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Merritt sneaks last-second goal to top Prince George Spruce Kings

First home game with no fans got physical in exhibition cohort season

The final was a 2-1 loss for the Prince George Spruce Kings in their first Rolling Mix Concrete Arena (RMCA) game since March 3.

The elephant in the room… the quiet grandstands that would normally seat fans wishing to help lift their team up on the right foot ahead in what is expected to be a significant rebuilding year.

If people got to see the physically rally that ensued Sunday afternoon (Oct. 25), they’d likely be on their feet cheering as loud as they could.

“We know that’s a team we should beat,” said Spruce Kings forward Andrew Seaman, who scored the lone goal for the home team.

“There’s definitely a familiarity with playing them so many times. The more we play them, the more we kind of pick up on their tendencies and stuff like that. So I think, from here, we just got to see what they’re doing and change our game to capitalize on them [...] It’s pretty hostile down there. With the new rule of no congregating after the whistle, it makes it tough and there’s going to be some penalties called, but we’re going to get used to it.”

The 20-year-old American tied up the third of five meetings between Prince George and Merritt 1-1 in the dying minutes of the second period, marking his fourth point in back-to-back matches.

“It feels good to get some production on the board. You know, my teammates have been there to feed me the puck and finish the play, so it feels good to get the confidence up early in the preseason.”

The Cents broke the ice more than four minutes into the same frame on a man-advantage; a left-side angle shot from Grayson Valente with helpers from Zack Dallazanna and Prince George product Blake Astorino.

Prince George took an unfortunate too-many-men call with 32 seconds left in regulation and with overtime nearing, Merritt had other plans.

With three ticks on the clock, a shot from the point deflected in behind goaltender Aaron Trotter and Ben Ward lifting the Cents to their first victory of the 2020-21 preseason.

In his junior ‘A’ debut, Trotter stopped 15 of 17 shots, though one could argue more than half of his opponents shots were dump-ins towards the net to make line changes.

Regardless, the Victoria product was grateful for the experience.

“It was definitely a big switch [from Under-17], but overall I thought it was a good game,” he told PrinceGeorgeMatters in trying to find the positives despite the setback.

“I think, for myself, just competing for everything and making sure I communicate with the defencemen, knowing where the guys are at all times and playing the puck with confidence.”

With all of the uncertainty the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing for hockey teams this year, the Spruce Kings elected to sign three netminders for 2020-21 in Trotter, Carter Woodside and Jordan Fairlie.

Trotter spent the last three years with Shawnigan Lake’s hockey prep program and recorded back-to-back best goals-against averages, save-percentages and CSSHL titles.

He believes skills, both mentally and physically, need to standout in trying to solidify his case as the go-to goaltender.

“I just gotta keep showing the coaches and the players that I’m working my butt off and can compete for everything. I’ve got to make sure it’s hard for the team to score and, yeah, just keep battling. I’ve done a lot of mental training too. I’ve got this phrase I like, ‘Goalies who think, stink!’ So, kind of not thinking about anything, just going with the flow and just doing what you can do and what you can control.”

Final shots on goal were 25-17 in favour of Prince George, who also went scoreless on four power-play opportunities.

Quesnel’s Colton Phillips-Watts got his first junior ‘A’ win between the pipes for Merritt.

Both clubs are now set to quarantine for the next two weeks before their fourth meeting of the exhibition cohort series on Saturday, Nov. 7, also at the RMCA.