Tonight- Prince George Spruce Kings (25-9-1-2) at Merritt Centennials (23-13-1-1)
7 p.m. at Nicola Valley Memorial Arena in Merritt
Presented by the BCIHL
In their only previous meeting on Nov. 28, Prince George took a 3-0 first-period lead on goals by Tyler Schleppe, Ben Brar and Sean Donaldson and Logan Neaton stopped 19 of 20 shots as the Spruce Kings skated to a 3-1 win. Mathieu Gosselin scored Merritt’s lone goal early in the third period, but the comeback fell short. Centennials goalie Austin Roden stopped all 29 shots he faced after coming on in relief to start the second period and was named the game’s third star.
Centennials forward Nicholas Wicks comes into tonight riding a league-best 10-game point streak. He has 16 points over that stretch. His teammate Matthew Kopperud has points in seven straight, totaling 13 points in that span. Merritt forward Bradley Cocca is third in league scoring with 50 points and his 34 assists rank second. Nick Granowicz is also in the top-10 in BCHL scoring with 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) in 38 games.
Spruce Kings forward Dustin Manz is on a six-game point streak with eight goals and three assists over that stretch. He also leads Prince George in scoring and is tied for 11th in the league with 43 points (21 goals, 22 assists) in 37 games. Ben Brar leads the team in goals with 23, which is tied for the third-most in the BCHL. In net, Logan Neaton leads the league with a 1.87 goals-against average and also has the most wins with 21. His .915 save percentage is tied for third-best in the league and he has two shutouts, while playing the third-most minutes.
What’s at Stake
The Spruce Kings currently sit in first place in the Mainland Division as well as the entire BCHL. They are one point clear of the second-place Chilliwack Chiefs for the division lead and two points up on the third-place Penticton Vees in the overall standings.
The Centennials are tied with the Wenatchee Wild for second in the Interior Division, having played one more game. They are three back of the division-leading Vees and three up on the fourth-place West Kelowna Warriors.
From the Broadcast Booth
Merritt Centennials play-by-play broadcaster Jared Thomas on the previous matchup between the teams:
“Prince George is a strong team at home. Like the Cents, they have one of the older buildings in the league that comes with it’s home-side bounces and intricacies, but you also have some distance to cover to get there. In the game in November, the Spruce Kings pounced early and got all their goals in the first period. The Cents also had trouble mustering offence against one of the best defensive teams in the BCHL. With the shoe on the other foot now, the Cents are hoping to do the same – catch Prince George early and use their home rink to their advantage.”
Thomas on team captain Nicholas Wicks, who is on a 10-game point streak:
“He has been a great leader for the team all season. It was clear even from preseason who was rallying the troops. Whether it’s in the tunnel where he gives a signature high-five to every player, in the dressing room where the leadership group is leaned upon to turn around games or in those clutch situations where someone has to elevate their game, Wicks is one of the go-to guys on the team. I think the key for Wicks lately has been simplifying his game a little. He’s a player that loves to stickhandle and possess the puck, but in this recent string of games, we’ve seen him distribute it faster and also fire it on net with more regularity and it’s paying off.”
Thomas on competing in the super-competitive Interior Division:
“I think the team has been dealing with the pressure since the beginning of the season. As a team that isn’t viewed as a perennial contender in the division, they’ve had to prove to doubters all season that they deserve to be in the talk for best team in the Interior Division and best team in the BCHL. With it being such a dog fight this year, there’s no time for extended losing streaks or to wallow in mistakes. The team has to just keep adjusting, improving and bringing a compete level that is as close as it gets to playoff hockey.”
Prince George Spruce Kings play-by-play broadcaster Brendan Pawliw on the team’s 3-1 win over Merritt in November:
“It was a very dominant effort by the Spruce Kings as they outhsot the Cents 44-20 and smothered their high-flying forwards. I would think Merritt would want to flip the script at home after a not-so-stellar showing on the road.”
Pawliw on the strong play of goaltender Logan Neaton:
“It doesn’t hurt that he has the best blueline in the BCHL. Associate Coach Alex Evin has worked on parts of his game and you can see his demeanor and familiarity within the league is paying dividends as he knows the shooters a lot more than he did in September. The North American Hockey League, where he previously played, is a lot more defensive, so it can be an adjustment of sorts, but it has been a smooth one to this point.”
Pawliw on the high-scoring duo of Dustin Manz and Ben Brar:
“They are both on the same line so it would seem they are just taking turns scoring goals. Manz and Brar have been a lethal duo since they were put back together and have caused matchup nightmares for opposing teams, especially with Patrick Cozzi distributing the puck to both players.”
ABOUT THE BCIHL
The British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League was created with the purpose of offering a venue for competitive, high-calibre hockey that’s close to home for players beyond their junior careers. The league was launched in 2006 and now includes five member teams: Selkirk College, Simon Fraser University, Trinity Western University, the University of Victoria and Vancouver Island University. This season, 25 graduates with over 2750 games of BCHL experience are pursuing their academic and athletic goals in the BCIHL. To learn more about the BCIHL and playing opportunities for BCHL grads, visit BCIHL.ca.