Smoke Eaters face Vees

The Trail Smoke Eaters take on the BCHL’s league-leading Penticton Vees this weekend with the home game going Saturday at the Cominco Arena

The Trail Smoke Eaters take on the BCHL’s league-leading Penticton Vees in a home-and-home this weekend starting tonight in Penticton.

Trail’s playoff drive stalled and is likely irreparable after counting just one of a possible six points in three games on a coastal road trip last weekend. It will be even more of a challenge for the Smokies to count points against the Number-3 ranked Canadian Junior Hockey League team in the nation, but Trail coach and GM Nick Deschenes is determined to turn things around

“We did some breakdown of our last game (versus Penticton), in what was a very winnable game here in Trail,” said Deschenes. “I think there is maybe a mental block with our group. Playing in those away games like in Vernon and Penticton, which since I’ve been a coach here we haven’t yet won. So it seems like there is always something whether it’s a bounce or a miscall, it’s always something where things just unravel.”

In the Smokies last game against Penticton, Trail led 3-2 midway through the game and trailed just 4-3 in the third before giving up two late goals.

The Vees are 4-0 against the Smokies this season and lead the league with 75 points and a 36-7-2-1 record. Penticton also has the league’s stingiest defence allowing just 89 goals in 46 games, with goaltender Hunter Miska’s BCHL best 1.89 GAA and .929 save percentage. However, a notable anomaly is that Penticton does not have a single scorer among the league’s top 30. The Vees top-point getter is Lewis Zerter-Gossage, 17-24-41, who is 40th in the BCHL scoring race. However, an incredibly balanced attack has 13 Vees players with 20 points or more this season.

Meanwhile, injuries again hurt the Smokies on the weekend with Dallas Calvin, Evan MacEachern, and Adam Todd missing the final game of the road trip, while Kienan Scott, Robbie Johnson, and Bryan Gerstenfeld remain out of the lineup.

Todd did start in Saturday’s game against Langley, his first since Dec. 16, but his return from a concussion may have been premature as Brett Clark was back in the net on Sunday versus Coquitlam.

“Brett Clark has come into a tough spot where he’s been leaned on a lot more than anticipated, it’s just been a tough go, and tough for a first-year player,” said Deschenes.

With just 13 games remaining and 17 points back of Merritt and West Kelowna, Trail is all but out of a playoff race. Nevertheless, Deschenes is not quite ready to look ahead to next year.

“You always keep that in the back of your mind as a G.M. but there is a lot to play for. There is a lot of guys that need to maximize the last five weeks of the season, for their own personal development as they move on and their are those guys if they want to be here next year, and want to turn it around, well  it’s not something we wait for September.”

The Yale alumnus hopes to steal as many points as he can from division rivals looking to make a run for the playoffs. The Smokies final 12-of-13 matches go against Interior division teams starting with a pair against Penticton this weekend and a Wednesday game in Merritt against the Centennials.

The puck drops Saturday night at the Cominco Arena at 7:30 p.m.