Epic playoff series starts tonight

Well it’s that time of year, the sun shines a little brighter, an overall thaw blankets the land and hockey playoffs hit the rinks.

Well it’s that time of year, when robins return to build their nests, the sun shines a little brighter, the days last a few minutes longer, an overall thaw blankets the land and hockey playoffs hit the rinks.

At least for the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, but alas, not so for the Trail Smoke Eaters.

The Smokies season was a difficult but necessary step in the rebuilding process. They have an exciting group of character players who are very close to competing with the BCHL elite teams.

After a disastrous start, their improved play over the second half of the season does leave reason for hope.

Trail plays the Penticton Vees tonight in a game where the Vees, with a win, will set the Canadian junior hockey winning streak record at 41. Trail is one of only three teams to beat the Vees this year and how great would it be if the Smokies spoiled their party. They played them close in a 4-2 loss two weeks ago and have competed well against the elite teams in the league, forcing Merritt and Prince George into overtime with only 13 players, and leading both games by scores of 3-0 and 3-1 before running out of gas.

If the team can retain a solid core for next year, then playoffs should indeed be in the picture.

The spring thaw seems also to have melted a frosty relationship between the Nitehawks and the Smoke Eaters. It’s no secret that a chill developed between the two teams over the years for reasons both trivial and substantial, depending which side of the fence you’re looking over.

So it was nice to see the Smokies’ coaching staff and much of the executive attend the Nitehawks Game 5 win over Spokane Thursday and the Nitehawks reciprocate with their president and supporters taking in the Smoke Eaters’ game on Saturday.

It is important for the two teams to work together in order to develop local hockey talent.  Not every Greater Trail kid is going to make the Smoke Eaters line up nor should they, and the players have every right to go elsewhere if they so choose, but from a fan’s perspective, it would be nice to see a couple more Greater Trail kids wearing a Smokies’ jersey and it certainly wouldn’t hurt attendance.

In KIJHL action, the Nitehawks are set to take on the Castlegar Rebels tonight in what has the makings of an epic series. The two teams have the best records in the KIJHL and every game is intense and exciting with four of eight matches going to overtime this season.

Congratulations to the Nitehawk coaching staff  led by Terry Jones for receiving coach of the year honours in the KIJHL, and to Craig Martin for the Neil Murdoch Division’s Rookie of Year and MVP, and Chris Derochie for top scorer and Most Sportsmanlike.

I still can’t figure out why Martin didn’t receive RoY for the league.  The Osoyoos Coyotes’ Dexter Danks received the honour. Not that he wasn’t deserving, but the 16-year-old Martin did accumulate almost 30 points more than 17-year-old Danks. Perhaps Danks lacked the supporting cast that Martin enjoyed this year with linemates Ryan Edwards and Derochie.

Unfortunately, there won’t be a head-to-head match up between the two rookies since the Coyotes, last year’s playoff champions, were unceremoniously bounced from the KIJHL playoffs in six games by the upstart Kelowna Rockets.

In another unlikely win, the Sicamous Eagles upset the Okanagan-Shushwap Conference number-one seed, Revelstoke Grizzlies, in seven games Sunday with a 4-0 win.

The road to the KIJHL title and Cyclone Taylor may have gotten a little smoother for the winner of the upcoming series. Don’t miss it – it could be the series of the year.

Beaver Valley hosts Castlegar tonight and Wednesday at 7 p.m.