Neaton de­fangs Vipers’ of­fen­sive

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Ted CLARKE Ci­ti­zen staff [email protected]­i­t­i­zen.ca

In a show­down of two goalies who were team­mates un­til last week, Prince Ge­orge Spruce Kings puck­stop­per Lo­gan Neaton had the last laugh.

Neaton lost his shutout bid with 32 sec­onds left in the game, about 12 min­utes af­ter Ver­non Vipers goalie Bradley Cooper, Neaton’s for­mer Spruce Kings team­mate, said good­bye to his.

But that wasn’t what put a smile on Neaton’ face. It was the fi­nal score that did it. This one was close all the way through and the Spruce Kings left the ice at Rolling Mix Con­crete Arena with a 2-1 vic­tory.

Kings winger Dustin Manz was the first shooter to strike. He took a carom off the end boards, a shot that came from point­man Liam Wat­son-Brawn, and with no Viper in his im­me­di­ate prox­im­ity he had time to play with the puck be­fore drift­ing a low wris­ter along the ice that found a sliver of net to the far side 7:22 into the third pe­riod.

The Kings made it 2-0 with 1:12 left when Ben Brar took the puck off the side boards and from just south of his own ringette line while down on one knee he scored with a long slap­per into the empty Ver­non net.

It looked like Neaton was well on his way to his se­cond BCHL shutout but the Vipers won a draw in the P.G. end and with 32 sec­onds left Teddy Wood­ing put a shot on net that trick­led through the legs of Neaton.

It was Brar’s sixth game-win­ning goal this sea­son. He’s scored three of the four emp­tynet goals the Kings have in 2018-19.

Cooper, 19, was in his se­cond BCHL sea­son with the Spruce Kings un­til Nov. 27, when he was traded to the Vipers along with fu­ture con­sid­er­a­tions for 19-year-old winger Gar­rett Worth. Wed­nes­day’s game marked his first start in a Vipers uni­form.

“I had a lot of emo­tions com­ing into this game, I was a lit­tle ner­vous but con­fi­dent at the same time,” said Cooper, a na­tive of West Van­cou­ver. “We bat­tled hard and came up short. I wish I’d had that goal but it’s just the way to goes some­times.

“It’s tough be­cause that’s one I re­ally wanted to win. Brar is the king of empty nets. It was over­all a good game with tough bat­tles and I think the boys were try­ing to fight for me to win that one es­pe­cially.”

Cooper has grown quite ac­cus­tomed to hav­ing donuts up on the score­board. In his first 23 games in the league with Kings he posted six shutouts, in­clud­ing his two goose eggs at RMCA this sea­son against Co­quit­lam and Salmon Arm.

“It was nice com­ing back and be­ing here,” he said. “P.G’s close to home for me, I’ve lived my last year-and-a-half here and it was a cool ex­pe­ri­ence play­ing here again, on the op­po­site side.”

The two-point vic­tory moved the Spruce Kings (22-8-1-2) back to first over­all in the 17-team BCHL. The Vipers (11-11-6-3) re­mained sixth in the In­te­rior Divi­sion.

The game had added mean­ing be­cause of what hap­pened Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon in Chilli­wack, where the Chiefs beat the Lan­g­ley River­men 3-1 to vault one point ahead of the Spruce Kings. Chilli­wack (23-9-0-0) hosts Pow­ell River and Trail this week­end.

Nei­ther team was able to score in the first 40 min­utes. The Kings held the Vipers to six shots in the open­ing pe­riod but it was a much dif­fer­ent story in the se­cond pe­riod and the Kings were lucky to get out of it un­scathed.

The Vipers made Neaton earn his keep in goal I that se­cond pe­riod, pound­ing 15 shots at the 19-year-old from Michi­gan. They had good pres­sure in the Prince Ge­orge end dur­ing their two power-play chances but the Kings made sure Neaton saw the shots com­ing at him and lim­ited the Vipers’ se­cond-shot op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The Vipers top lin­ers, Con­nor Mar­ritt, Jag­ger Wil­liamson and Matt Kowal­ski, proved the most trou­ble­some for the Kings and they were guilty of mak­ing a lot more turnovers in the neu­tral zone than Kings’ fans have been ac­cus­tomed to see­ing.

The Kings cranked up the in­ten­sity to­ward the end of the pe­riod and forced Cooper to make sev­eral dif­fi­cult saves on clo­sein tires near the net. Nolan Welsh had the best chance, fol­low­ing up on the re­bound a long shot from Ben Pois­son. Welsh dragged the puck across the crease and let go a high back­han­der but Cooper was ready for it.

LOOSE PUCKS: The same teams meet again in Ver­non on Jan. 9…The Spruce Kings dressed two af­fil­i­ated play­ers. De­fence­man Bren­dan Wang, 16, played his first BCHL game, called up from the Burn­aby Win­ter Club mid­get prep team. The Kings were with­out three reg­u­lars on the blue­line with Lay­ton Ahac and Nick Bochen at the Canada West team try­outs for the World Ju­nior A Hockey Chal­lenge and Dy­lan An­horn out with a con­cus­sion. John Her­ring­ton, a 16-year-old Cari­boo Cougars ma­jor mid­get right winger, suited up for his se­cond ju­nior A game, fill­ing in for in­jured winger Cory Cun­ning­ham (shoul­der) and Worth (flu). The Vipers were miss­ing de­fence­man Jack Jud­son and for­ward Alex Swet­likoff. Both will join Ahac on Canada West in the WJAHC tour­na­ment which starts Sun­day in Bon­nyville, Alta.

CI­TI­ZEN PHOTO BY JAMES DOYLE

Prince Ge­orge Spruce Kings for­ward Nick Pois­son goes af­ter the loose puck while be­ing chased by a Ver­non Vipers de­fender on Wed­nes­day at Rolling Mix Con­crete Arena.

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