The Trail Smoke Eaters have endured their share of setbacks this past month with injuries, personal trials, and, oddly enough, exciting opportunities sending the promising team reeling headlong into a five-game losing streak.
Three players received invites to the World Jr. A Challenge Team Canada West selection camp last week, and while good news for the individuals, it has divested an already shorthanded Smokies line up of some of its best players.
Smoke Eaters leading scorer Ross Armour, along with Red Deer native Levi Glasman and Kelowna product Seth Barton, are fighting for a spot on Team Canada West and could be gone for a couple weeks, depending on what transpires at the selection camp, and if they make the trip to Truro, N.S. for the Jr. A Challenge starting Dec. 10.
In addition, veteran leader Kale Howarth, second in team scoring, returned home for personal reasons – and his return, uncertain.
The Smoke Eaters likely won’t have any more bodies back when they face off against the Wild in Wenatchee Wednesday night, but will look for a win regardless.
Trail’s Ryan Murphy and Carter Jones returned to action last weekend, yet, Blaine Caton and Braeden Tuck will miss tonight’s game against the Wild, and are expected back hopefully this weekend.
That makes five top-six forwards and a top-rated defenceman missing from the roster, a tough situation heading into Wenatchee tonight. And while affiliate players like Bradley Ross and Aiden Jenner of the Beaver Valley Nitehawks have done an admirable job, they cannot be expected to fill the void left by the Smoke Eater top two lines.
“I’d like to see a couple players freshen up from the IR,” said assistant coach Jessie Leung. “But at the end of the day, it’s just sticking to our process … we have to stay positive, and keep doing the right things, and as long as we do that, we’re going to get success.”
The Smokies face a Wenatchee team coming off a 4-3 overtime loss against the West Kelowna Warriors on Saturday and a 4-1 victory over Salmon Arm Friday. The three points catapults the Wild over the Smoke Eaters for third spot in the BCHL’s Interior Division, a point ahead of 19-9-2-0 Trail.
The Smokies defeated the Wild 7-5 in their last meeting in Trail Nov. 1, but Wenatchee will have a full roster at home, including Jasper Weatherby (22-20-42) who jumped over Armour (16-25-41) in the scoring race, and is now in second place in league scoring, a point behind Tye Westgard of Surrey.
Adversity is nothing new to Trail, and the Smoke Eaters can survive a mid-season slump if it means the team is healthy come playoff-time in March.
Trail faces off against the Wild in Wenatchee on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. and do not play at home until Dec. 12 when they host the Merritt Centennials.