The Trail Smoke Eaters will get a 10-day layoff before continuing their BCHL playoff quest.
That should allow the team time to nurse any bruises and fine tune their game before eventually facing off against the defending BCHL champion Penticton Vees in the Interior Division semifinal.
Games 1 and 2 of the series go on March 16-17 in Penticton with games 3 and 4 scheduled in Trail on March 20-21.
Penticton’s 2-1 series-ending sweep of the Coquitlam Express on Wednesday night booked their spot in a second-round matchup against the Smokies.
For Trail native and Smoke Eater assistant captain Jeremy Lucchini, the challenge of beating Penticton is something he’s looked forward to throughout his four-year BCHL career.
“Everyone is pretty excited to play Penticton, that’s the team we wanted to play,” said Lucchini. “Obviously we have to elevate our game even more, but the further we get in, the better we get, and we just have to keep playing the same way.”
Lucchini pitched in with three assists in the Smoke Eaters Game 4 victory over the Warriors and is second in playoff scoring among defenceman with six points.
The Smoke Eaters were the first team to end their Round 1 playoff series, and the 10-day stretch is a welcomed break and should create a level ice surface for both Interior teams.
“I think it’s good, we’ll have some more time to practice and work on a few things,” said Lucchini. “Rest is never a bad thing right?”
The Smoke Eaters match up well against a tough Vees team that again won the BCHL regular season title, and grew stronger as the year wore on.
Trail assistant coach Jessie Leung says the Smokies have gone stride-for-stride with the Vees the past two seasons, and following Trail’s exceptional play in Round 1, confidence is at an all-time high.
“When you look at Penticton, it’s a skilled team and they have a program that has laid down some groundwork that has a culture of success,” said Leung.
“We’re sort of year-two into the Trail Smoke Eaters having that same culture of continued success year-after-year, and this is a nice venturing point in our development and for our group to take this opportunity to make a statement on who we are, how far we’ve come, and where we’re going.”
All top-four Interior Division seeds swept their respective series; the fourth-seeded Smoke Eaters took out the West Kelowna Warriors, the top-ranked Vees beat the Coquitlam Express, the number-2 Vernon Vipers ousted the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, and the third-seeded Wenatchee Wild dispatched the Merritt Centennials in four straight. Vernon will face Wenatchee in the other semifinal series.