The Penticton Vees and Trail Smoke Eaters are going in two different directions in the BCHL standings but the teams collide tonight in what will be the return of former Smokie forward and current Penticton sniper, Travis St. Denis.
The Vees have won seven of their first nine games while the Smoke Eaters have lost seven.
The last time the two teams met on Oct. 1 in Penticton, St. Denis counted four points and led the Vees to a 9-1 victory.
The Rossland-Trail minor hockey product is coming off player of the week honours where he picked up six points in three games and the league scoring lead. He also leads his team in plus-minus with an impressive +12.
“I think I had a bit of a motivation before the game,” St. Denis told the Penticton Western News. “Anyone who plays their old team has that. I definitely felt like I had an extra jump or two coming in against Trail.”
Trail will have to keep St. Denis and the Vees vaunted attack in check if they expect a good result.
“Hopefully we shut him down more than we did last time, but our main focus isn’t all on St. Denis, we’ve just got to play as a team and work hard and shut all those guys down,” said second year veteran Adam Boytinck before practice Tuesday.
The Vees own the most potent offence in the league, scoring 53 goals in nine games compared to 21 for Trail.
While the Smokies have been competitive in many of their games, they have been plagued by injuries and their games marked by lapses in the middle frame that has seen opponents score in bunches.
In their first nine games, teams have outscored Trail 30-7 in the second period alone.
“It’s just been mental breakdowns and that’s a learning process for guys like me, that are first year in the league,” said Smoke Eater rookie Josh Roberts.
“You have to understand you have to put in 60 minutes in this league; its not like Junior B or high-school back east where you can maybe take a few shifts off. Mentally you have to stay focused the entire game.”
Boytinck is one of the teams few veterans returning from last year and despite the tough start to the season, he still sees positives in the Smokies lineup.
“We’ve seen some good spurts from some rookies which will be good players in the league to come, so we’re looking forward to those guys stepping up a bit more to produce offensively,” said Boytinck.
Roberts too is hopeful as he anticipates the return of guys like Adam Wheeldon, Brandon Egli and Kyle Horsman from injury.
“Once we start getting guys back and get a feel for each other, I think we’ll turn things around.”
After a convincing 6-2 Vees win against Vernon on Friday, the team moved up the national rankings from 18th to seventh in the country while the Vipers fell from fourth to 11th spot.
The week won’t get any easier for the Smoke Eaters as they play Vernon at home on Saturday.
In KIJHL action, the Beaver Valley Nitehawks play the Leafs tonight in Nelson and Summerland in Beaver Valley Saturday.