Kings open exhibition play with 23 goals in three games against Vipers

County of Grande Prairie Kings goaltender Wyatt Fournier in North West Junior Hockey League action against the Sexsmith Vipers. Fournier stopped 23 shots for the victory, an 11-0 win over the Vipers at the Crosslink County Sportsplex on Friday night. Gordon Anderson / Daily Herald-Tribune

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How perfectly apropos for the local hockey club playing in a rural community, scoring goals in hockey-themed bushels at the completion of harvest season.

The County of Grande Prairie Kings have sniped 23 goals in three games, to commence the exhibition portion of the North West Junior Hockey League schedule.

The club chalked up a pair of 6-4 wins over the Sexsmith Vipers—in between was an 11-0 victory over the Vipers at the Crosslink County Sportsplex on Friday night.

“One of the things we’ve seen is our compete (levels) are better, “ Kings Head Coach and GM Kyle Chapple said. “I like the way we aren’t one and done in the offensive zone. We’re creating second and third opportunities from shots on goal. When you do that consistently (the) puck is, eventually, going to go in for you.”

Chapple is very aware this seven-plus goals a game pace won’t continue. No doubt, the GM is hoping for a happy medium someplace, perhaps casting a silent vote on a democratic offence to maintain competitive balance for when the season starts up.

So far so good from a balanced offence standpoint.

“(The scoring has) been well-rounded, and we’ve gotten (goals) from guys where we didn’t expect the offensive side to be there,” Chapple said. “I’ve been impressed how hard they’ve been working.”

The 10-year head coach is cautiously optimistic about this output, what it could portent for success in a regular season context.

Maybe something. Maybe nothing. We’ll see.

“We’re happy with the way we’ve played but we’re going to be preaching about moving forward on attention to detail as I think we have areas of our game we can tidy up,” Chapple said, going on to mention the powerplay specifically.

“(The offence is) a work in progress and I’m not going to get too excited just yet but to this point we’ve been pretty happy.”

First start

Cedric Hastings made his Kings debut Saturday night in Sexsmith. The Burnaby resident turned aside 38 shots in the 6-4 win.

Hastings called the club early in the summer, looking for a place to play. The former Port Moody Panthers Jr. B goalie was here for training camp back in September, but the GM sent the netminder home until he felt better settled with the league’s plan for the regular season.

More on the season later.

“(Hastings is) not the biggest goalie in the world but he did a good job of playing big and taking up a lot of the net,” Chapple said of the Saturday evening performance from his keeper. “He’s got good hands and good reflexes. He’s a very positional goaltender who has been groomed, obviously. He made some good saves and when he needed him to be there he was there, especially late in the game when we were on our heels just trying to get through (to the end).”

A season to talk about

On Monday night, the NWJHL and its member clubs held a league meeting and set up a preliminary schedule for the regular season.

“As of right now, Nov. 13 is when we start playing for points,” Chapple said. “We’ll finish up (the pre-season) with Sexsmith and take two weeks off and then we’ll play (the Fairview Flyers),” Chapple said. “We will play them four times and take two weeks off and then we’ll play (the North Peace Navigators).”

All eight games will be played on weekends only.

There is optimism the B.C. based teams in the Dawson Creek Jr. Canucks and Fort St. John Huskies—both currently banned from crossing the border to compete—can join the league sometime in mid-November.

The league is hoping to have a competitive and fair schedule, representative of the top-tier, middle tier and bottom-tier teams in the six-team setup.

“As of right now, we’re trying to get in the 25-regular season games area, maybe a little more,” Chapple said, noting playoffs aren’t included in the count.

“If we could get that, it would be a success. I don’t see how you can get anymore (games) in than that. That’s pretty good with what we’re dealing with in the world.”

Change of plan

The tried-and-trusted method in the ticket-buying process will be rendered obsolete, at least for this weekend anyway.

The last home game of the pre-season for the County of Grande Prairie Kings will be Saturday night at the Crosslink County Sportsplex against the Sexsmith Vipers. Game time is set for 8 p.m.

For people interested in attending the game, there is a change in the ticket-purchase procedure, compared to last Friday’s home game.

“We are going to do online ticketing,” Kings head coach and general manager Kyle Chapple said. “We had to make (our fans) lineup outside before the (last home) game. The first guy to line up for the 8 o’clock game was there at 5:45 p.m. They just wanted to make sure they got in because it was the first 90 people and that’s it.”

The Kings are considering an online only ticket-buying procedure for the rest of the season, but the club hasn’t decided just yet. Once again, 90 tickets are available for Saturday night’s encounter.

“We certainly don’t want to make our fans line up outside now that winter is slowly showing its face (around) here,” Chapple said. “You can’t expect people to line up outside the door for an hour to wait for a ticket. We’re going to try (the online option to) see how it works out, to see if this is the route we want to go.”

For more information go to the club’s social media sites for instructions on how to buy tickets.

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