-bound, including returnee Jordan Schulting (UMass-Lowell), and newcomers Pito Walton (Princeton) and Jack Cameron (Dartmouth). They've also got Dartmouth recruit Clay Stevenson as the incumbent in goal. Forwards Danol, Dallas Farrell (Maine), and Alex DiPaulo (UMass-Amherst) are also on the verge of joining the NCAA.
Tonight's game marks the first clash against the Express for 20-year-old winger Sam Kozlowski, whom the Kings acquired in a trade from Coquitlam last week. The RIT recruit scored in each of the Kings' two games last weekend. Kozlowski, who played two full seasons for the Express, will be playing the right side on a line with Dustin Manz and Patrick Cozzi, having moved up on the depth chart to the second line.
"He's going to be excited for it," said Maglio. "He had a really good first weekend for us and he's ready to build on that."
The Spruce Kings (2-0-0) beat Chilliwack 5-1 and 2-1 to start the season. After a rather easy capitulation in the opener, the Chiefs made it difficult for the Kings in the second game and it wasn't until the third period the defending Coastal Conference champions were able to flex their muscles and take control.
Logan Neaton, 19, played both games last weekend, allowing just two goals, and he will get the start tonight. Maglio plans to give 19-year-old Brad Cooper the nod to play the rematch on Saturday.
Kings centre Michael Conlin will miss both games. He's out with a pulled groin.
The Kings will be in Chilliwack next weekend for the BCHL Showcase. They play afternoon games Thursday against West Kelowna and Friday against Penticton.