Smoke Eaters ready to take down Cowichan Capitals

The Trail Smoke Eaters host the Cowichan Capitals on Friday at the Cominco Arena.

Former Trail Smoke Eater forward Max Newton returns to Trail in a Cowichan Valley Capitals uniform Friday to face the Smokies at 7:30 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.

Former Trail Smoke Eater forward Max Newton returns to Trail in a Cowichan Valley Capitals uniform Friday to face the Smokies at 7:30 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.

Former Trail Smoke Eater Max Newton will look to maintain his torrid scoring pace when he returns to Trail tonight with his Cowichan Valley Capitals.

Newton makes his first return visit to Trail as a Capital after playing two season with the Smoke Eaters. Back in June, the 19-year-old Vancouver native was traded to Cowichan Valley, along with Nii Noi Tetteh, for Luke Santerno, 20, and defenceman Carter Cochrane.

“I’m sure Max is excited to get back and play in the building that he played for almost two years,” said Smoke Eater assistant coach and GM Curtis Toneff. “It wasn’t an easy trade to make on our half, but it looks to have worked out for all parties involved.”

At the time, Cochrane, a defenceman with WHL experience, seemed to be the biggest component in the trade. However, in August, the Smoke Eaters sent Cochrane to Salmon Arm in a deal for Josh Laframboise.

Since then, Newton and Santerno have enjoyed breakout seasons with their respective new teams. Santerno sits fourth overall in league scoring with 23 goals and 20 assists for 43 points, while Newton is not far behind with 15-20-35. Even more significant for Trail, the line of Santerno, 43 points, Laframboise, 31, and Kale Howarth, 39, is one of the most potent trios in the BCHL.

“Santerno had exceeded expectations on our end and the way that line has clicked, with Laframboise and Howarth, that trade is directly involved with that line,” said Toneff.

Newton has already scored more goals than he did in his previous two full seasons with the Smokies and is just five points away from exceeding his league high 40 points tallied with Trail in 2015-16. Santerno, meanwhile, surpassed his previous best, 13-13-26, way back on Nov. 5.

As for Cowichan, the Capitals have gone 5-6-1-0 since Nov. 1, but own one of the best power plays in the league with a 27.4 per cent success rate, and a penalty kill at 77.1 per cent. Trail meanwhile scores 24.6 per cent of the time on the PP and has a respectable 79.8 per cent PK.

The Caps will be without d-men Tetteh and Ben Verrall, who are out with injury, and recently acquired defenceman Marshall Skapski from the Merritt Centennials for future considerations to shore up an ailing blueline.

The 15-13-2-2 Capitals currently sit in third-place in the Island division, and are coming off a split with the Nanaimo Clippers on the weekend. Trail defeated the Capitals 7-3 on Oct. 8 in Duncan, but Toneff doesn’t expect Cowichan to be a pushover.

“I think we may have caught them on an off night during that Island swing of ours. At this time of year everyone is bearing down. They’re starting off their road trip and I’m sure they want to start it off on the right foot … We have two huge games this weekend and we’d like to win those and be rolling into Christmas break.”

Trail then travels to Vernon on Saturday to take on the Vipers in the Snake Pit. The teams are currently deadlocked in a tie for second place in the Interior division, each with 33 points, and games won’t get more crucial than this heading into the second half of the season.

The Vipers are coming off a 3-1 loss to Penticton, but have won three of their last four games and split their home-and-home series with the Smokies in October.

“It’s not an easy building to go into. They’re playing good hockey, and a completely different team than we saw earlier in the year. They completely rebuilt their defence core, they have the (Riley) Brandts and (Jagger) Williamsons and some really nice hockey players. It’s going to be a different team, but we’re excited because they’re a team we have to beat if we want to be successful this year.”

Smoke Signals: Trail will also have Ross Armour and Howarth back after attending the WJAC selection camp. While unsuccessful at making the Canada West team, coach Toneff is happy to have the two impact players back.

“They went and gave it all they had. I don’t think it was a matter of them not being good enough to make the team, I think it’s a matter of who is choosing the team, and what they’re looking to build, or what their identity is. Maybe Kale and Ross didn’t fit it this time, but that’s hockey, they can be proud to be selected.”

The Smokies face off against the Capitals tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.