The real season starts tonight and the Trail Smoke Eaters are prepped and ready for the long haul.
Trail hosts the defending BCHL champion and this year’s seventh seeded Prince George Spruce Kings to kick off the BCHL Interior Division quarter-finals tonight at the Trail Memorial Centre.
“You never really know how prepared you are until Game 1 starts and we start seeing what it looks like,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “But what I love about our group is that we find ways to win games.
“They’ve dealt with adversity … and I’d be more worried if we were a team that never faced adversity any time throughout the year. I think it’s really dangerous thing to have going into a playoff series where you have to face it one way or another, so our guys have a good feel for that.”
The Smoke Eaters are coming off one of their best seasons in franchise history finishing with 77 points and a 36-17-2-2-1 record, good for second place behind the Pencticton Vees in the Interior Division standings.
Trail rolled over the Spruce Kings 9-2 in their last tilt on Jan. 29 and beat them 3-0 at the Showcase in Penticton on Sept. 28, so Tambellini likes his chances against last year’s RBC Cup finalists. The Smokies had a good week of practice, are poised for playoffs and relatively healthy heading into the first round.
“I like our history against this team,” said Tambellini. “We’ll make sure our group’s prepared and know what’s coming at them. We like the structure of the series and we think it’ll be a good match up for our group, and health-wise for today, so far so good.”
The Spruce Kings Most Valuable Player this year is 18-year-old Providence commit Nick Poisson who led the team in scoring with 21 goals and 47 points. He also played for Team West at the World Jr. A Challenge alongside Smokies forwards Kent Johnson, Owen Ozar, and Phillipe Lapointe, and was selected to play in the CJHLTop Prospects Game in Hamilton in January.
The Spruce Kings may lack the depth and offence they had last season, but can surprise teams as they did on Saturday, when they took the BCHL leading Coquitlam Express into overtime in their last game of the 2019-20 campaign.
Game 1 goes tonight (Friday) at the Cominco Arena in Trail with Game 2 to follow Saturday. The series switches to Prince George for Games 3 and 4 Monday and Tuesday at Rolling Mix Concrete Arena. If a fifth game is needed it would be played Thursday at RMCA. Games 6 and 7, if needed, are scheduled for Trail on Saturday, Mar. 7 and Sunday, Mar. 8.
Penticton finished 13 points ahead of Trail to claim the Interior Division title and will host the West Kelowna Warriors in Round 1. Victoria, the fifth-place team on the Island, crosses over to play the third-seed Salmon Arm Silverbacks. In the other Interior matchup the Vernon Vipers head south to begin the playoffs in Wenatchee.
In the Mainland Division series, the Coquitlam Express will face the fourth-place Langley Rivermen in the first round, while third-ranked Surrey opens against second-place Chilliwack. In the Island Division, the first-place Nanaimo Clippers host Alberni Valley and the and the Cowichan Valley Capitals take on Powell River.
All series start Friday except the West Kelowna-Penticton series, which starts Thursday, and the Vernon-Wenatchee series, which gets underway Saturday.