The Trail Smoke Eaters face the Vernon Vipers tonight in another crucial Interior division tilt at Kal Tire Place in Vernon.
Tonight’s match is the first meeting of the season between the two clubs and the first time Trail native Riley Brandt has faced his former team. Brandt played in 33 games of the 2013-14 season for the Smokies before his release to the Beaver Valley Nitehawks where he was an integral part in their KIJHL championship season and winning the Western Canadian Keystone Cup.
This season with the Vipers, Brandt has two goals and two assists in 12 games, playing on a team that does not have an abundance of scoring. The Snakes are led by Providence commit Thomas Aldworth who has nine goals and 12 points on the season, and Anthony Latina with 6-6-12. After 14 games, the Vipers are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league, netting an average of 2.93 goals-per-game, while the Smokies average 4.07 goals per game, more than a goal better than the snakes.
However, defensively, the Vipers maintain a respectable 2.93 GAA, with former Beaver Valley Nitehawk Jarrod Schamerhorn carrying most of the load in net, while Trail’s defence has been susceptible of late, allowing 22 goals in the past four games.
“Going to the Royal Bank and hosting it, you kind of put all your eggs in one basket, so they’ve done a good job (this year) filling the holes, as most teams have in this division so I would expect a very close game,” said Trail Smoke Eaters head coach Nick Deschenes.
While Penticton has proven to be the cream of the early crop with a 16-1 record, only four points separate second and sixth place in the BCHL Interior division with the Smokies enjoying at least two-games in hand on every team but the Vipers.
“Every game is going to be competitive and every game is going to be important and as we get into the season it’s kind of the message we send to our guys is that, ‘It’s not okay, to not show up for a game this year at all.’”
Vernon acquired 17-year-old forward Liam Finlay from the Penticton Vees last week, and the Kelowna native paid dividends right away, scoring the tying goal, then setting up the winner in a 5-3 victory over the Merritt Centennials.
After 14 games, the Smoke Eaters are almost one-quarter of the way through the 58-game season and while tied for fifth place with an 8-5-0-0 record for 16 points, the Smokies are two wins away from matching their win total from all of last year.
When asked how he would grade the teams’ play? Deschenes replied:
“Probably a B-. Our highs and our lows have kind of averaged out to about that, if we had like four different courses, we would be a couple A’s here and there, and a couple C’s so overall about a B.”
However, considering the off-season consisted of a complete rebuild from last year, Smoke Eaters fans have to be satisfied with the play and dedication of the players on and off the ice.
“I like the group and the direction it’s going and there is a really good foundation here, and we should expect continued improvement,” added Deschenes.