The Trail Smoke Eaters will look to keep the Merritt Centennial in the winless column when they face their Interior Division rival in a home-and-home series this weekend.
While the Cents have yet to win a game, they haven’t lost either, playing to a 2-2 tie with the Prince George Spruce Kings in their only game of the week last Friday. Tonight the Smoke Eaters travel to Merritt to face a veteran Cents team that went unbeaten, 4-0-1, in the pre-season by virtue of a strong returning contingent.
But the Smokies are coming off a high, after winning their home opener against RBC Cup champion West Kelowna Warriors on Saturday, 8-5, following a 3-1 loss in West Kelowna on Friday.
“We want to play just like we did in West Kelowna, keep things really simple, keep things close and hopefully we get a few more bounces ours way, and keep getting strong goaltending,” said Smoke Eater head coach and GM Cam Keith.
An unlikely sniper in defenceman Tyson Slater leads the Smokies in scoring netting three goals in his first two games. The Courtney native took two years off hockey before returning last season to play for the Jr. B Comox Valley Glacier Kings of the VIJHL.
“Tyson Slater keeps on surprising us,” said Keith. “His talent is there, his ceiling is very high, and we’re very excited, not only offensively but in the d-zone as well. He plays a physical brand of hockey … and just gets stronger and stronger.”
The Smoke Eaters had a tough decision to make leading up to the opening game Friday and released Cole Williams and local defencman Jake Yuris to bring the numbers down to league requirements for carded players.
“It’s not easy, when we got down to 25-26 (players) we had a lot of hard choices,” said Keith.
But the Smokies looked bigger and faster on the ice on Saturday, with new additions like Luke Santerno, Josh Laframboise, Andre Ghantous, goalie Zach Dyment, and Jack Sitzman impressive in their play. Combined with the excellent play of returning players like Kale Howarth, Spencer McLean, Connor Brown-Maloski, and Ross Armour, the Smoke Eaters fans will likely have a lot more to cheer about this season.
“As long as our confidence gets there, I think these guys are starting to believe that they can win,” added Keith. “It’s hard for some of these kids, mostly those that have played in Trail for a few years, they’re a little bit deflated, you could see it last night when they scored the second goal it’s like the air got let out of their tires. I’m trying to change our culture – that if you believe, anything is possible.”
The Smoke Eaters host the Centennials on Saturday at the Cominco Arena at 7 p.m.