Smokies tangle with Vipers

The Trail Smoke Eaters will likely face a riled Vernon Vipers team tonight at the Cominco Arena.

The Trail Smoke Eaters will likely face a riled Vernon Vipers team tonight at the Cominco Arena.

Vernon played arguably one of their worst games of the season on Wednesday, trailing 5-0 in the second period before suffering a 5-2 loss to the Penticton Vees Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, the Smoke Eaters are coming off a pair of well-earned 3-2 wins over the Nanaimo Clippers and Salmon Arm SilverBacks last weekend, and play a Vipers team that, despite a poor effort against the Vees, have lost just once in their last five games and are tied for second spot in the Interior division, one point behind Penticton.

The Vipers are led by Michael McNicholas who has 31 points on the season and is tied for fourth in BCHL scoring, and Dexter Dancs, who is on a seven-game point streak, at 9-19-28.  Fortunately for the Smokies, however, the snakes will likely be without leading goal-getter Mason Blacklock who has missed eight games due to injury.

The Smoke Eaters proved they can compete on the weekend, with good defensive support, a strong forecheck, and a consistent offensive effort, they were able to generate good scoring chances, and capitalize on their opportunities.

The Smokies special teams have been decent with the power play ranked fifth in the league scoring on 22 of 105 opportunities, and are 10th in the penalty kill, killing off 80.20 per cent of shorthanded situations.  The Vipers meanwhile have the worst power-play percentage, 14 per cent,  scoring on 15 of 107 opportunities, and are eighth in the league on the PK with 82.69 per cent success.

The Smoke Eaters did have their moments, committing a few glaring giveaways in front of their net on Saturday, but were baled out by goaltender Dustin Nikkel.

Nikkel and Riley Corbin have been superb in goal, alternating starts since Adam Todd went down with injury.

“Both goaltenders are playing extremely well,” said Smoke Eater coach Nick Deschenes. “It makes our decision very tough . . . someone has to play, someone isn’t.”

With the projected return of Todd at the end of the month, the goaltending situation becomes crowded, particularly with the Dec. 1 roster deadline looming, where teams have to cut the number of players cards to 25. Who will be the odd-man out remains to be seen.

“Can’t tell you,” said Smoke Eater coach Nick Deschenes. “A decision will be made the back end of the month. The coaching staff will gather information and were going to do what we can to make the best decision for the club.”

One thing is certain, goaltending will be key in further Smokies’ success.

Join the Smoke Eaters at the KidSport tailgating party at the Trail Memorial Centre from 5 to 7 p.m. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. tonight.

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