Smokies host bolstered Vees

Trail Smoke Eaters host Penticton Vees tonight at 7:30pm

A young Trail Smoke Eaters team will look to play spoiler for the remainder of the BCHL season starting Saturday night when they host an aging but improved Penticton Vees squad at the Cominco Arena.

The rich got richer as the Penticton Vees improved an already potent line up by adding two 20-year-old players last week. The Vees bolstered their top six forwards by trading Anthony Conti, 18, to the Surrey Eagles in exchange for 20-year-old sniper Nicholas Pierog, who has counted 26 goals and 12 assists on the season, and signing another 20-year-old in Erik Benoit.

Pierog is your prototypical power forward, a six-foot-two centreman with a wicked shot, who led the Eagles to the BCHL championship last season and will look to do the same for the Vees this year.

Penticton inked Benoit on Jan. 3, sending former Smokie Brendan Lamont to the Coquitlam Express to make room for the Calgary native. Benoit is a veteran of over 200 Western Hockey League games and has appeared in two Memorial Cups with the Kootenay Ice and Saskatoon Blades. The five-foot-eleven-inch centreman is a solid two-way-player, who recently netted three assists in a 6-2 win over Merritt Sunday playing on a line with Jack Ramsey and Steen Cooper.

The Vees lead the BCHL’s Interior division with 55 points. However, with 17 matches remaining on the season, Trail can make things difficult for teams fighting for a playoff spot in a division where just seven points separate second-place Vernon and fifth-place Merritt. While Trail is out of the playoffs, a concerted effort like the one they had against Vernon a week ago could surprise the heavily favoured Vees.

“The expectations for the past little while, have been focusing on our game, and tangible elements that we can control, and knowing that going into most of the games we are going to be underdogs per se, but  history has shown that underdogs are more successful more often than the odds let them be,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Nick Deschenes.

After dealing 20-year-old players Travis Stephens and Braden Pears earlier this week, the Smoke Eaters are looking to put the distraction of today’s trade deadline behind them and concentrate on hockey.

“We have one more card, so we have a couple things in the works, so there will be something happening hopefully shortly,” said Deschenes.  “I’d love to turn the page on this and get on with things. But it’s a part of the job, when you come in mid-season and inherit a team . . . there is a lot of work to be done.”

While the Vees get older and deeper, the Smoke Eaters get younger, yet Trail still managed to pick up three points in its last three games, that included the 4-1 victory over Vernon.

The Vees are building for another shot at the Fred Page Cup, while Trail is prepping for next year. Still, a solid effort from a young team may yet surprise the Vees juggernaut.

“That’s been our role for a little while, probably since Christmas. We’re trying to develop good habits, trying to get better and maximize our experience . . . and come up with a few wins.”

The puck drops Saturday at the Cominco Arena at 7:30 p.m.