Smoke Eaters look to bring road-intensity home

Behind the scenes of the Trail Smoke Eaters with Chris Wahl.

The Trail Smoke Eaters are quickly gaining a reputation around the BCHL as Road Warriors after another successful trip this past weekend.

In the space of 48 ½ hours, the team traveled 2,010 kilometres, played two games in difficult away venues, and took four-of-four points from the Merritt Centennials and Prince George Spruce Kings and to me, it was effective time management that spurred the Orange and Black to success.

The typical BCHL road trip involves arriving at the arena two hours before the scheduled opening faceoff. On Friday night (due more to traffic congestion in the Kelowna area than a lack of planning), the Smokies arrived in Merritt at 5:55 p.m., or 95 minutes before the 7:30 puck drop. They promptly beat the Centennials 3-2 in a gritty come-from-behind effort.

A night later in Prince George, the team went for a group walk on the outskirts of town to kill time, and ensure a timely 5:15 p.m. arrival for a 7 p.m. start. Again, Trail won, this time 4-2 thanks in part to an otherworldly effort from Dustin Nikkel in goal.

Mental preparedness is an important, if not often talked-about facet of any successful game plan. And by arriving late at the arena, the Smokies had no choice but to get in gear and focus on the task at hand. And on both nights, Trail came out of the gate skating, hitting, and, in Prince George, scoring.

The same goes for me too. Even though I enjoy getting to the arena well in advance of showtime (sometimes three hours), I find being pressured by time forces me to get to work with pre-game prep and avoid lolly-gagging around the concourse, speaking to fans and rink staff, or sampling local arena delicacies (if we’re keeping score, the pizza in Chilliwack is to die for).

This weekend, the trick for the Smokies is to translate their early away success to Cominco Arena, a task that becomes even more important given seven of Trail’s next nine games are at home (beginning tomorrow against Cowichan Valley).

I’m sure the coaching staff has ideas up their sleeves (I’ve even heard one rumour of the team meeting outside of town tomorrow and bussing to the arena together to replicate the away experience), but one thing I know everyone in the Smokies dressing room is counting on some passion and support from the stands.

I’m confident Trail has gotten past the bump in the road that was the three-game opening home-stand. It wasn’t pretty by any stretch, but the losses to Penticton and Merritt were proof that a lack of mental toughness can result in a lack of success on the scoreboard.

With mental preparedness comes the ability to battle for one another, and to recover from adversity; Trail has been outshot, and has given up the first goal of the game in five of seven outings this season but sit in third place in the Interior division going into the weekend.

As always, the onus is on the team to match the intensity we saw on the road, but having that experience fresh in the Smokies’ collective memory can’t hurt.