Trail Smoke Eaters: Trail sets sights on Cents tonight

Trail Smoke Eaters need to pick up their game if they expect to win tonight against the Merritt Centennials.

One thing is certain, the Trail Smoke Eaters need to pick up their game if they expect to win tonight against the Merritt Centennials at Cominco Arena.

The Smoke Eaters were blown out twice by the Penticton Vees this weekend 5-1 on Friday and 7-0 Saturday, and perhaps the only silver lining going into tonight’s game against the Cents, is that Merritt is off to even a worse start. Having lost a pair of close games 3-2 Friday and 4-3 Saturday to West Kelowna Warriors, the Cents have just one win and trail the Smokies by a single point by virtue of Trail’s three point weekend in Chilliwack to open the season.

“Last weekend we were lights out,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Bill Birks. “We played five really good periods last weekend. We didn’t have five good shifts this weekend.”

Former Smoke Eater Anthony Conti scored twice  and six different players found the scoresheet, as the Vees thumped the Trail Smoke Eaters 7-0 Saturday. With the win, the Vees swept the two-game weekend series in Trail and are the first team in the BCHL to four wins.

The Vees capitalized on 4-of-9 powerplay opportunities, three in the first period to jump out to a 4-0 lead, while the Smokies went 0-for-9 with the man advantage.

“For the last two weeks we worked a lot on special teams,” said Penticton coach Fred Harbinson. “Ironically we worked a lot on being down five-on-three just last week for the first time. It paid off this weekend.”

Penticton would score two more in the middle frame courtesy of Conti and Josh Blanshard before Brad McLure finished it on a shorthanded marker at 15:12 of the third period.

Vees rookie-starter Hunter Miska stopped all 32 shots he faced for his first BCHL shutout in just his second start and was named the game’s first star.

In Friday’s match Max Coatta had a hat-trick, and Olivier Mantha made 29 saves as the Penticton Vees spoiled Trail’s home opener with a 5-1 win. Adam Todd suffered the loss in net for Trail blocking 29 of 34 shots.

AP Nick Patey scored the only goal for the Smokies late in the third period on the power play, with assists coming from Tyson Wittala and Travis Stephens.

The Smokies participated in the Terry Fox Run Sunday morning, and looked for a way to regroup with a team meeting and video analysis.

“We can’t get any worse, so I know it’s going to be better,” said Birks. “It’s good that we play right away in a sense, so we can forget about the weekend.”

Recognizing that the Smoke Eaters can’t afford another slow start to the season, the Smokies’ coaching staff is stressing a sense of urgency among the players.

“It’s a must win, it’s Game 7 of the playoffs, that’s the way we’re looking at it. It is a must win. We need two points tomorrow night and that’s the bottom line.”

Todd will get the start in goal for the Smoke Eaters on Tuesday. Despite the lop-sided results, Birks isn’t placing any blame on either of his goaltenders.

“It wasn’t their fault on the weekend, I mean if you have 18-20 guys playing absolutely horrible hockey, you could have had both of them in there. They let a couple bad ones in but it was by no means their fault.”

The puck drops tonight on the Smokies and Centennials game at 7:30 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.