The Spruce Kings played a wonderful road game on Friday night to knock off the Warriors and pick up a key two points.
Banged up and out of the playoff race, the Warriors flew out of the gate in this one. There I was, still announcing the starting lineups, when Brett McKinnon found himself in all alone and made the most of the chance. 11 seconds in, McKinnon’s breakaway tally had the home side up 1-0 and fired up to play. Though they didn’t score any more goals, the Warriors did keep their foot on the gas quite well for much of the first period. Westside forechecked well (both teams did) and played with emotion and tenacity throughout the opening stanza. The crowd was into it too, and an energetic building was treated to a very fast-paced and frenetic first period from both teams.
Overall, I wouldn’t say that Westside really declined for the rest of the game, or let up too much. The Warriors had a good second period and a decent third. But, as they’ve done several times this year, the Spruce Kings had a decent first period but improved steadily over the course of the game, to the point that they just deserved it that little bit more.
Leo Fitzgerald got PG on the board 7 ½ minutes into the second when he converted a Skylar Pacheco rebound just as a Max French penalty was ending.
And then, in the third, the Spruce Kings just made the most of their chances while showing the urgency fitting their spot in the playoff race. Michael Colantone put the guests ahead when he converted a counter-attack midway through the third. On this one, Ben Betker hesitated before backing off at the PG blue-line –a decision that’s easy to question in hindsight but somewhat understandable given the way the game was going. Actually, I thought that Westside had been the better counter-attacking team on the game (while PG had had more sustained offensive-zone pressure), despite the game-winner coming off a Spruce Kings rush. The insurance marker came on a bad bounce, when a Chase Golightly centring pass went off Dustin Cave and past Dwayne Rodrigue. The Spruce Kings then iced it with a Jarryd Ten Vaanholt empty-netter.
Overall, the stars off this game were probably Ty Swabb and the Prince George defencemen. None of them stuck out or did anything incredible, but they all played within themselves and got the job done. Shots in the second were 14-6 PG and in the third were 16-7 PG, and that’s a tribute to the way the Spruce Kings bought in to keep Westside’s rushes to the outside and the shots away from the net. Prince George really impressed me in this game, and if the Kings can play like they did tonight, this team could very well find itself in the Interior final (and maybe even give PEN a good run).
For Westside, Brett McKinnon, Shawn Hochhausen, and Travis Blanleil were probably the best unit, and most of their success came on the forecheck. Actually, I thought that both teams forechecked very effectively tonight, though the Warriors probably had the more trouble breaking out. Another key body was lost when Josh Monk took a puck in the chin in the third, but Dru Morrison (as always) did a great job helping out back there (he really might be better as a D) and I’m sure Monk will be back on Saturday vs. Trail.
And not to harp on it, but special teams was again a factor in this one. Prince George’s second PPG was a lucky one (off Cave), but overall, the Spruce Kings were 2/4, while giving up just one powerplay to the Warriors and killing that off easily.
It’s Prince George’s first victory of the season in Westside and an awesome start to the road trip for the SKings. For the Warriors, it’s a good effort and another one in which they played well but could have used a little more offensive spark. Not that that’s easy to fix, especially with the injuries going around.
Westside hosts Trail on Saturday night. It’ll be the last game of the season in which the Warriors are the favourites, and I think an important game for this young team to show well in. I’ll talk to you then.