The Trail Smoke Eaters will look to duplicate their first Island-trip success as they embark on a three-game set against Powell River, Port Alberni, and Victoria this weekend.
Since riding the ferry to Vancouver Island on Oct. 7, where Trail won its three games against Nanaimo and Cowichan, then Langley, the Smoke Eaters have gone 10-4 and climbed into second place in the BCHL’s Interior Division.
“We’ve been playing a lot of hockey lately, and we’re happy with where we’re at roster-wise right now,” said Smoke Eaters assistant coach Curtis Toneff. “Powell River, Victoria, and Alberni is due to clawback and have some good games here, so it’s going to be a good test for our group.”
Trail lost their first game to the Powell River Kings 5-2 on Sept. 24 at the BCHL Showcase, yet both teams have made significant strides since then. The Kings sit in second place in the Island Division with a 16-8-1-0 record and have gone 8-2 in their last 10, which includes a seven-game winning streak.
“We’re going to start with that game in Powell River, we think that will be the biggest test for us,” said Toneff. “But three-in-three, it’s a long grind, and we’ll see what we’re made of.”
The Kings are led by Cornell University commits Cam Donaldson with 16 goals and 32 points and Tristan Mullin, 13-16-29, and Delta product Jonny Evans 14-17-31. Offensively, the Kings are a powerhouse averaging four goals per game, second only to Wenatchee in the BCHL, with seven players on the roster with more than 19 points. Defensively, the Kings are solid with former Vernon Viper Callum Volpe, 3-14-17, six-foot-four, 200-pound Ian Ross and six-three, Andy Stevens anchoring the blue line.
The Smoke Eaters stack up well against the Kings offensively and defensively, and have a decided edge on special teams. Trail currently holds the third best power play in the BCHL with 27.3 per cent and the fourth-best penalty kill, 81.3 per cent.
On Saturday, Trail takes on Alberni Valley Bulldogs for the first time this season, a team that has struggled to a 6-14-3-0 record. The Bulldogs lack punch up front scoring just 48 goals in 23 games, likely due to the fact their highest point-getter is rookie defenceman Trevor Cosgrove with three goals and 17 points.
Former Beaver Valley Nitehawk goalie Carson Schamerhorn backstops the Bulldogs with a 3-7 record, a 3.71 goals against average, and a .900 save percentage. Still, with assistant coach Alex Evin from Castlegar behind the bench, Alberni is capable of an upset as they showed last week when they beat the Nanaimo Clippers 4-3 in overtime and the Merritt Centennials 3-1.
Trail wraps up its three-games-in-three-days Odyssey when the Smokies take on the 14-4-2-3 Victoria Grizzlies, the top team in the Island Division, on Sunday. The Smoke Eaters are 2-0 against the Grizzlies this season, defeating them 5-4 at the Showcase and 4-3 at home on Oct. 30.
The Grizzlies greatest strength is its backend, boasting the third lowest goals allowed, 59, in the league, and one of the best goalies in the BCHL in Matthew Galajda with a 2.32 goals against and .920 save percentage, not to mention a lightning fast top-line in Cole Pickup, Tyler Welsh, and Keyvan Mokhtari.
The road trip will be an opportunity for the Smoke Eaters to pick up points in a tight Interior Division where a mere six points separate second and sixth place.
“If you win a couple in a row or lose a couple in a row it can really change where you’re at especially in our division, and especially around the league it seems to be this year,” said Toneff. “But we just have to keep getting better and keep moving forward. Last year we saw at Christmas break we were looking pretty good and the wheels fell off, so it’s taking it game by game and practicing hard, not getting too high, and not getting too low.”
Trail faces off against Powell River tonight at 7 p.m. at Hap Parker Arena.
Smoke Signals: Ross Armour missed three games last week and is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. The Rossland native has been held off the scoreboard just four times this season.