Flyers’ first-rounder O’Brien spikes Spruce Kings
There are probably a thousand reasons the Philadelphia Flyers picked Jay O’Brien in the first round, 19th overall in the 2018 NHL draft.
Saturday night at Rolling Mix Concrete Arena, with one big-league rush with the puck, O’Brien offered some overtime evidence to support the Flyers decision and it made the difference between winning or losing for the Prince George Spruce Kings.
The 19-year-old centre took off with the puck on the left wing side and burned past Kings forward Corey Cunningham, finishing with a backhand-forehand move and a shot that caught the inside of the post behind goalie Jack McGovern to lift the Vees to 3-2 win with 2:12 gone in overtime.
“That’s a big win for us,” said O’Brien, sporting a bandage over left his eye after getting cut when he went face-first into the glass in the first period.
“It was actually my first time playing 3-on-3 overtime. I tried to get the puck with speed and saw the defender was a little flatfooted and the ice was pretty chopped up so I tried to take it wide and jam it home and lucky enough it went in for me.”
The 873 fans in attendance were treated to fast-paced battle between two of the better-skilled teams in the B.C. Hockey League in a September game that had playoff-like intensity.
O’Brien’s scintillating goal took away a point from a Kings team that dominated the puck most of the game and doubled the Vees in shots 33-18.
“They’re a good team, I’ll tell you that, they play hard, they play heavy, they don’t quit, that’s the best team we’ve played all year,” said O’Brien, a native of Hingham, Mass. “They kind of play like us, they’ve got some grit and skill and I like that. That was a good hockey game. We gutted it out and that’s all that matters.”
The Kings had three overtime shots and all three forced goalie Derek Krall to make great stops, especially his skate save to deny Fin Williams on a low shot along that hugged the ice.
McGovern, 17, was making his first BCHL start in goal since arriving in Prince George from St. Catharines Falcons of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.
“Obviously the score is not what I wanted but it was a good game to get adjusted to the speed,” said McGovern. “Hopefully the next games go better. (His Kings teammates) did really well on defence and kept the shots to a low number. It was nice that (head coach Alex Evin) trusted me to start this game.
“I have to make a couple more saves out there. It was a good play by (O’Brien) but I’ve got to get to the post at the end.”
The win improved Penticton’s record to 4-0-0-0, while the Kings are now 1-1-2-0. Kings assistant coach Jessie Leung had nothing but praise for his players after they came close to handing the Vees their first loss of the season.
“That’s probably the best game we’ve played to date and that’s a good sign,” said Leung. “Penticton’s been on a roll and I thought we played a great game. To us it’s knowing that belief that if we stick to our habits and our gameplan we can be successful against anybody in this league.”
Tied 2-2 to start the third period, Vees scoring leader Danny Weight broke the deadlock when he took a lead pass from Liam Malmquist and beat McGovern to the blocker side.
The Kings yanked their goalie to the bench for the extra skater with more than two minutes left and the gamble paid off when Chong Min Lee took a cross-ice pass from Nick Poisson and scored the equalizer with 1:44 left in the third period.
“That’s exactly the kind of game we needed, to be honest,’ said Vees head coach Fred Harbinson. “The last two games we had big scores, 7-3, 7-1, and this was a whole different game, not a lot of ice out there for there for either team and we found a way to win a tight game.
“The Spruce Kings play hard, they’re very structured, as usual, and that was a fun game to be part of tonight.”
The Kings, coming off a 6-1 victory over Victoria Friday night, looked sharp from the opening puck drop and were deserving of their 1-0 lead heading into the second period after outshooting the Vees 12-4 in the opening 20.
Poisson got the Kings started with his first of the season at 15:40 of the first, blasting in a rebound from the right side after Nick Bochen let go a shot from the point. Their previous power play set the tone. They didn’t score but held the Vees in their own end the entire two minutes, forcing Krall to make a couple of saves.
The second period began ominously for Penticton when Vincent Nardone got caught for a four-minute high-sticking penalty.
But the Vees countered with a pair of shorthanded goals to take the lead. Colton Kalezic stripped the puck at the Kings’ blueline and rifled a high hard shot that fooled McGovern, then 1:28 later Jack Barnes took the puck into the zone on a 2-on-2 and let go a hard backhander that found the top corner past McGovern’s glove. The Kings tied it late in the period. Colton Cameron wristed a shot from the point that dropped out of Krall’s glove and Preston Brodziak got to the loose puck in the crease.
Bochen, who helped set up Lee’s goal, was limited by injury to only power-play duty, and the Kings were down to just four defencemen when Brendan Hill suffered a lower-body injury late in the first period after an end-zone collision with Vees forward David Silye.
That left it up to Cameron, Evan Orr, Nolan Barrett and 16-year-old Amran Bhabra to guard the blueline and they performed admirably. Weight’s goal was the only shot they allowed in the third period.
“We did a lot of right things tonight, a couple bounces, a couple of posts, and if continue to clean it up in our d-zone we’ll be a great team moving forward,” said Orr, 18, a Michigan Tech recruit who joined the Kings last week after a tryout with Muskegon of the USHL.
“We played really well and that’s the key takeaway. Going to four (defencemen) we just had to keep things simple.”
LOOSE PUCKS: NHL families were well-represented in Saturday’s game. The Vees had five sons of former NHL’ers in the lineup, including Weight (son of Doug), Barnes (Stu), Lukas Sillinger (Mike), Jackson Niedermeyer (Scott) and Tristan Amonte (Tony), while the Spruce Kings had one Thomas Richter (Mike)… O’Brien is not the only NHL-drafted player on the Vees roster. Six-foot-six defenceman Cade Webber was the Carolina Hurricanes’ fourth-round choice in 2019, drafted 99th overall… The Kings play their next game Friday in Chilliwack, the team’s only threegame, three-day roadtrip of the season, with stops Saturday in Langley and Sunday in Coquitlam.
Prince George Spruce Kings forward Brett Pfoh cuts hard to the net while protecting the puck from the check of Penticton Vees defender Evan McIntyre on Saturday night at Rolling Mix Concrete Arena.