Smokies goaltending dilemma looms

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

Few Trail Smoke Eaters fans saw it in person, but the goaltending performance put together by 18 year-old Riley Corbin in West Kelowna last Saturday was nothing short of sensational. The soft-spoken Thunder Bay native stopped 46 of 47 shots, helping Trail to their first victory in over a month, and their largest margin of victory EVER at Royal Lepage Place.

But as impressive as Corbin was (and has been in each of his last three starts, to be honest), new head coach Nick Deschenes will have a tough decision on his hands once incumbent starter Adam Todd comes off the injured list Dec. 1 (BCHL teams can only carry two goaltenders on their active roster).

But let’s face it, for a team hoping to rise from the depths of the Interior division, it’s a great problem to have.

Let’s begin with Todd. The Courtenay native turned heads last year when he wrestled the starting goaltender’s job away from Lyndon Stanwood and helped take this team ever-so-close to a playoff berth.

The Everett Silvertips thought highly enough of the 19 year old that they brought him up for a week-long stint as an emergency backup last February.

It can’t be easy to watch from the sidelines, as Todd has done since suffering an injury Sept. 28 (which, interestingly enough was the night the Smokies’ strong start came to an end), but through it all, he’s been nothing but a team player.

Dustin Nikkel has drawn the lion’s share of the work between the pipes this season, and certainly hasn’t been rewarded statistically for the effort he’s put in so far this season.

Nikkel was instrumental in helping a North Okanagan team decimated by injuries reach the KIJHL finals last spring, and time and time again has come up with huge saves on point-blank chances since arriving in Trail.

Nikkel finds himself in the rare position of over-age rookie in the Smoke Eater dressing room, which means a seat closer to the front of the bus on road trips. And while lesser characters might turn their nose up at the thought of co-habitating with 16 and 17 year-olds on 15-hour round trips every weekend, Nikkel has been nothing but first class since signing here this summer.

Corbin, who started the year in the Ontario Hockey League, seems to have found his groove after settling into a new province and a new league. Although he’s only appeared in five games, he possesses the best goals-against average and save percentage among the trio, and since four of his five games played have come on the road, has to be a bit of an unknown entity among Trail fans.

The youngest of the three goalies at 18, Corbin might have the most to offer to management long-term. Last week’s three-point effort has to have re-invigorated this group though, and brought a bit of hope to a dressing room sorely needing success.

November will be a challenging month, both in terms of climbing the standings, and for these three young men battling for their chance to wear the Smokies sweater through the end of the season.

I’m just glad I’m not the one entrusted with making that choice when the time comes in one month’s time.