The Trail Smoke Eaters get a double-dose of Island Division teams this weekend, but at least they’ll be able to sleep in their own beds.
Following an epic road trip to Vancouver Island last weekend where the Smokies went 1-for-2 against Island Division team, Trail will host the Victoria Grizzlies tonight, then take on the Powell River Kings for the third time this season in a Sunday-matinee tilt.
“It was a gruelling road trip and the one to Powell River is a tough one,” said Smoke Eaters coach and GM Cam Keith. “No excuses, we would have liked to come out of the weekend with four points, but it’s all about the process and not the points right now, so we just have to look forward to this four-game home stand and make sure we take care of business at home.”
The 7-3-0-0 Grizzlies currently sit in second place in the Island Division, just one point behind the 7-1-1-0 Kings. The Grizzlies are led by 16-year-old Boston College commit, Alex Newhook, who lit the lamp just once this season, but has 11 assists.
The talented playmaker and highly-touted rookie is at more than a point-per-game clip and is supported by veterans Ethan Nother and Justin Michaelian, who lead the team with seven goals apiece.
Goaltender Zachary Rose has appeared in seven of the Grizzlies 10 games, posting an impressive .933 save percentage and a 2.61 goals-against average. His lone shutout came Sept. 23 against the Mainland Division leading Prince George Spruce Kings where the Paradise, Nfld. native stopped 45 shots for the 5-0 win.
Nineteen-year-old veteran Drayson Pears, brother of former Smoke Eater Braden Pears, anchors the blue line, has six assists on the season, and has committed to Alaska-Anchorage.
Victoria is on a roll having won three straight including a 3-2 victory over Nanaimo on Saturday. The veteran team has 12 returning players, and solid additions like Newhook and 16-year-old defenceman Jacson Alexander who is committed to University of Denver, and also highly touted by NHL scouts. Their only game against an Interior Division team this season was a 5-2 loss to Vernon on Sept. 29.
“They’ll be in a dogfight for the Island Division this year,” said Keith. “They (Victoria) were really good last year, and they have some high-end, key returning players, and high-end recruits … so they’re going to be talented. Unfortunately, we have the first game against them so they won’t be worn down and we have to be fully prepared for a three-period battle.”
Trail is looking to bounce back from a 4-3 loss to Chilliwack Sunday that completed the road trip. And while the result wasn’t what Keith was hoping for, he takes the positives out of the loss.
“As a team moving forward our compete level was always good, even on Sunday Chilliwack tried to play heavy and hard against us and we didn’t back down, we responded accordingly and those are the kind of tests you want to see your team pass at this stage, especially when things are hard.”
Trail beat Powell River 4-2 at the BCHL Showcase, but the Kings replied with a 5-3 win at home Friday. The game against the Kings on Sunday will be the rubber match, and should be an exciting conclusion to their season series.
Key to Powell River’s and Chilliwack’s success was shutting down the top line of Kale Howarth, Ross Armour, and Levi Glasman, and being on the road didn’t help. The home team has the final shift change and can get the desired match up, which helped limit Howarth and Glasman to four points between them. Yet, a bright spot for Trail was the play of rookie Carter Jones who broke out with a five-point weekend (2G, 3A).
“Some of our non-keyed on players are starting to contribute and if we can get a little more well-balanced scoring, it will take the pressure off Armour and Howarth and makes it not as easy for an opposition to key on a couple kids,” added Keith.
Trail’s three-games-in-three-days road swing did take it’s toll. Defenceman Kyle Chernenkoff suffered an upper body injury and forward Kale Howarth missed half the Chilliwack game with a lower body ailment; their status for tonight’s game is uncertain.
The puck drop against Victoria goes at 7 p.m. tonight, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday against the Kings.
Smoke Signals:The Trail Times ‘Reach a Reader’ program will be giving out copies at the Smoke Eater game for a donation which goes to help support literacy. The Times issue also is the last chance to enter the Hockey Pool with the deadline extended to 4 p.m. Monday. Enter the pool for a chance to win Smoke Eaters seasons tickets and plenty of Smokie merchandise.