After netting just four goals in three games last weekend, scoring will be at the top of the Trail Smoke Eaters priority list this weekend as they get set to take on the Mainland-Division leading Chilliwack Chiefs tonight and the Merritt Centennials on Saturday at the Cominco Arena.
The 18-6-3-0 Chiefs are on a roll, winning eight straight games this month until the streak was snapped in Wenatchee by the Wild on Wednesday in a 5-3 loss. But Chilliwack remains atop the Mainland division tied with Wenatchee with 39 points and face the Smokies for the first time this season.
“We’ll prepare like any other game,” said Smoke Eater assistant Curtis Toneff. “We’ll have two or three really good practices where we’ll touch up on a few things. Cam (Keith, Smoke Eaters coach and GM) and I will go over some video on Chilliwack because we haven’t seen them yet so we’ll bear down on them, and Merritt, we feel we really owe one to.”
Highlighting the Smokies-Chiefs tilt will be the two most recent BCHL Players of the Week facing off against each other. Trail forward Luke Santerno, last week’s PoW, will go head-to-head against this week’s PoW Jordan Kawaguchi of the Chiefs who scored six goals and three assists in four straight victories last week. Kawaguchi sits in third place in league scoring with 21 goals and 20 assists, just ahead of Santerno, who has 20 goals and 18 assists on the season.
Santerno continued to roll last weekend netting three of the Smoke Eaters four goals on a 1-2 Island road trip, and has 11 goals and four assists over his current nine-game point-scoring streak. But with linemates Kale Howarth and Josh Laframboise uncertain for this weekend’s games after suffering injuries against Alberni Valley on Saturday, Trail will need the offence to step up if they expect to knock off the Chiefs or the Centennials.
“We need to score some more goals,” said Toneff. “We’ve been a bit snake bitten, and we need to get back into those scoring areas like we did at home last week. Driving the net, stick on the ice, and some of our guys are pretty tough to handle in tight. If we attack with speed and tenacity, I don’t think teams will keep us to one or two goals like they did this past weekend.”
Trail is in or very close to must-win territory when they face the 10-11-5-1 Centennials on Saturday and will look to avenge back-to-back losses to Merritt early in the season. The Interior-Division rival trails the Smoke Eaters by just one point in the standings and are coming off a huge 4-1 win over Wenatchee a week ago. The result either indicates a team improving or a team searching for consistency as the Cents also dropped back-to-back games to Salmon Arm in the previous two contests.
Similarly, the Smoke Eaters were the victims of the league’s newfound parity last weekend losing to the Island Division’s last place team, Alberni 4-1, then beating the Island’s top team, Victoria 2-1, less than 20 hours later. The gap between the haves and have-nots seems to be closing this year, and teams like the Wild and even the vaunted Penticton Vees seem ‘almost’ beatable.
“Every team’s a good team this year,” says Toneff. “There’s no weak teams this year that we’ve seen. It’s very good for our league, and good for people watching. You know you’re going to get a good bang for your buck any game you come to, going down the stretch here. I don’t think any team has thrown in the towel yet, and I don’t see that happening in the near future.”
The Smokies face off against the Chiefs tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Cominco Arena and at 7 p.m. on Saturday versus the Centennials.