The Smoke Eaters embark on their longest bus trip of the 2013-14 BCHL season this weekend, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
Morale is bound to be low after three underwhelming home performances that saw Trail get outscored 17-1 in front of smaller-than-anticipated crowds. But on the road, teams are forced to play a simpler, hard-working style of hockey, and even a small moment (a goal, a big hit, or even a timely save) can be a pre-cursor to an extended period of success.
And with success comes an ability to better respond to adversity. For me, the game against Merritt Tuesday changed in a half-minute span midway through the second period while trailing 2-0. First, the Smokies were denied their best chance of the night as a shot from the left wing that saw the puck roll along the goal line, but somehow stay out.
Merritt’s Jeff Wight promptly deflected home the Centennials’ third goal as the play shifted down the ice, and any atmosphere that existed in the building was snuffed out instantaneously. As this team grows, so will their ability to respond to body blows like that particular instance, since the only guarantee in the game of hockey is that absolutely anything can happen.
This weekend, though will bear extra significance for two Smokies veterans who are being counted on by the coaching staff to be leaders this year. First, in Merritt Friday, Brendan Lamont will skate for the first time as a visitor in the Nicola Valley Arena (pre-season games notwithstanding). The 19 year-old from Langley was acquired for lanky rearguard Shane Poulsen this past June after a 22-point season with the Centennials last year. Lamont is the typical Bill Birks-type player: fast, gritty and tenacious, all qualities that brought him success in Merritt after joining Luke Pierce’s squad as a 17 year-old rookie.
Saturday, Prince George’s Tyson Witala returns to his old stomping grounds when Trail visits the Spruce Kings. I can’t think of a better setting for Witala to score his first goal as a Smoke Eater (his first BCHL goal, coincidentally enough, came in Trail as a member of the then-Westside Warriors).
This year’s team is still trying to find an identity, which is understandable given the amount of turnover on the roster.
The time spent on the bus goes a long way toward building team cohesion as players develop relationships with each other, and that can only help boost the team morale and willingness to battle for one another as the 2013-14 season kicks into gear.
Listen to every Smoke Eaters game live at www.mixlr.com/smokeeaters