The Trail Smoke Eaters may have stumbled to the finish line over the weekend but they can still boast a pretty impressive 2010-11 regular season.
That’s what the team will be focusing on as it turns its attention to the BCHL playoffs, which begin Friday in West Kelowna.
A pair of 4-2 losses, to Vernon Friday and Merritt on Saturday, ensured the Smokies would face the Westside Warriors in West Kelowna for the first two games of the Interior Division quarter-final.
The series will shift to the Cominco Arena for games on Feb. 28 and March 1.
This will mark the third straight year that the Smokies have opened the playoffs against Westside.
The Warriors swept the Smokies in a best-of-five series in 2008-09 with two games decided in overtime. Last year, Trail won the opening game but Westside won the next four to take the best-of-seven 4-1.
Trail’s losing streak against the Warriors continued through the regular season with Westside winning all six meetings.
And while the playoffs signify a new start, Trail head coach Jim Ingram knows he has to figure out a way to overcome the Westside hurdle.
“We have to prepare for them but we also don’t want to lose our identity just worrying about Westside,” he explained. “It’s important for us not to forget what makes us good and completely change our whole focus on who they are and what they do.
“Then it’s a double-edged sword. They’ve had success playing us and we’re changing our game to try and counter-act their team. In the process we lose anything we have of us.”
He said the team would continue with its practice regimen this week and prepare for the start of a new season.
They’ll want to work out any kinks that saw them go winless on the weekend and extended their current victory drought to five games.
Friday, Vernon took a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes then limited Trail to just nine shots on goal over the final 40 minutes. Travis St. Denis and Scott Jacklin scored for the Smokies.
The win clinched first place for the Vipers as well as a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
Saturday night, the Merritt Centennials closed out the Smokies 2010-11 campaign by handing Trail another 4-2 defeat.
Logan Proulx spotted Trail a 1-0 lead but Merritt took control of the game with three goals in the second period. Jordan Bauer had Trail’s other marker.
Matt Larose got the start in goal for the Smokies and stopped 42 of 46 shots.
Despite the losses, the Smokies are putting one of their best regular seasons in the team’s history books.
The 31 wins and 68 total points were the fifth-best season totals posted by a Smokies team in its 16 years in the BCHL.
Highlighting that result was the team’s 172 goals against, its best ever. The previous low was 209 goals against set in the 1997-98 season when the Smokies boasted future NHLer Wade Dubielewicz between the pipes.
The team also set a new franchise mark with five straight wins on the road during a stretch in January and February.
Individually, both of Trail’s goaltenders – Kiefer Smiley and Matt Larose – had strong statistical seasons.
Smiley played the third-most minutes of any keeper appearing in 2,816 minutes for Trail. He posted 23 wins, sixth in the BCHL, had a 91.5 save percentage, fifth best ,and his 2.83 goals against average (GAA) was seventh overall.
In his rookie season, Larose appeared in 15 games and his 92.4 save percentage was second best in the league and his 2.67 GAA was fifth among goalies with at least 15 starts.
Up front, Jacklin finished as the team’s leading scorer and was 10th overall with 73 points. His 50 assists were the eighth-best total in the league.
Sam Mellor’s 33 goals were seventh-best in the BCHL and he was second overall with 15 power play goals. His 1.5 points-per-game (PPG) average tied him for fourth in the league.
Trail native Kyle St. Denis topped that list in his short stint with the Victoria Grizzlies. His 24 points in 13 games gave him a 1.8 PPG average.
According to team statistician Randy Emery, Mellor also set a new Smokies record with eight game winning goals
Cullen Bradshaw and Paul Mailey were the only Smoke Eaters to play all 60 regular season games. Bradshaw’s three shorthanded goals tied him for seventh overall in the BCHL.