Trail Smoke Eaters forward Mack Byers goes for a skate with young fans as the Smoke Eaters hosted their first ‘Skate with the Smokies’ night at the Trail Memorial Centre on Wednesday. The Smokies are back on the ice this weekend when they take on the Cowichan Valley Capitals tonight and the Powell River Kings on Saturday.

Capitals, Kings visit Trail to face Smoke Eaters this weekend

Trail Smoke Eaters locked in tight Interior Division race

The Trail Smoke Eaters returned from a tour of the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island last weekend, earning four-of-six points, yet, they can’t seem to escape Island Division teams as the Smokiesget set to host the Cowichan Valley Capitals and Powell River Kings this weekend at the Trail Memorial Centre.

In last weekend’s matches, Trail beat Powell River 3-1 Friday, before falling 4-3 in overtime to Alberni Valley Saturday and by the same score in a shootout loss to Nanaimo Clippers Sunday. While Trail would have liked better results in the overtime matches, taking 4-of-6 on a three-games-in-three-days road trip is always a good result, regardless how it’s done.

“If you would have asked us before we left, we’d be happy with four of six,” said Smoke Eaters assistant coach Jessie Leung. “Maybe a little disappointment for us that we didn’t come away with six out of six, but at the same time it was an opportunity for our players to learn some lessons, and for our team to mature.”

Related Read: Trail Smoke Eaters earn 4-of-6 points on Island road trip

The Smoke Eaters will face a similar challenge this weekend when they play 2-7-1-0 Cowichan Valley. The Capitals haven’t had much success this season, however, Saturday’s 4-2 victory over Interior Division leaders, Merritt Centennials, and a close 3-2 loss to Langley Rivermen Sunday indicate a much improved Capitals team.

“It’s a Mike Vandekamp team and a couple familiar faces on that squad as well, so they’re going to come in with a chip on their shoulder. There’s no team in this league that is bad and their record doesn’t indicate the quality of their team or their coaching or what they have coming so it’s up to us to make sure we prepare ourselves to perform at our best, and if we do that, we believe in our group that we’re the better team, we should come out victorious.”

Former Smoke Eater Ryan Moon returns to the Cominco Arena after being sent to Cowichan at the end of last season along with Daine Dubois as the ‘players to be named later’ following Trail’s acquisition of goalie Adam Marcoux in December.

“It’ll be a tough game, hard-hitting and physical, and it will be a fun one for the fans here.”

The Smoke Eaters take on the Kings in the rubber match of their three-game season series on Saturday. The Kings beat the Smokies 2-1 at the September Showcase, but Trail rode a stellar performance from Marcoux Friday to tie the series with a win in Powell River. The 6-4-0-0 Kings are on a two-game losing skid after falling 3-1 to Langley Saturday, and will travel to Prince George to play the Spruce Kings today, then get on the bus for the 1,000-km trip to Trail Saturday.

The Kings are coached by Tyler Kuntz, former assistant coach of the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants. It’s Kuntz’s first season in the BCHL with the head coach/GM title, but he’s already made his mark with acquisitions like Kings leading scorer Ryan Brushett (5-9-14), forward Liam Lytton, d-men Jayden Lee and Perry Winfree, and goalie Hayden Missler.

“I’ve known Tyler Kuntz now for three or four years and I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he does as a coach, and I’m starting to see what he’s doing with his group,” said Leung. “I internally joke with Jeff (Tambellini), it’s actually good to get him out of the way early, because the more time Tyler has to work with his group, the more effective they’re going to become.”

“Lucky for us they’re coming in on the heels of us beating them last week and on the heels of a massive road trip,” said Leung.

The 5-3-2-1 Smoke Eaters currently trail the 7-6-0-0 Merritt Centennials by a single point in the seven-team Interior Division standings, with just four points separating first and last place.

Trail will have new addition, Trevor Peca, in the line up this weekend, with Spencer McLean and Owen Ozar still out with injury.

The puck drop for the Smokies games against the Capitals and Kings goes on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.

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