Garrett James Photography

Spruce Kings ready to hit the ice after lengthy layoff


After close to 13 months since their last meaningful game action, the Prince George Spruce Kings are chomping at the bit to get for the abbreviated BCHL season to commence.

The anticipation is slowly building for the league’s most northern franchise as they prepare for a trip to Chilliwack to play in one of the approved five pod cities approved by the provincial government on Mar. 12.

In what is a season unlike any other, the Spruce Kings will get re-acquainted with former Mainland Division rival Chilliwack along with the Merritt Centennials – PG’s closest geographical foe.

According to general manager Mike Hawes, the team is wrapping up its final stages of preparation before making the trek south.

“The team is in quarantine right now until the 28th and we have a day of COVID testing as we come out of quarantine and then we head down to Chilliwack on the 30th.”

The last game Prince George played was on March 3, 2020, when it fell in Game 4 of its first-round series against the Trail Smoke Eaters by a 3-1 score.

The Spruce Kings, like all teams across the BCHL, eagerly awaited a return to gameplay after the extended exhibition schedule was put on ice in November by Dr. Bonnie Henry.

To say the players are sick of practicing is an understatement.

“Our players and coaches are more ready to play games than they have ever been as far as concepts and the plays and the systems we are going to run during games. They worked on that ad nauseum over the last several months,” added Hawes.

Always an eye on playing games

Despite there not being a lot of changes in restrictions between November and approval finally coming on Mar. 12, the Spruce Kings had to be ready to play at the drop of a hat.

“There were many times where we thought we might get to a point where we (could) play games so they were always preparing to play. To be honest with you, despite the fact we haven’t had a typical training camp (as) we would in any other year, this year we (essentially) had a four or five month training camp.”

“I know the players and the coaches are champing at the bit to get after it.”

While it’s still uncertain what the 2021-22 BCHL season exactly looks like as of yet, Hawes and the rest of the BCHL are striving for a “normal” regular season come the fall, providing the government’s mass vaccination plan and case counts trend in a much lower trajectory.

“The plan right now is that we have a normal regular season, game-wise, and be able to travel in September. How many fans are allowed into the building is up in the air and yet to be determined.”

“That’s the way we are planning, that’s the way the league and the teams have to plan and if something changes in that regard as we move forward, then we will deal with it as we did this year,” mentioned Hawes.

Moving into five pods across BC

The Langley Rivermen were the only team to opt out of the restart while the Wenatchee Wild went on hiatus in November due to the US-Canada border closure.

League officials finally unveiled what everybody knew and confirmed the five pod locations for the upcoming season on Mar. 19.

  • Chilliwack
  • Port Alberni
  • Vernon
  • Penticton
  • Coquitlam (games to be played in Burnaby)

Game action will occur at the games Weyerhauser Arena in Port Alberni, Kal Tire Place in Vernon, South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton, and The Chilliwack Coliseum.

However, the Express won’t be playing in their home arena after the ice set to be removed from the Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex to accommodate the lacrosse season.

This means the Coquitlam pod is relocated to Scotia Barn – Canlan Ice Sports in Burnaby – a mere 16-minute jaunt down the Trans Canada Highway.

The Alberni Valley Bulldogs join the Nanaimo Clippers, Cowichan Valley Capitals, and Victoria Grizzlies in the Port Alberni pod. In Vernon, the Vipers welcome the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, and West Kelowna Warriors.

Penticton’s pod features the Vees, Trail Smoke Eaters, and Cranbrook Bucks. As previously mentioned, the Chilliwack pod consists of the Chiefs, Merritt Centennials, and Spruce Kings.

And last but certainly not least,  the Coquitlam pod – based in Burnaby – includes the Express, Surrey Eagles, and Powell River Kings.