Flyers’ first-rounder O’Brien spikes Spruce Kings

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

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.

CI­TI­ZEN PHOTO BY JAMES DOYLE

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.

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