It took them four-and-a-half periods to put a puck past a Penticton Vees netminder, but the Trail Smoke Eaters finally caught up with the defending Interior Division champs, playing them even for the second half of the Smokies final 2016-17 exhibition game, albeit in a 5-2 loss, at Cominco Arena Saturday.
Trail lost the first of the home-and-home pre-season series, 7-0, in Penticton Friday, and fell behind, 3-0 in the second period of the comeback contest before the Smokies began to play the Vees a little more closely. A Tyson Slater point blast ricocheted into the Vees net just after the half way point of the period, and a late tally from Troy Ring answered two Vees goals in that interim.
The Vees outshot the Smokies, 27-24, on the night.
In the end, the Vees looked like another top-ranked version of Penticton’s recent rosters. In six exhibition games the Penticton was 5-0-1 and outscored opponents, all from the Interior Division, 24-7. The defending national champion West Kelowna Warriors, like the Smoke Eaters, mustered only two goals in their two pre-season contests with the Vees, both in a 2-2 tie late in August.
There were bright spots for the Smoke Eaters, including the play of almost 16-year-old local Ethan Martini and the rest of a rebuilt defensive corps that so far includes only one returnee from last season, Mitch Stapley. Home-grown veteran Jeremy Lucchini will miss at least the first half of the schedule due to an off-season injury. Other locals, including Ross Armour and Spencer McLean, had effective outings Saturday and youngsters Jake Yuris and Ryan Moon did not look out of place in Junior A play.
New head coach Cam Keith feels he is still getting his feet wet in the BCHL, although he is more than comfortable being in the Silver City. “It feels like home,” the former Smoke Eater, who grew up in the Kootenays, commented.
The limited exhibition schedule is not much of a concern for the new boss. Keith said he considered adding another contest this week, but preferred not to chance occurring, “nagging injuries,” which could limit his roster choices going into this weeks opening regular season games against the Warriors. Returning forward Connor Brown-Maloski sat out Saturday but is expected to be ready when the Smokies travel to West Kelowna for the season opener Friday night.
Special teams were a mixed bag for Trail. The team allowed three goals while shorthanded in both pre-season contests, but scored both its goals on the power play.
“We just need to get that PK on track,” said long time assistant coach Barry Zanier. “Then I think we might be ready to compete.”
Smoke Signals: The Smoke Eaters announced another, “family friendly,” initiative Saturday. On top of moving game times up half an hour, to seven o’clock for night games except on Fridays, the team will now allow anyone 12 or younger accompanied by an adult ticket holder into games free of charge.
The Merritt Centennials, a common playoff position rival for the Smokies, were the surprise of the pre-season. Merrit was 4-0-1, with two wins apiece against the Warriors and the Vernon Vipers, outscoring its opponents, 23-13 along the way.