Defenceman Trevor Zins and the rest of the Trail Smoke Eaters head to Vernon Friday to begin their Interior Division semifinal against the Vipers. Jim Bailey photo.

Smoke Eaters enter Snake Pit to face Vipers for Game 1

Trail Smoke Eaters veteran d-man Trevor Zins ready for long playoff run

For Trail Smoke Eaters veteran defenceman Trevor Zins, the key to victory is in the details.

The Smoke Eaters are poised to resume their quest for a BCHL title tonight when they take on long-time rival Vernon Vipers in the Interior Division semifinal.

“We know they have a lot of playoff experience, a lot of big guys, and they play a similar game to us,” said Zins. “For us, the series is going to come down to who wants it more, who’s willing to do the little things, battle hard, and get pucks to the net and score. It will be the small things that count.”

The no. 4 seed Vipers and no. 7 Smoke Eaters are two well-rested teams after dispatching the Salmon Arm Silverbacks and Merritt Centennials, respectively, in five games on Mar. 8.

The Smoke Eaters-Vipers playoff matchup is their eighth historically, with the Snakes taking five of the previous seven series, their most recent a 4-1 series win in the 2017 Interior semifinal.

The Vipers are led by veteran forwards Jagger Williamson, Jesse Landsdell, and Matt Kowalski, and on the back end by Michael Young and Jack Hudson. Every game was a battle this year, with Trail going 2-3-0-1 in the season series against the hard-nose, hard-working style of the Mark Ferner coached team.

If Trail has an edge, it will be in their depth, their back end, and goaltending, as the team held the high-powered Merritt Centennials to just eight goals in their final four playoff games.

“If you want to win in the playoffs, you have to build from the back-end out,” said Smoke Eaters coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “You need great goaltending and your defence needs to limit opportunities. They (Merritt) are a team with six guys with over 50-points and they couldn’t generate the way they wanted to. It’s your ability to defend, and that’s the way our team’s built.”

The Smokies’ second-round rival was a bit unexpected after the top-seed Penticton Vees fell to the Cowichan Capitals in Game 6, but Zins is confident it won’t make a difference.

“We know we have to go through all these guys, we’re a bottom team, an underdog, and we’re rolling, but we have to go through the top teams to get to the finals, and whoever we see, we’ll beat, so we’re good.”

The St. Michael, Minn. native has been a force on the Smoke Eaters blue line as a leader, playmaker, and defender this season, yet, in a decidedly different role from last year.

“This year is definitely a great year,” said the 20-year-old. “Coming in, Jeff (Tambellini), he knows the type of player I am, knows how I play, and he came in and just said, ‘Just do your thing, and I’ll let you do your thing.’ It gave me that confidence, and gives me that leeway to play how I play, so it’s fun and I love that.”

Under Tambellini, Zins surpassed his total points from the previous season (3-7-10) in the first month, and contributed in a big way offensively, scoring 12 goals and 46 points, good for fourth among league defencemen, while playing in all 58 games.

“I grew up playing like that and I always had that role. But that’s the way it is in Junior, you find a role to help the team win no matter if you’re not playing the way you want to play, you do it to help the team win. This year I was able to come back to how I normally play and I found that role to be an offensive guy on the back end, I play huge minutes and I love that role.”

Zins’ hard work and dedication paid off, as the Minnesota native recently earned a scholarship to St. Cloud State, the number 1 ranked NCAA Div. 1 team in the nation.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Zins. “It was a tough time with Lowell (University) and all those issues. It was hard for me at the beginning of the year wondering what’s going to happen, so when that popped up, and the chance to be only 30 minutes from my home town, and be in front of family and friends for the next four years is unbelievable. I’m just excited to go there, but for now I’m focused on playing for Trail and finishing my career here.”

Hopefully, that will be later rather than sooner, as the Smokies prepare for a long run into the BCHL playoffs.

The Interior semifinal starts in Vernon on Friday at Kal Tire Place at 7 p.m.

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