Trail Smoke Eaters head Bill Birks will be the first to admit he has his work cut out for him this season.
But on the heels of back-to-back losses to the Westside Warriors in the season-opening weekend at the Cominco Arena, Birks is hoping his veterans and rookies got a does of the realities of BCHL hockey.
Friday night, in front of almost 1,000 fans, the Warriors scored four second-period goals in a 10-minute span to spoil the Smokies season opener with a 7-3 win. Saturday night, in front of a much smaller crowd, another four-goal outburst in a span of nine minutes in the second period propelled Westside to a 5-1 victory.
“Out of 120 minutes we shut it down for about 24 minutes and they score nine goals,” said Birks. “That’s it in a nutshell.”
The Warriors also took advantage of some undisciplined obstruction penalties to score five of its 12 weekend goals on the power play.
“It’s called laziness,” said Birks. “Our leaders and supposed to be our leaders and they’re taking stupid penalties.”
While the scoreboard was a sign of disappointment for the Smokies’ first-year head coach, Birks said the team came out of the gate well in both games.
They held Westside scoreless on Friday and grabbed a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes on Saturday.
“I thought in the first period of both games we were good.”
Saturday night, Montrose’s Luke Bertolucci potted his first Junior A goal with a power play marker four minutes into the game to spot Trail an early lead.
Nevertheless, the Warriors kept coming at the Smokies and only some strong saves by goaltender Matt Larose, allowed Trail to take a lead into the middle frame.
It unraveled in the second after back-to-back penalties allowed the Warriors’ Connor Dempsey to pot a pair of power play markers. By the time the period expired, Westside had four goals and a 4-1 lead.
A Warriors’ goal midway through the third sealed hopes of any comeback by the home team.
“I told those guys that maybe twice a year you can come back from four or five goals down,” said Birks.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he added. “Our work ethic is there for the most part. But when you shut it down for 10 minutes and watch the other team, you’re in trouble.”
Friday night offered the promise of a new season as a large crowd showed up as the curtain rose on the Smokies’ 16th BCHL season.
After a scoreless first period, the two teams exchanged early second-period goals with Brandon Egli notching Trail’s first goal of the season five minutes into the middle frame on the power play.
But with the score knotted at 1-1, Westside scored four unanswered goals to take a 5-1 lead into the final period.
Perhaps a between-period talk spurred the Smokies as Trail’s Clayton Chessa and Kyle Horsman scored five minutes apart to make it a 5-3 game with 12 minutes left in regulation time.
Westside’s Tyler Krause made sure there would be no comeback from the home team as he scored two late power play goals to complete the hat trick and give his team the 7-3 win.
Larose got the start in both games facing 38 shots on Friday and 33 on Saturday.
The second-year netminder looked steady for the most part and only the persistent Westside attack managed to capitalize on second and third opportunities.
While Birks said there’s still plenty of time to adjust the team’s roster and mindset, he did reiterate the value of every single point in the regular season.
With only four teams making the playoffs in the eight-team Interior Conference, each game becomes even more crucial.
The Smokies will be looking to put that first win of the season on the board this Wednesday when the Merritt Centennials come to the Cominco Arena.
Merritt split its opening weekend with back-to-back games in Prince George.