The Trail Smoke Eaters restored a valuable if not ephemeral commodity to Silver City hockey fans this past week – hope.
The team performed superbly in a trio of home wins, winning three of four games, and boosting their record to .500 while ascending to the dizzy heights of second spot in the Interior division, just four points behind RBC Cup champion Penticton Vees.
Sure it’s early and the team has played three more games than most teams in the division. But with so much parity in the league, any team could just as well lose five in a row as win. So let’s enjoy it, because something tells me this team is special.
Perhaps the most telling moment or moments came after a sluggish second period against the West Kelowna Warriors.
Some Smoke Eater fans seemed almost resigned to a Smokies’ loss because, well, it was their fourth game in five days, they’ve got to be tired, while the Warriors hadn’t played since Friday.
The excuses were readily available and legitimate, but then something happened on the way to the loss.
Trail came out in the third remarkably energized, they forechecked ferociously, stood the Warriors up at the blue line and knocked them down in the corners, the Smoke Eaters began to dominate. One good shift led to another, and before you knew it Tiger Milburn was shouting ‘Woohoo’ – the Smokies had tied it on a great individual effort from one of its recent acquisitions Connor Collet.
More important, they didn’t stop, they kept coming. Brent Baltus banged one off the post, and the Warrior goalie stole a sure goal from rookie Jake Lucchini. Of course Trail goalie Lyndon Stanwood was huge for the Smokies making a brilliant save on a 3-on-1 and another on a point-blank drive with 20 seconds to play.
So at the end of regulation, there we were all thinking, ‘Well great, they at least salvaged a point out of it’ – but then the Smokies did the unthinkable. They didn’t let up. They weren’t satisfied with the point, they wanted to win, they had to win.
Like the 3-0 triumph over Vernon and the last-minute winner against Powell River, when Tyler Berkholtz shelfed the decisive goal just shy of three minutes into overtime, you could almost hear the roof pop with a mix of relief, joy, and amazement.
Trail will not win all its games at home this year, but watching them play with guts, discipline, and determination, and getting rewarded with three victories was inspiring.
Granted, on a cosmic scale, winning is not the most important thing, (or maybe it is), but it sure is a lot more satisfying than losing, and not just for the players and coaches, but for the whole community as well.
I left the Cominco Arena Tuesday night with a strange sense of elation. On the short walk to the office, I smiled at a stranger, who returned my silly grin. I can only imagine that other fans did the same, maybe clapped each other on the backs, and smiled at strangers who’d feel compelled to pass that simple gesture on and on and on.
I like to think that maybe these not insignificant victories will only breed more, and those smiles will continue, and will spread exponentially, encompassing the community, the province, the globe.
Who knows, maybe the result will be a winning season for the Smokies, and maybe, just maybe – it will culminate in world peace.
Hope is a wonderful thing – but no pressure guys.