The numbers show that the Smoke Eaters, at least without any more significant injuries, have developed into a serious contender for playoff success.
Cominco Arena has become a fortress for the Smokies, and they have travelled pretty well, too.
Since the opening three week disaster, during which Trail last all of its first five home games, the team has played 19 times in its home barn. They have lost just once in that almost three month stretch, that Surrey game in which there was an obvious looking-forward-to-the-holiday-break letdown, and had a tie in an injury shortened contest.
That’s it. Three dropped points out of 38 available. The current nine-game home winning streak is the best in the league since Christmas.
Still some red flags. A team like Prince George, in full tear down and rebuild mode from their title run last season, should not, without many extra minutes of extra man time, be able to outshoot the Smokies for much of a midweek, long travel, game.
Trail has, however improved on that tendency in some recent games. A bit more of that road game tight opening mindset might be all that is needed.
Tyler Ghirardosi, who had rounded into the kind of form that could make a difference in a playoff series, and had meshed into part of the most effective two-way line in the league, is a big loss, and a blow to playoff prospects, no doubt.
The shuffling required to reshape the team without him has come with some benefits, though, as some also-rans from the top six forward group have been forced to, and have begun to, contribute more on both ends of the ice.
There is still an offensive go-to group, but the roster available for five on five play has expanded as the fomerly, “depth,” guys have played their way into bigger roles.
Trail’s defence still makes a mistake or two a game that can be playoff fatal, but is a relatively strong segment of the team, and their goaltending just might be up to the challenge of the playoff grind.
Everything points to a potentially long playoff run. The Smoke Eaters, since their sub par opening scrambles, have held their own with the other big dog in the division, the Penticton Vees, and with their October Showcase showing included have a winning record in the Vees home rink.
We (well, I, anyway) must move past the, “What might have been,” musing over the barren start of the year, which included losing two four pointers to the Vees (a split back then would mean the Smoke Eaters would right now be in serious striking position for the top spot in the Interior Division).
That should be easy, because looking forward shows such a positive picture. Bring it on.
• Everybody tip their hats/bonnets to Canada’s Christine Sinclair. She is not just the top scorer but the best player in the history of female world soccer. Being that, she has carried Canadian women’s soccer to heights it might never have approached, and given Canadian girls something admirable to aim towards in the world’s game.
• Keep your eye on the KIJHL Murdoch Division. The Nitehawks and Nelson Leafs are in a very tight struggle for what might become all important home ice rights in a month or so, and the two teams play three more times near the end of the regular season schedule. Be nice to see the perennially excellent, “other,” local team get strong support down the stretch.