Trail Smoke Eaters look to rebound against divisional rivals

Trail faces the Vipers in Vernon on Friday, then return home for a tilt against Merritt on Saturday

The Trail Smoke Eaters get a chance to rebound from two tough weekend losses, with tilts against the Vernon Vipers tonight and the Merritt Centennials on Saturday.

Following a 2-1 setback to Penticton Nov. 22, Trail battled hard last weekend but injuries took their toll as the Smoke Eaters fell to Vernon 4-0 Friday and in overtime to Merritt on Saturday 3-2.

“I think if you look back at last weekend, obviously you’re disappointed in the results,” said Smoke Eaters assistant coach Jessie Leung. “We came close in two tight losses, and for my money when you look at chances and everything against Penticton and Vernon, and then Merritt just some hometown bonuses for Merritt in their barn, and that’s a game we probably should have come away with a win as well.”

Related: Cents comeback for OT win over Smoke Eaters

Ultimately, goals proved hard-to-come-by with Smoke Eater forwards Blaine Caton, Braeden Tuck, Carter Jones, Ryan Murphy, and Levi Glasman all sidelined with injury. The missing components have accounted for 37 goals this season, more than one-third of Trail’s total goal production – 113 – the most in the BCHL.

“We’re good and we have a pretty resilient group and for us, as we reflect back on it, our talk with the leadership group, Cam (Keith) and myself, is that we learnt a lot of great things about our team going through that stretch of three games with all the bodies out of the line up. Ultimately, for us there’s light at the end of the tunnel and we’re getting some bodies back this weekend.”

Leung expects to have Glasman and Jones back in Friday’s line up against the Vipers, and Murphy is a possibility for Saturday, however, veteran forwards Caton and Tuck are still in the stands.

Injury came at a bad time for a player like Carter Jones, whose chemistry with Tyler Ghirardosi was catalysing. Jones tallied five points in three games prior to his injury in a Nov. 18 game against Salmon Arm, while Ghirardosi had six points over the same three-game span.

Murphy too was off to a promising start and had netted five points in five games before the injury bug bit in early November. A frustrating result for the 20-year-old Orono, Minn. native who missed half of last season with a lower-body injury, and has been sidelined for the Smokies last seven games.

The imminent return of Glasman, Jones and Murphy bodes well for the Smoke Eaters offence. Especially against Vernon whose defence and goaltending shut out the Smokies in both games this season – including a 9-0 loss on Oct. 22 – but Leung is confident Trail will rebound.

“The first loss against Vernon … we don’t put much stock in that game. For us, we generated Grade-A chances, Grade-A opportunities against Vernon last Friday.

“For us, it’s sticking to the process, and once we get some more personnel back in the line up, those chances are going to start going in for us. So we’re not concerned … We know that goals will come for our group. The main thing is to stick to the process and ultimately we’re going to get the results we’re looking for.”

The Smoke Eaters, 19-7-2-0, sit two points back of the first-place Vipers, 19-7-0-4, but have two games in hand. Vernon lost 2-1 to the Wenatchee Wild on Wednesday, for the second time in a week. The Wild sit in fourth place in the Interior just four points behind Vernon, and one back of third place Penticton.

Parity in the Interior division has never been more pronounced, with the Wild losing 2-1 to sixth-place Salmon Arm Silverbacks and the Smoke Eaters falling to seventh-place Merritt on Saturday. The Smokies will get a chance to pull even with the Vipers in Vernon tonight, and take out their scoring frustrations on the Centennials at the Cominco Arena on Saturday. Trail and Merritt split their two games this season, both decided in overtime.

“In the Interior Division, everyone plays tough hockey,” said Leung. “The Interior is probably the best and toughest division in the BCHL right now … Merritt pushes hard, they hack hard, and when you look at it, everybody has some weapons in the Interior, everybody has a goalie that can win them a game, and everybody plays with some truculence, and you certainly can’t ever take anything for granted.”

Trail will be down numbers again on Saturday as Ross Armour, Levi Glasman, and Seth Barton leave for Calgary to vie for a spot on Team Canada West for the World Jr. A Challenge. The Smoke Eater trio skate at the Selection Camp, Dec. 2-5, with the opening game of the Challenge scheduled for Dec. 10.

Related: World Jr. A Challenge

“We’re excited for them and we wish them all the best,” said Leung. “That’s a product of their hard work throughout the summer and the season. It speaks to the recognition they’re getting and we’re super excited for them.”

Watch the Trail-Vernon game online, and don’t miss the Smokies game against Merritt at the Cominco Arena on Saturday, with the puck drop at 7 p.m.

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