It’s a rare Wednesday night treat for Trail Smoke Eaters fans as the team faces off against division rival Wenatchee Wild tonight at the Cominco Arena.
The BCHL Interior Division is always tough, but it is more competitive than ever with the Wild addition this season, and the battle for top spot heating up with just six points separating the top-six teams. The 12-4-1-0 Smoke Eaters are currently in second place a point behind 12-4-0-2 Vernon Vipers and two points up on 11-6-0-1 Wenatchee.
“They (Wenatchee) have been playing really good hockey,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Cam Keith. “It’s another test for us, it’s another divisional four-point game and we have to prove that we’ve improved since the last time we played them, and it’s important to get these home wins.”
Wenatchee is coming off an 8-1 victory over Alberni Valley on Saturday following a 4-1 loss to Vernon on Friday. The Wild also beat the Penticton Vees twice in an Oct. 20-21 home-and-home, with a 3-2 double OT win in Penticton and a 4-2 home victory the next night.
The Wild are led by six-foot-three, 19-year-old forward Jasper Weatherby who leads the league in goals, 14, and is one point behind Smoke Eater forward Ross Armour (12-13-25) in the overall scoring race. Ferris State commit Cooper Zech anchors the Wenatchee blue line but is also an offensive threat as the diminutive defender leads all defencemen in scoring with 21 points, two points ahead of Trail’s top scoring blueliner, Jeremy Lucchini (3-16-19).
The last time Trail and Wenatchee met was on Sept. 15 with the Wild winning 3-2 in double OT. The Smoke Eaters will try to keep their momentum going after bouncing back with two big wins against Merritt, 5-4, and Penticton, 4-1, on the weekend.
Trail went 6-3 in October and has lost just once in their past six games. After tonight, the Smokies embark on another Vancouver Island road swing to play Nanaimo, Cowichan Valley, and Victoria on the weekend.
“Right now with how the standings are, every game is so important,” said Keith. “It’s a huge week. We’ve got four games with the Island swing and Wenatchee. But we look at it right now as Wednesday is the focus and Wenatchee is the target so it’s going to be a good challenge.”
The puck drop for tonight’s game goes at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.
Smoke Signals: The Trail Smoke Eaters are the top-ranked BCHL team in the country, coming in at 16th in the Canadian Junior Hockey League poll this week. The Penticton Vees dropped from seventh to 19th and, inexplicably, the Vernon Vipers remained unranked, earning an honourable-mention, despite having the best record in the BCHL.