Trail Smoke Eaters forward Ryan Moon slows down a Wenatchee Wild defender in last year’s match against the Wenatchee Wild. The Wild are back in Trail Friday to take on their new Interior Division rival the Trail Smoke Eaters. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.

Wenatchee Wild rides into Trail tonight

Trail Smoke Eaters host their new Interior Division rival the Wenatchee Wild on Friday night.

It’s going to be a Wild night for the Trail Smoke Eaters as they get set to play Wenatchee tonight at the Cominco Arena.

After a split of last weekend’s games, the Smoke Eaters play their first regular-season match against their new Interior Division rival, Wenatchee Wild, before hitting the road for Salmon Arm for a Saturday night tilt versus the Silverbacks.

“They are 1-0 and they beat us in Wenatchee (in exhibition),” said Smoke Eaters coach and GM Cam Keith. “They’re good. They’re not as talented as last year, but they still have that same MO of high-level speed, and kids that seem like they are all the same page, their ‘D’ are activating, they’re very hard to forecheck against because as fast as you dump it in, they’re already breaking out. So we have to change a bit of our mindset and game plan against them and hopefully have a better result at home this time.”

The Smoke Eaters defence will have to find a way to neutralize Wild captain A.J. Vanderbeck who scored twice in the Wild’s 5-3 win against Merritt last weekend. The Colorado native struck for 39 goals and 66 points last season and will be a dangerous threat tonight.

Smoke Eaters forward Ross Armour leads the team in scoring with two goals and two assists, and along with Kale Howarth, and rookie Levi Glasman have been the most productive line in the first two games. Glasman, an 18-year-old Red Deer native, is a skilled and intelligent playmaker and has generated some chemistry with the veterans in the first two matches.

“Levi scored a big time goal in Trail,” said Keith. “He’s pretty dynamic and he’s figuring out the league faster than I was expecting him to. There’s always a bit of learning curve for kids that just come into the league, but he settled in right away, and we had him playing with Ross (Armour) and (Kale) Howarth which is ususally a nice little treat for any rookie to step into, but it also comes with some high expectations, you have to produce to play with those kids.”

Another rookie forward, Daine Dubois, was impressive in his debut on Saturday, but all first-year players including home-grown products Jake Yuris and Karsten Jang will have to be patient, said Keith, and take advantage of their opportunities, where and when they come.

“They have to earn it. Your veteran players like Spencer McLean, (Ryan) Moon, and (Korbyn) Chabot, they proved themselves last year, so they get the early opportunities. The younger kids will have to prove themselves at this level.”

Defensively, the Smoke Eaters were outstanding limiting the Warriors to just 21 shots in the 4-0 shutout. Special teams also stood out as Trail was a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill and 1-for-6 on the power play. They’ll need much of the same if they hope to upend the Wild tonight.

“So far power play and PK have been really strong, and if you look at the standings in any hockey league the successful teams are the ones that have good special teams, and a lot of times that’s the difference in the game.”

Against Salmon Arm on Saturday, with new Silverback coach and GM Scott Atkinson at the helm, Keith expects a much different team than last year’s squad.

“They are much improved. He pretty much weeded out all the players that weren’t helping the team go in the right direction. He brought in a lot of good younger players that kind of have that energy to them, so they’re going to be a very hardworking team that you definitely can’t take lightly.”

The doors for the Smokies-Wild game open at 6 p.m. with a special BC Hockey Hall of Fame presentation going at 6:45 p.m. The puck drops at 7 p.m.

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