From 1975 to 2011, Prince George’s closest geographic rivalry was with the Quesnel Millionaires. These two shared a rivalry that spanned 36 years and transcended two different junior hockey leagues. It was a rivalry that was often intense and ugly.
In my second article for BCHLNetwork, I found a YouTube video of a line brawl that occurred after a playoff game from their Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League days. The rivalry was intense because the two cities are less 90 minutes apart and the two teams faced each other often in the regular season and playoffs.
Unfortunately, the rivalry ended because of events during the summer of 2011. The Millionaires were sold to the Chiefs Development Group and moved to Chilliwack. The current version of the Chiefs sees the franchise history as a continuation of the Langley Chiefs and not the Millionaires.
To show the history of this rivalry I needed to draw upon examples from the different eras of it. The dominance of Quesnel in the late 1970s, the dominance of Prince George through the 1980s and early 1990s, and the latent period of the late 1990s till the 2010s.
I also needed to address the future. Big changes are coming for the Spruce Kings as they are set to rejoin the Interior Conference. For 36 years the Spruce Kings have always played in the same division as the Millionaires franchise.
Even when the Mills left for Chilliwack, this last link carried over. With the arrival of the Cranbrook Bucks, the Spruce Kings transfer back to the Interior to balance out the conferences at nine teams apiece. After that, the last remaining link between the two franchises is broken.
Came across this cool photo the other day. Can anyone name this former BCHL goalie? pic.twitter.com/0lgobVmr42
— Gregory Balloch (@GregBalloch) November 3, 2018
To start, both teams joined the Peace-Cariboo Junior Hockey League in 1975. Before 1981, it was a junior B league and the Millionaires were the dominant team. Every year from 1977-79, the Millionaires won the league championship and the Cyclone Taylor Cup provincial junior B championship.
From beginning to end
In 1978, the Millionaires were Western Canadian champions after defeating the Saskatoon Quakers. In 1981, the PCJHL changed from junior B to junior A and it was then that the Spruce Kings began their dominance.
Except for the 1987 league championship, the Spruce Kings were the better team. During games things often got nasty on the ice and one such ugly incident was described by Prince George Citizen reporter Ted Clarke as told by former Spruce King Rob Pfoh last November.
Pfoh is the father of former Spruce Kings forward Brett, who was traded to Powell River last season. The elder Pfoh played for the Spruce Kings in the 1980s which included the 1983-84 season and Prince George’s record that year was 43-7.
In one January 1984 game at the Coliseum, there was an ugly incident involving Pfoh and Millionaires starting goalie Ken Zotek. After a collision, Zotek had to be carried off the ice on a stretcher after suffering bruised ribs.
In that same game, Pfoh ran over Millionaires backup goaltender Ward Black as well. The rivalry became a bit less intense when both teams joined the BCHL in 1996.
After joining the BCHL, the Millionaires made the playoffs only five times in 15 seasons. In those five playoff appearances, the Spruce Kings and Millionaires never played each other, but things changed again during the summer of 2011.
The Atlanta Thrashers relocated to become the Winnipeg Jets in the NHL and the Western Hockey League moved to protect Victoria from being occupied by the American Hockey League. As a result, the Chilliwack Bruins relocated to Victoria and became the Royals. And as mentioned above, the Millionaires relocated to fill the junior hockey void in Chilliwack.
After the Chiefs returned to Chilliwack, they became the Spruce Kings’ number one rival and ended up facing Prince George in the playoffs four times over nine seasons. Chilliwack won in 2013 and 2015 while the Spruce Kings prevailed in 2018 and 2019.
Geographically, the teams closest to Prince George are Merritt and Salmon Arm. In the 1980s and 1990s as RMJHL champions, the Spruce Kings often faced Penticton and Vernon in the Mowat Cup provincial junior A championship. With a move back to the Interior Conference, the Spruce Kings will face the Vees and Vipers more frequently.
Currently, it seems there are no BCHL teams in danger of relocating. Fellow BCHLNetwork writer Kevin Swaile recently wrote about how the West Kelowna Warriors were in danger of moving to Delta in 2017, have since solved their issues with new ownership.
In another article by Ted Clarke from 2017, Spruce Kings general manager Mike Hawes expressed his support for the BCHL coming back to Quesnel. He stated that having another team located closer to Prince George would help cut down on travel costs.
Opening game in quesnel and the awesome West fraser centre pic.twitter.com/evO9Rz8keg
— Kamloops Storm (@Kamloops_Storm) November 18, 2017
In 2017, the junior B Kamloops Storm of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League played a series of games in Quesnel against the North Okanagan Knights and 100 Mile House Wranglers.
This was part of an effort to bring a junior b team back to the city. Currently, the only team that plays in Quesnel is the Kangaroos of the Central Interior Hockey League. It remains to be seen if the BCHL ever returns to the former Gold Pan City that housed the Millionaires and the Prince George Spruce Kings’ closest – and oldest – rival.