The Prince George Spruce Kings were very busy these last three months. General manager Mike Hawes executed several trades to help improve goal scoring and while PG continues to prepare for the upcoming season, they’ve also said goodbye to several players that aged out.
In a previous article, I covered how several players were recruited to NCAA schools. Chong Min Lee went to the University of Alaska-Anchorage and Nolan Welsh and Preston Brodziak were recruited to Long Island University.
All of this was happening during a global pandemic and its impact was felt by the team. Prince George city council voted to close Rolling Mix Concrete Arena until 2021 because, under current restrictions, it was unfeasible to operate the arena for the rest of 2020.
To recap the events of these three busy months I’ll list the completed trades for June, July, and August. All the players the Spruce Kings acquired, and all the players they sent away to other teams.
To begin with, the Spruce Kings did recruit some new players for the upcoming season. 2001-born goalie Aaron Trotter was recruited from Shawnigan Lake School Prep of the Canadian Sport School Hockey League.
In 19 games he had an 11-7-1 record with a 2.57 goals-against-average and a .905 save percentage. Joining him is Ben LeFranc from the Okanagan Hockey Academy of the CSSHL.
COMMITMENT | The Spruce Kings are excited to announce the commitment of D Ben LeFranc ('03) for the 2020-21 season.
Welcome to PG, Ben!
— Prince George Spruce Kings (@SpruceKings) July 27, 2020
As a 2003-born defenseman, LeFranc played 35 games scoring six goals and 12 assists. Trotter and LeFranc are just two players set to become Spruce Kings next season. One of the first players they acquired on June 1 was Rowan Miller.
Spruce Kings June and July trades
Miller came to Prince George because of an earlier trade with the Powell River Kings. Hawes had traded Brett Pfoh to the Kings for future considerations last season. In 47 games with Powell River in 2019-20, Miller had eight goals and seven assists.
The Spruce Kings also sent future considerations to the Merritt Centennials for forward Christian Buono. In 58 games last season, Buono had 11 goals and 27 assists. June 10 saw the Spruce Kings acquire Darwin Lakoduk from the Penticton Vees.
While splitting last season between the Victoria and Penticton, Lakoduk had 11 goals and 12 assists. On June 16, the Spruce Kings sent Tom Richter to the Cowichan Valley Capitals for future considerations. Richter scored two goals and eight assists in 56 games during the 2019-20 season.
A day later saw the Spruce Kings trade for Austin Spiridakis from the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. Quentin Loon-Stewardson and future considerations went to the Bulldogs. In 42 games with Alberni Valley this past season, Spiridakis had 12 goals and seven assists.
The Spruce Kings acquired defenseman Zach Gabruch from the Wellington Dukes of the Ontario Junior Hockey League on June 25. In exchange, Mason Reeves was sent to the Dukes. Gabruch spent last season with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks before being traded to Wellington on June 19. He had five points in 56 games with the Backs.
TRADE | The Spruce Kings have traded F Fin Williams ('03) to the Penticton Vees in exchange for future considerations.
— Prince George Spruce Kings (@SpruceKings) July 13, 2020
July 13 saw the Spruce Kings trade Finlay Williams to Penticton for future considerations. According to Hawes, Finlay requested the trade to the Vees. He felt his chances of getting drafted by an NHL team next summer were better if he played in Penticton.
August trades and the Covid-19 impact
On August 12, saw the Spruce Kings trade defenseman Evan Orr to Powell River for future considerations. In 52 games, in Prince George last season, he had five goals and 15 assists. Then on August 18, PG traded forward Hayden Delorme to the Swan Valley Stampeders of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League for futures. Delorme notched four goals and two assists in 14 games since joining the Spruce Kings in January.
In all of these trades, it seems like the Spruce Kings looked to improve their goal scoring. During the 2018-19 season, the Spruce Kings scored 181 goals while allowing 120 goals against. This past season, they scored 31 fewer goals while allowing 83 more.
Meanwhile, the Spruce Kings started feeling the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic. In a Prince George city council meeting on July 27, a vote was held and Council decided to close the CN Centre, Elks Centre, and Rolling Mix Concrete Arena until 2021. The city voted to reopen the Kin Arenas in time for August 17.
The Spruce Kings have released a statement from General Manager Mike Hawes.
— Prince George Spruce Kings (@SpruceKings) July 28, 2020
The immediate impact forced the Spruce Kings to change the venue of their summer hockey school. Everyone taking part has to observe strict social distancing measures. Some basic measures include no dressing room usage, no family and friends in the stands, and bathroom occupancy limits.
These measures are in place until BC enters Phase 4 of its re-opening plan. The problem is that nobody knows when that will happen. As for RMCA, whenever it does open, it needs a lot of work to be a viable long-term venue for the City of Prince George.
As recently as last year, the City identified RMCA as a facility that should be replaced because of its age and maintenance costs. With the ongoing pandemic leaving them without access to their home rink, I have to wonder, will the Spruce Kings have to play their games at another venue?
A future of uncertainty
The team website’s history section describes a season in 1994 where they played in a 600 seat arena, an arena that I suspect was Kin 1 before it was rebuilt. According to the BCHL fan notice from January 29th, 2006 on the Chilliwack Chiefs’ potential relocation, the BCHL minimum seating capacity is 1,500.
Given the extraordinary circumstances around COVID-19, you have to imagine the league would allow the Spruce Kings to play elsewhere until they can reopen their normal home – whenever that is.