Sports ‘n’ Things: Smokies competitive in spite of record

"Part of the disparity can be explained by the two western divisons having some weaker teams."

Something that jumps out after the Smoke Eater win in Merritt is the disparity between Trail’s results, especially in away games, against the two western BCHL divisions as opposed to their home Interior division.

Tuesday’s was the Smokies first win all season on the road against an Interior division team, in 12 tries. In Island and Mainland division home rinks, Trail has a 6-3 mark, one of those losses in overtime.  Part of the disparity can be explained by the two western divisons having some weaker teams. A bigger part may be that the western away games did not so closely coincide with the loss of two veteran, top-tier players – key parts of the Smoke Eaters recent strong outings against two of the league’s top teams.

Last weekend Trail played Nanaimo, a nationally-ranked junior A squad, almost to a draw, in fact had the lead halfway through the game before suffering another one-goal loss, and an extremely strong Penticton Vees squad they were also even with for half a game before the Vees strength let them pull away.

The takeaway from the first two-thirds of the season is that the Smoke Eaters, at full strength, look capable of beating everybody, save maybe the Vees, local fans have seen in action. They somehow have not done that a lot, even in their home barn, against their closest competitors in the Interior, but it always has seemed plausible enough to keep hope alive in local hearts.

It is true Trail struggles sometimes in its own end of the rink, but they have been able to apply offensive pressure against most opponents, including the Vees at times.

Whether those defensive zone problems are due to a lack of organization or talent, or both, those struggles are evident  during every game. The offense competes very well in most games.

Lately, however, it seems if Trail scores five goals they win or at least get points out of their efforts. If they do not achieve that number of goals, they usually get  nothing. So little improvement is needed in their play, just a half a goal a game on defense, that is indeed frustrating for fans, for all involved, that they are so far out of the playoff race already.

History bodes well for this weekend’s Smoke Eater action against teams out west – even though local fans can only watch it online – and, assuming they stay healthy, going forward with the end of the season.

I have enjoyed watching the team’s efforts, despite the disappointment of their standings plight, most of the season – the team is a marked improvement over the 2013-14 ensemble. I hope the remaining seven home games draw decent crowds, and they should.

Lots of leftover tickets from season ticket packages are lying around out there, lots of bargain tickets are also available at various sponsor locations. It is very reasonably priced entertainment even at full price.

Try and get out to the games, enjoy the action and spend money on food, drinks, souvenirs and draws. Whatever those activities generate is all good news to Trail hockey.

• Meanwhile, the Nitehawks are rolling along to another first place finish in the KIJHL’s toughest division. They, too, are worth the price of admission and need and appreciate support from the stands of their home barn.

Toronto fans, in particular, must be tired by now of the mess the Leafs are, and are in. Time to pick a less expensive, more entertaining, way to spend your free time, and money. Beaver Valley would be a promising place to hitch your hopes for the rest of the year.

See you at the rink(s).

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