If a season can hinge on a single week, this could be the one for the Trail Smoke Eaters.
The Smoke Eaters play six games in nine days, but will finally get some respite from the road. After playing its opening six of seven games away from home to start the BCHL season, including tonight’s game against West Kelowna, they will serve as hosts for games Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday.
The Smokies first travel to West Kelowna to take on the Warriors, and return home for the Saturday rematch against Craig Martin and the Vernon Vipers. Trail plays Powell River in an afternoon matchup at home on Sunday, and welcomes the Warriors back to the Cominco Arena on Tuesday night to complete a four-game-in-five-days odyssey, before hitting the road again to play the Warriors and Penticton next weekend.
“It’s a huge week, all (except Powell River) against Interior teams,” said coach and GM Bill Birks.
The Smokies were impressive in their home opener, a 3-1 win against the Warriors a week ago, and look to duplicate the result tonight at Royal LePage Place in Westbank.
“Every game is key, but especially when playing teams that are in our division,” added Birks. “It’s four-point games, so every game is huge this weekend and next weekend too. You go on a couple three game winning streaks, especially against teams in your division, it definitely changes things in a hurry.”
The team skated hard Monday, then concentrated on systems during the remainder of the week to prepare for the upcoming games.
Saturday marks Martin’s return to the Cominco Arena since he last played for the Smoke Eaters as an affiliate player during the 2011-12 season.
After a lack-luster start for the Vipers, coach Jason Williamson tinkered with his line up in the game against Trail Saturday. He moved Martin up to the top line with Adam Tambellini and Castlegar’s Aaron Hadley, as well as giving him power-play time on the point.
The move paid off as the V’s scored three power play goals, and the Tambellini line accounted for five points in the 7-2 victory.
Martin played a monumental role in the Beaver Valley Nitehawks’ KIJHL title last season playing alongside first year Smokies Scotty Davidson and Jake Lucchini, but will line up on the other side of the puck this weekend.
With Martin back in town, along with the Vipers’ Castlegar natives Hadley and Ryan Renz, and leading scorer Tambellini, son of Trail native Steve Tambellini, the Cominco Arena should see a decent crowd especially with the addition of another familiar Kootenay face Castlegar native Jesse Knowler.
The 18-year-old joined Trail last week and had an immediate impact, scoring twice including the game winner against the Warriors, and added an assist versus the Vipers in his first two games with the orange and black.
Powell River Kings end their road trip against the Smoke Eaters on Sunday afternoon after games in Chilliwack and Penticton. The perennial playoff finalists won back-to-back games against Cowichan Valley last week and are poised to fight it out with the Victoria Eagles for the Island Division title.
“They’re good, they’re the same as every year, they got their core group of guys back from last year and some pretty good recruits out of Ontario. There’s no weak sisters in this league, every team’s pretty good,” says Birk.
The Smokies also received some good news on Wednesday and announced the return of Marley Keca and Austin Aduono from the USHL, as well as acquiring defenceman Braden Pears from the Coquitlam Express. See article.
Three BCHL teams are ranked in the Canadian Hockey League’s inaugural top 20 this week with Penticton Vees leading the way at number one, the Victoria Eagles coming in at number eight, and the Coquitlam Express the 11th ranked team in the nation.