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HomeNewsSpruce Kings cough up two-goal lead to Penticton; ousted from playoffs

Spruce Kings cough up two-goal lead to Penticton; ousted from playoffs

A splash of Green wasn’t quite enough to upset the apple cart against the two-time defending Fred Page Cup champions.

Zack Stringer followed by a pair of goals by Callum Arnott capped off a third period comeback for the Penticton Vees, punching their ticket to the second round of the BCHL Playoffs after a 3-2 victory over the Prince George Spruce Kings.

The Vees swept the best-of-seven quarter-final series 4-0.

Facing elimination at home, the Spruce Kings struck first on their opening shot.

A blast by Aidan Souligny from inside the Penticton blueline was re-directed in front by Owen Goodbrand who fooled an unsuspecting Andrew Ness.

PG muddied the waters for the high-flying Vees making life as comfortable as possible for 16-year-old netminder Ryder Green, who pulled a Houdini for two periods as the hosts were badly outshot 34-12.

Scott Cousins doubled the Spruce Kings advantage following an offensive zone penalty from Vees forward and Michigan State commit Max Heise.

While on the man-advantage, Kazumo Sasaki, shifted the puck over to Killian McGregor-Bennett who broke down the Penticton penalty killers finding Cousins parked at the side of the goal.

Unfortunately, it would go downhill from there.

Thirty-four seconds into the third period, a point shot by Francesco Dell’Elce found the stick of Stringer, who re-directed the puck past Green to trim the deficit to 2-1.

Seven minutes later, it would be Arnott’s turn to take the game over as an innocent looking blast from inside the far Spruce Kings blueliner went through the five-hole of Green.

Upon further review, Green’s vision was obstructed as 20-year-old blueliner Amran Bhabra was indecisive on whether to block the shot.

Arnott struck again courtesy of a Stringer pass fooling Green to put the visitors up for good.

When both teams lined up for handshakes, the Vees outshot the Spruce Kings 41-17.

“We gave a good effort this series, we made it tight – that was our goal as we were a little outmatched in skill. They have a really good hockey team but unfortunately, we blew a lot of leads this season and tonight was another story of that – it sucks to lose but hopefully it is a good lesson for some of the young guys who are coming back,” said Alex Evin, Spruce Kings head coach.

“You got to lock down games. We had an opportunity today and yesterday.”

Green made 38 stops in defeat while Andrew Ness turned aside 15 PG attempts.

The heartbreaking loss was the final BCHL game for the likes of McGregor-Bennett, Bhabra, Alexis Cournoyer, Kai Greaves, JR Perdion and Ben LeFranc.

Bhabra, a five-year veteran for the Spruce Kings suited up in a combined 230 games.

McGregor-Bennett posted 109 points in 171 regular season games for PG over four seasons, while chipping in a pair of assists in 18 playoff contests.

The White Rock, British Columbia product is committed to Stonehill College next season.

“I think everyone has to be proud of themselves in that room. We gave the defending champs a really good run and it felt we were never really out of a game. I felt we got four good games in – we kind of lost that last one but everyone has to be proud with the effort and sacrafice that was put in,” added McGregor-Bennett.

With his junior career now in the rear-view mirror, McGregor-Bennett will fondly look back on all the memories made during his time in the northern capital.

“I am glad I got to put my best foot forward every night and play for such a incredible organization. I can’t thank this city enough but it’s tough that this is my last game in the Kopar.”

Greaves, was acquired by general manager Mike Hawes last season from the Alberni Valley Bulldogs and was a mainstay on the PG blueline.

The Cambridge, Ontario native posted a career-high 32 points this season while earning a scholarship to Princeton.

Despite an injury-riddled campaign, Lefranc dawned Spruce King colours 146 times over four years. He is committed to College of the Holy Cross.

Perdion and Cournoyer had similar seasons to cap off their one-year stint in the BCHL with 28 and 26 points respectively. Both will play college hockey in the fall.

The final home game of the season saw 803 fans flock to the Kopar Memorial Arena.

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