Brendan Pawliw

Spruce Kings hope youth and experience lead to winning formula


The Prince George Spruce Kings have begun the long climb back to the top.

Mired by injuries and inconsistent play, the Spruce Kings completed the 2019-20 BCHL season with a record of 18-32-3-5, which pulled up the rear in the Mainland Division.

After losing 14 players to graduation or NCAA commitments from the star-studded squad that captured the Fred Page Cup and Doyle Cup in 2019, PG was unable to find the back of the net on a constant basis and scored a league-low 150 goals.

The playoffs didn’t prove to be any better as they fell in four straight to the Trail Smoke Eaters in round one before the coronavirus pulled the pin on the season.

Due to the less-than-stellar finish, general manager Mike Hawes wasted little time in retooling the roster by dealing away Fin Williams for veteran forward Darwin Lakdouk and future considerations.

Hawes continued to add by acquiring the likes of Austin Spiradakis (via trade from Alberni Valley), Rowan Miller (trade from Powell River), Hunor Torszok (summer deal with Merritt) along with high scoring Christian Buono (another former Powell River King).

Fresh faces

With extended training camp in full swing, players like Buono get a golden opportunity to mesh with their new teammates and surroundings.

And so far, so good.

“I feel like we have been playing for a while out here and it looks like all of the boys are going hard and that’s good,” Buono explained.

The 20-year-old from Burnaby looks to continue his scoring ways after he compiled 25 points in 37 games with Merritt after a mid-season trade from Powell River.

Buono thinks quite highly of the Spruce Kings organization and believes the team is in a good position for another deep run.

“I think we are an older group, which is good. We have six 20-year-olds and a lot of experience, which is good for this league. You need guys that are going to bring leadership to the table and I think that’s really good, it will show up for us.”

Another name looking to improve his stats from a year ago is Andrew Seaman.

The Winnetka, Illinois product recorded 16 points in 52 games last year while being placed in a variety of roles by head coach Alex Evin.

Seaman mentions playing with a full shield will take some getting used to.

“Some of us are getting used to playing with a bubble for the very first time, it’s an adjustment but at least we are playing, so I will wear it and not complain.”

A lot of American-born players have been unable to get into Canada as they are deemed non-essential due to the travel restrictions related to COVID-19, leading Seaman to be a little more creative while coming back to PG.

“I was initially going to drive out but it’s a little bit tougher to get over the border by land so I flew into Calgary and they didn’t give me too hard of a time. I am just glad to be here.”

From The Backend Out

With Carter Woodside the unquestioned number one goalie for PG, the only question remains is how much better will the defense be?

The blueline is led by 20-year-old Mason Waite, who enjoyed a nice first season in the BCHL recording 29 points in 51 games after coming over from the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Lloydminster Bobcats.

Waite knows he’ll be leaned on heavily in his final season of junior hockey.

“The big thing for me is to be a leader back there, we are not the most experienced back there and even though I am going to play a big role, the team needs everyone including myself to get up in the play offensively and be a threat.”

“We ran our systems well last season and worked really hard but we couldn’t put the puck in the net last year when we needed to but I think we’ve got a skilled group of guys here and a little more experience.”

To take the pressure off of Waite is newly-acquired defender Tanner Main from the Wenatchee Wild along with Zach Gabruch who arrives via trade from Salmon Arm.

Players like Colton Cameron and Amran Bhabra should take another step in year two of their sojourn through the BCHL.

Buono does see a scenario where you might see some playoff intensity early in the fall.

“It will probably get a bit chippy out there after a while if it’s five times but we are a big heavy team that can play the style.”