While the Trail Smoke Eaters finish their season on the outside looking in, a small consolation will be that a pair of Trail residents and former Smokies will enjoy a well-deserved run at the BCHL title this year.
Former Smokies coach Jim Ingram and Trail native, forward Logan Proulx have been instrumental in leading the Cowichan Valley Capitals into the playoffs this season.
The Capitals finished in eighth place and far out of the post season last year, but with the addition of Ingram and Proulx the team has rebuilt itself into a contender.
“We’ve had a good feel all around,” said Ingram. “Right from day one, our organization was just looking to make some positive changes, we did and it’s just been contagious.”
The coaching staff made some difficult decisions and with the invaluable aid of associate coach Dale Purinton, basically blew up the team and started from scratch. Only four players remain from last season’s squad.
Ingram joined the Caps last summer after stepping down as Trail’s head coach in March.
“I said, ‘where we at?’ and he (Purinton) was real honest with me and we made a bunch of tough decisions on kids and then lived by them. They weren’t easy but we knew we had to go in a different direction.”
With two more wins, the Capitals will have made a 30-point turnaround from last season and can finish as high as first place in the Coastal Conference. The Caps need to win their last two and have Surrey lose its final game to tie them at 81 points. They’d also need Powell River Kings to lose two of their final three games. If the Kings win all three, they will take the Coastal Conference title, lose all three and they can finish as low as fourth.
“Everybody beats everybody down here,” said Ingram. “We don’t have the Penticton that you guys have up there, it’s certainly a tighter division.”
The Smokies traded Proulx to the Capitals in early November for future considerations. Admittedly, Proulx struggled at home with the Smokies to start the year, netting a modest three points in 13 games. But he has flourished on the Island. In Proulx’s last 13 matches with the Capitals, he has five goals and six assists for 11 points, and has 15 goals, 13 assists for 28 points on the season.
“He has been unreal, Just an awesome fit for our hockey team,” said Ingram. “Not to pigeon-hole him, but we brought him in as a third-line guy but we’ve played him absolutely all over the place. He’s been on the power play, he’s pretty much a fixture on our penalty kill, he’s been on our first line, our fourth line – really, the only thing he hasn’t done is play goal.”
Meanwhile, Travis St. Denis’ Penticton Vees clinched top spot in the Interior Conference, yet positions two to four are still up for grabs.
Merritt holds down second spot with two games remaining but clings to a tenuous two-point lead on Prince George. The Smoke Eaters can alter the Centennials plans with a pair of wins against them this weekend.
Vernon dropped out of the playoff picture by skidding to a three and seven record in their last 10 games, while the Chiefs went on a 7-2-0-1 run to spring into the playoffs.
The Smokies host Merritt tonight at 7:30.