Garrett James Photography

Spruce Kings leaning on a trio of rookies to protect the crease


Nothing about the pod season in the BC Hockey League is normal.

From a limited number of games to playing a select number of teams and all with no fans in attendance, it would be easy for some of the players to feel a little bit off.

In the case of the Prince George Spruce Kings, add an extra layer of intrigue as they have decided to roll with a trio of rookie goaltenders in Aaron Trotter, Jordan Fairlie, and Kobe Grant.

The league’s most northern franchise committed to the trio after jettisoning Carter Woodside to the Victoria Grizzlies.

Trotter is a 2001-born goalie from Victoria who hails from the Shawnigan Lake Prep School program that plays in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League. Last season, while playing on the U18 program, Trotter had a record of 11-7-1 to go along with a 2.57 goals-against-average and a .905 save percentage.

In the exhibition season, Trotter displayed dazzling numbers for the Spruce Kings, posting a mark of 2-1 while accumulating a 1.52 goals-against-average and a .920 save percentage. With the butterflies out of the way and the puck dropped on the season, Trotter is quite happy with his unique transition to junior A.

“I felt like it was a pretty good start. The first game against Chilliwack didn’t go how we wanted it to but I felt it was good to get the rust off and get familiar with a team we didn’t know much about.”

“Junior is a lot more system-based. A lot of the players are smarter and they will pick you apart if you make a mistake. That’s what I have noticed in a game or practice. The players move faster and smarter so you have to adapt your speed and be more patient on your feet.”

Fairlie on the other hand is a 2002-born netminder from Fort St. John who is a recent graduate of the Cariboo Cougars. Limited by injuries, he only suited up in 18 games last season, going 10-7-1 with a 2.47 goals-against-average.

Fairlie picked up his first win in the BCHL after the Spruce Kings edged the Merritt Centennials by a 3-2 score on Apr. 4. “Going into it I still had some nerves (and) I was working through those throughout the game, but as soon as we started playing, it felt a little bit more natural.”

“In major midget, I was kind of a big fish in a little pond and here I am a little fish in a big pond, so it’s a bit different atmosphere. You have to be that much better and show up every night.”

The Spruce Kings also added 2002-born Kobe Grant to be their emergency goaltender. He spent the last two seasons in the BC U18 ranks for the Thompson Blazers U18 AAA.

(Darren Francis)

Head Coach Alex Evin has remained non-committal on who the clear-cut number one goaltender is in this 20-game sprint. All three goalies are aware of what’s at stake and know they have to shut the door every time their number is called.

“He kind of told us coming in here that everyone is going to get a few games to start and whoever is playing well will keep on playing. Coming in here, I know I have to play good in order to get some games in,” added Fairlie.

“It’s been good so far with both of us being rookies, Jordy pushes me hard and I feel like I push him so it’s been good so far,” added Trotter.

Empty seats

As mentioned earlier, all games in the pod season are being played in empty arenas. Playing a game with no fan emotion hasn’t affected the two young netminders as much as one may think.

“Personally for me, I haven’t really noticed the difference with(out) fans. It doesn’t really affect me as I just focus on the games so it’s not really a big problem or a different type of nervousness,” said Trotter.

“It’s nice to have the fans. Every time your team scores a goal, you get the cheers and stuff, so it’s a little bit different because there is no noise in the rink, but it doesn’t change the nerves or anything going into the game. The game is still the same whether there are fans present or not, it’s still hockey,” mentioned Fairlie.

The Spruce Kings had a tougher road in preparation for the season having to be in quarantine 30 out of 40 days at one point. The first quarantine period was due to positive COVID-19 cases on the team, while the second was league-mandated prior to the start of the season.

In any case, the situation was less than ideal, spending the better part of a month off the ice.

“The first one we weren’t really allowed to work out in case we were experiencing symptoms and that way it would be pretty tough not knowing if you had any lasting effects or not. But, the second one, we had some Zoom calls where we did some workouts so it wasn’t too bad. We got to stay in shape but being off the ice for four out of six weeks prior to the season was a challenge. We tried to work on as much as we could before we got here (to the Chilliwack pod),” mentioned Fairlie.

“For me, it was just dealing with the time lost and getting my feet back under me and getting the movements back. It was definitely better the second time to stay in shape,” said Trotter.

Superstitious feeling

It is well-publicized goalies are often the quirkiest of the bunch on any hockey team. Both Fairlie and Trotter have the respective routines they like to follow on game days.

“I like to take a nap before every single game and I don’t go on my phone on my game days. I usually get up, I call my dad and then the phone goes away and I don’t go on it. I do some simple stuff that I can control like putting my left stuff on my before my right,” said Fairlie.

“For me, I have two stuffies that are in the locker room so I place them before a game. How I get dressed is I put all the right stuff on first except for my chest protector, that is when I put my left arm in first,” added Trotter.

Prince George takes on the Chiefs and the Centennials inside the Chilliwack pod from now until May 9.