Sports ‘n’ Things with Dave Thompson

Smoke Eaters struggles continue heading into tough stretch

Thompson: ” … home games closing out the pre-holiday schedule will showcase some real talent.”

Not a particularly fun night at the arena Wednesday. The Smoke Eaters slightly outplayed the Vernon Vipers, in a game from which they really needed a regulation victory and the two standings points, but had extreme difficulty scoring and were outclassed in overtime.

Vernon scored twice on its first three shot attempts, one an extremely bad goal from the corner behind the Trail goal line, and the Smokies inability to convert puck control into scores kicked their chances, again.

Do not let the official shot count mislead you into thinking the play was even. I stopped counting after six direct attempts, with saves by the Viper keeper involved, failed to register in the stats. Trail was, slightly, dominant for most of the game, but unable to create many good opportunities for goals. Vernon does check well.

The overtime was a lost cause. Vernon threw their most talented players out, because three-on-three kinda requires that. Trail did not respond in kind. While the personnel involved are solid players, speedier and more skillfull Smokies remained on the bench.

Trail had one brief spot of control, gave the puck away, and never possessed it again. The Vipers made short work of the open ice overtime supplies.

As much as Trail has improved defensively, particularly in their own end of the ice, they have regressed in the opponents zone. Even when a forecheck turns the puck over to them, there is seldom a Smokie available to use a scoring chance.

Trail forwards do not focus, except for the odd power play setup, on gaining and/or keeping, access to the prime scoring area in the short and medium slot. Opposing defencemen sometimes look confused at not having to defend that crucial area, and that is never a good sign.

Yes, there has been turnovers and injuries, but, by now, not having even one set line, or having developed a power play point setup with two capable defencemen (having your top scorer anchored out at the blueline just seems a waste), are real failings.

It is still a bargain entertainment, and home games closing out the pre-holiday schedule will showcase some real talent. The top three teams in the toughest division in junior A hockey are all on the docket coming up, with doubleheaders for two of those clubs.

It won’t be an easy run-in, by any stretch, for Trail, which will not be favoured to get even a point from now till Christmas. Any points they do achieve will be good bonuses in the standings. In the meantime, there is lots of activity in the rink during games, charitable opportunities for those inspired by the season, access to those coveted iconic clothing and souvenir items, and the draws.

Not, so far, a year of dynamic memory making, but still a worthwhile endeavour – getting out to the games.

• The last pre-holiday home game for the Nitehawks, who seem to have righted the ship (we knew they would) is Saturday night.

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