Chuck Chin

Prince George Spruce Kings recent playoff road trips

 

The BCHL has some very isolated teams and one of the most isolated is the Prince George Spruce Kings. The closest teams geographically to Prince George are the Merritt Centennials and Salmon Arm Silverbacks. Until the upcoming season, the Spruce Kings closest division rival was in Chilliwack.

Having a well-run hockey program can negate any disadvantage to where a team plays from. With that said, being members of the Coastal Division for eight seasons required the Spruce Kings to do a lot of travelling.

It was especially true in the post-season. In the past four playoff years, the Spruce Kings have travelled thousands of kilometres across land and sea. They’ve crossed borders, and rode several ferries, just to get to their opponents.

Three of these series required unique scheduling because of the distances involved and only one series required no changes despite needing to ride several ferries.

I’m talking specifically about the 2017 series between Prince George and Wenatchee, the 2019 Doyle Cup between Prince George and the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, the series this past spring between Prince George and Trail, and the 2018 series between the Spruce Kings and Powell River.

Disclaimer: All trips assume optimal driving and sailing conditions with no major delays at border crossings. All information comes directly from either Google or Bing.

I will also specify the quickest routes to these cities, except for Powell River. I feel the need to specify both major routes due to the city’s location.

To begin with, there are hard dates for the Doyle Cup and Centennial Cup. This means that all playoff series and regional championships must be complete before the middle of May. As such, from the end of February till the beginning of May, the Western region champion must play, at minimum, 24 games.

Crossing borders and riding ferries

All four series have several things in common. The first is that Prince George had to travel around 1,000 kilometres to each city. This accounts for around ten hours of driving time. In three instances, the scheduling was affected by distances, the 2019 Doyle Cup is a special exception.

For the 2017 series against the Wild and this year’s series against the Smoke Eaters, games three, four and five were scheduled for Prince George. Games six and seven were scheduled for Wenatchee and Trail.

The 2019 Doyle Cup is different because there were two separate schedules drawn up. Depending on the results of games one and two, games three through seven would be altered. If the first games were swept by one team, then games three, four, five, six, and seven would have been played in Prince George.

If games one and two were split, game three would have been in Brooks while games four through seven would be in Prince George. These series are the only examples I could find where the travel distance affected the scheduling.

The Powell River series is an odd exception. The Spruce Kings had to travel a similar distance as the other three series and travel across the water on two separate ferries.

From experience, crossing the Straight of Georgia takes around two hours each way. The Spruce Kings could travel to Horseshoe Bay, cross to Departure Bay, drive an hour north along the Island Highway, and cross over to Powell River at Comox.

The team could also ride a 40-minute ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale. Drive 90 minutes up to Earls Cove and catch another 50-minute ferry to Saltery Bay. From there, the team would travel 35 minutes up the Sunshine Coast Highway to Powell River.

Despite these travel complications, the scheduling was not affected.

New travel challenges await

With the arrival of the Cranbrook Bucks, the Spruce Kings change over to the newly named Interior Conference. Getting to Cranbrook from Prince George is a lengthy trip requiring over ten hours of travel. Because of that, I can’t imagine that the Spruce Kings will play the Bucks more than two times in a season, but we’ll see when the schedule comes out.

According to the schedule for the 2019-20 season, the Spruce Kings played every Island and Interior team twice, except for Trail and West Kelowna, who played three times because of additional match-ups at the BCHL Showcase in Penticton.

The Spruce Kings had eight games each against Chilliwack, Coquitlam, Langley, and Surrey. With the move to the Interior Conference, the Spruce Kings may not have to travel so far to play teams in their division. They will likely have more matchups against teams like Merritt and Salmon Arm.

Over the last eight years, an intense rivalry developed between the Chiefs and Spruce Kings, but from 1996 to 2011, Prince George resided in the Interior Division of the BCHL. Perhaps the Spruce Kings will renew old rivalries against Interior teams like Vernon, Penticton, and Trail. We’ll find out whenever the 2020-21 season begins.