Still looking for his first win as a B.C. Hockey League head coach, Alex Evin isn't pushing any panic buttons.
The new season is just entering its second week and Evin has no doubts his Prince George Spruce Kings - still smarting from a regulation loss and an overtime loss last weekend to the visiting Surrey Eagles - will soon find the win column.
When he stepped up from his assistant's role this summer to replace Adam Maglio, Evin inherited a younger, much less experienced Kings squad than the one that steamrolled its way to the national championship final last season. Growing pains are expected.
"It's going to take some time to get to where we need to get to," said Evin, 32, who turned five years of experience as a BCHL goalie with Powell River, Williams Lake and Penticton into a full-ride scholarship and a four-year stint stopping pucks at Colgate University.
"As long as we're learning every game and getting better I think we're going to like the result longterm," he said. "We've had a good couple days of practice and we should be ready for Friday against Victoria, it should be a good game.
"We've obviously got a bit of a target on our backs. Being league champs we're probably going to get everyone's best effort."
That only adds to the difficulty of the task they have on their hands, first having to face the speedy Victoria Grizzlies Friday night (7 p.m.) at Rolling Mix Concrete Arena, then on Saturday hosting the Penticton Vees, the early-season favourites to win the Interior Division.
Like the Spruce Kings, who graduated 15 players, the Griz have lost their mainstays from last year. Alex Newhook, Alex Campbell, Riley Hughes and Carter Berger are among 11 Grizzlies from the team that got swept by the Spruce Kings in the conference final now playing for NCAA schools.
The offensive-minded Grizzlies (0-1) ran into a hot goalie Saturday in Duncan and lost 8-2 to the Cowichan Valley Capitals. BCHL player of the week Zach Borgiel stopped 32 of 34 Victoria shots.
The Kings lost 4-2 to Surrey on Friday and fell 4-3 in overtime to the Eagles in Saturday's rematch at RMCA.
In both games Evin was happy with his team's special teams. On Friday they went 2-for-4 on the power play and held the Eagles to one PP goal on six chances. The Kings went 1-for-6 with the extra skater Saturday and successfully killed off their one shorthanded situation.
"Our 5-on-5 game has been OK as well, looking at some of the goals we've given up its just young errors and inexperience in the league," said Evin. "Hopefully we can start learning from some of that stuff. We have to understand it's not easy to score in this league and not easy to win in this league and we can't be giving up easy goals. Hopefully we can make some adjustments in that area."
Twenty-year-old Jett Alexander, who came over in a trade from the North York Rangers, was made to look ordinary in the Surrey series (3.49 goals-against average, .881 save percentage) and more is expected of him this weekend.
"Average, not his best," was Evin's assessment. "He's going to need some time to adapt to the league. He's been working hard in practice and had some good video sessions I think he knows what he needs to do to be successful. He's going to improve, just like everybody else."
Earlier this week the Kings acquired defenceman Evan Orr, an 18-year-old native of Detroit, Mich., who collected five goals 16 points and 105 penalty minutes in 48 games last season for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pa.) Knights of the North American Hockey League.
With the exception of BCHL sophomore Nick Bochen, all the other defencemen are new to the league this year, including Orr, Brendan Hill, Nolan Barrett, Colton Cameron, Amran Bhabra, Cole Leal and Sol Seibel. Leal suffered a lower-body injury Friday and won't be ready for a couple weeks.
The Spruce Kings had the best crop of defencemen in the league last season and the newcomers are trying to fill the gaps left now that Layton Ahac, Dylan Anhorn, Jay Keranen, Max Coyle and Liam Watson-Brawn have joined NCAA teams.
"It's definitely tough having just one returning guy, losing some really good players from last year," said Kings captain Nolan Welsh. "The guys coming in might struggle at the start but I think we can get there again."