Changing the culture! It’s a phrase often used in sports, generally by struggling teams looking for a positive change of direction. Making a transformation usually takes time. All teams want immediate success but reality indicates patience is needed in a new environment.

The Prince George Spruce Kings, under head coach Dave Dupas, took a significant step forward in their stride for respectability in the BCHL. Sure, they were swept 4-0 by the Chilliwack Chiefs in the Mainland Division final, but being one of the last six teams in contention for a league title is an achievement. Dupas resigned after the Chilliwack series, but as he departed the team was finally on an upswing.

The Spruce Kings new bench boss, Chad van Diemen, comes into a situation where he’ll feel the pressure with no head coaching experience and just a two year contract to work with. The 33-year-old van Diemen, built up an impressive resume in Powell River as an Associate Coach and Assistant GM, but it’s all-together different when you’re the boss and the wins and losses rest on your shoulders.

The Spruce Kings are working towards being a model franchise, and this year took much needed baby steps in that area by winning a playoff round. Certainly, defeating the Langley Rivermen four games to two in the Mainland semi-final is no reason for handstands or cartwheels, but it was the first time in 10 years the team has advanced to the second round of the playoffs.

To refresh our memory, here’s a historical look at the team’s post-season failures since there last opening round victory in 2004-05:


•05-06—-Lost in the first round 4 games to 1.
•06-07—-Lost in the first round 4-3.(Note: Spruce Kings hosted the RBC Cup in 2007 and after finishing 3rd in the 5 team round robin won the semi-final 3-2 over the Camrose Kodiaks in the 5th overtime before losing the final 3-1 to the Pembroke Lumber Kings)
•07-08—-Lost in the first round 3-1.
•08-09— Lost in the first round 3-2.
•09-10— Missed the playoffs.
•10-11— Missed the playoffs.
•11-12— Lost in the first round 4-0.
•12-13— Lost in the first round 3-2.
•13-14— Lost in the first round 4-2.
•14-15— Finally a first round victory 4-2. Lost in the second round 4-0.

As one can see by the aforementioned chart, that’s seven years of losing in the first round and two years of missing the playoffs entirely. That’s a significant length of time that can wear on a franchise without any celebration in the post-season.

Changing culture obviously starts with a recognition that a transformation is required. Leadership in coaching, management, ownership, and at the grassroots need to accept the truth and collectively take steps to make the necessary changes.

Of course, winning helps change culture in an organization, but there is obviously more to it than that. There has to be an attitude adjustment, a mental belief that players will “buy in” understanding that lackluster effort and excuses will not be tolerated. It’s easy to hide behind injuries, travel, suspect officiating, a bad bounce or any other so-called “reason” for triggering substandard performance. Good teams, good organizations are high achievers that don’t let the bumps become a roadblock.

The Spruce Kings set a new standard by winning a round. Each year they can’t be expected to go further, but at some point in the near future they will need to go on a deep run to get to that next level. Expectations under van Diemen are much higher than when Dupas first joined the team, and that’s a positive sign.

Meanwhile, the Prince George Cougars took significant steps to changing their culture. Innovative ownership, how the team goes about its business on and off the ice, increased fan support (from an average of 1,693 to 2,852 a game or 2,930 including playoffs) and modestly better results (earning a playoff spot for the first time in four years before falling 4-1 to the Victoria Royals), have helped turn the fortunes around. Again, it’s a lengthy process that is only a fraction complete, but at least Prince George junior hockey fans have reason for hope.

Now, if only the Toronto Maple Leafs could change their culture. Well, I’m not sure any human(s) is equipped to change that toxic environment.

From the Quote Rack:

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And in case you missed it:

Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine. His agent said Gregory’s response was that he wanted to be drafted high.

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Hartley Miller is the sports director and morning news anchor for 94.3 the Goat. His column appears Fridays on Send along a quote, note, or anecdote to
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