This is in the Prince George Citizen newspaper:
Spruce Kings are BCHL champions
Ted Clarke / Prince George Citizen
April 17, 2019
Finally, after 23 years of chasing down their puck dreams in the B.C. Hockey League, the Prince George Spruce Kings are provincial junior A hockey champions.
They finished off a remarkable record-setting playoff run to the Fred Page Cup with a 3-1 victory over the Vernon Vipers to complete a four-game championship series sweep Wednesday night in Vernon.
“We’re ecstatic obviously, we’re real proud of our group and all the staff,” said Kings head coach Adam Maglio. “We’ve all pushed in the right direction, it obviously takes a lot of work from the players especially and the buy-in’s been incredible. It’s a special group and it’s a pleasure coaching them.”
The Prince George power play proved a deadly difference in ending the Vipers’ season, scoring on two of its first three opportunities for a 2-0 lead. The first came from Nolan Welsh, who parked himself in front of the net and was perfectly positioned when defenceman Layton Ahac directed a shot-pass which hit the blade of Welsh’s stick. That came after a brief 5-on-3 power play and Vipers defenceman Landon Fuller was still in the box serving a tripping call.
The Kings kept their lead intact but not without a little excitement around their own net when Vernon defenceman took the puck in deep and fired a shot that went off the leg of goalie Logan Neaton and grazed the post. The puck was left unguarded just outside the crease until Neaton dove to smother it. Nick Poisson nailed the post at the other end with a backhander late in the period.
Fuller was off for interference when the Kings made it a 2-0 count. Patrick Cozzi set up Ben Poisson for his 13th goal of the playoffs. Poisson, who scored the overtime winner in Game 3, teed off on Cozzi’s pass from the top of the face-off circle.
Maglio wanted a better start from his troops after getting outshot by wide margins in Games 2 and 3 of the series and the Kings responded, outshooting Vernon 9-4 in the opening period. They appeared to have better skating legs and offered the Vipers very little skating room, clogging the neutral zone effectively, and that set the tone for the rest of the game.
“Our power play came through huge tonight,” said Maglio. “It was such a tight series, 5-on-5 and you need your special teams to come through in these type of games in this series. It was a good start to get the 2-0 lead and I thought we did a pretty good job with some pushback from Vernon.”
BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb, in his first season since taking over the reins from John Grisdale, presented the Fred Page Cup to Ben Poisson, the Kings captain. Poisson finished the BCHL playoffs with 13 goals and 21 points, third-best in the league. As much as he helped out offensively it was his physical play and the confidence and opportunties his crushing bodychecks gave his teammates that was so valuable to the Spruce Kings.
“He’s our leader, spiritually, mentally and on the ice,” said Maglio. “He’s an incredible kid and what makes him special is his high-end character. Those are guys you win with. Those are guys other programs want and those are guys who will have a very successful hockey career.”
The Vipers cut the lead in half on their third power play of the game, 12:42 into the third period. Teddy Wooding let go a hard shot from the circle that fooled Neaton.
Neaton bailed his team out in a big way with 4:22 left to preserve the lead when he kicked out his leg to deny Jesse Lansdell, whose shot came from point-blank range. Neaton was the difference-maker in so many games in their championship run and the Michigan native was at his best again in Wednesday night’s title clincher.
The Vipers came close a few more times with the goalie out in the dying minutes. Connor Marritt had the best chance to tie it but missed the net with an open shot. The Kings iced it with an empty-net goal from Patrick Cozzi with 40 seconds left.
“Logan was incredible and he was very composed tonight when they pushed hard at the end,” said Maglio. “He made timely saves like he has all playoffs – he’s been a huge part.
"I think everyone in the lineup has all contributed in their own way.”
The Kings went 16-1 in the playoffs. No other BCHL team has won the title playing just 17 games. Their only defeat came on March 5 in the third game of the opening round when they lost 3-0 in Coquitlam. They dispatched the Express in five games, then reeled off back-to-back sweeps over the Chilliwack Chiefs, Victoria Grizzlies and Vernon. The Kings finished the regular season second overall in the 17-team league with a 39-13-1-5 record, one point behind Chilliwack.
"It feels tremendous, to say the least, it's so exciting and I couldn't be happier for the group of players and the staff and the board and everybody who's had a hand in getting the team to where it is at this point," said Kings general manager Mike Hawes. "To do it in the fashion we did, breaking a record for the best playoff record in BCHL history at 16-1 is such a feather in the cap for the entire group.
"To have success in the playoffs you hace to have a great group, which we have, and a bit of luck. We stayed healthy and the credit goes to Adam, Alex (assistant coach Evin) and the players. There's no team in our league that's better prepared than we are for every game. Even games like Game 3 (a 4-3 win Tuesday in overtime) where it maybe wasn't the best game we played in the playoffs but we found a way to win and that's how to win playoff series."
Balanced scoring from four lines and the continuing emergence of defenceman Layton Ahac as a point producer gave the Spruce Kings surges of momentum that followed them throughout the playoffs. The 17-year-old Ahac finished third on the team in playoff scoring behind Ben Poisson and Patrick Cozzi with five goals and 17 points. The leadership on the blueline from Max Coyle was also a rallying point for Prince George.
They will move on to the Doyle Cup best-of-seven series against the Brooks Bandits, which starts Friday, April 26 in Brooks, Alta. Both teams will advance to the national junior A hockey championship, May 11-19 in Brooks. Despite that, there's still much at stake and Hawes says his team will be ready for the series.
"We've got some time before that starts and that's another feather in our cap if we can win the Doyle Cup and win another banner for our fans," said Hawes. "We're going into that thing with a plan to win it and earn our way to the national championship and go from there."
Just once in their BCHL history have the Spruce Kings reached the national championship. In 2007 as the host team of what was known as the Royal Bank Cup they made it as far as the final, losing 3-1 to the Aurora Tigers.
LOOSE PUCKS: The Kings made their way to Kamloops later Wednesday night and will be heading home today with the cup. Hawes said there will be a reception later this week for the fans to share in the trophy celebration at Rolling Mix Concrete Arena.... Kings defenceman Liam Watson-Brawn returned to action after missing three games with an upper-body injury… The Kings went 2-for-5 on the power play while Vernon was 1-for-3… The shots ended up 19-18 for the Vipers.