The Trail Smoke Eaters look to scare up two wins on the Halloween weekend when they host the spooky Salmon Arm Silverbacks tonight and the grisly Victoria Grizzlies on Sunday.
In between, the team will host the players’ parents including prospective Smoke Eater owner Rich Murphy at its sold out dinner at the Colombo Lodge on Saturday night. Despite the festivities, Smoke Eater head coach and GM Cam Keith believes the parents and dinner won’t be a distraction, but an incentive.
“It’s an important weekend we have the parents coming in, so that should be extra motivation for the guys,” said Keith. “Two home games, we need to start taking advantage of our home ice as well … We need to play more of a homestyle game where we’re outworking teams, and make it harder for road teams to come in and find their game.”
Trail at 7-8-1-0 currently sits a point behind the 8-9-0-0 Silverbacks in the Interior Division, but beat Salmon Arm 4-1 in its only previous match on Oct. 12. A win tonight will put the Smoke Eaters back in front of the ‘Backs and in fourth place. However, Salmon Arm has had a resurgence of late, winning two-out-of-three games on the weekend that included a double-overtime 4-3 win over the Nanaimo Clippers and a 3-0 shut out against the Coquitlam Express.
“They are a different team than we saw last time,” said Keith. “They have a few extra pieces, I know the (Carson) Bolduc kid is back in the line up so they’re a different team. They have had some recent success and in hockey confidence is everything, they have momentum.”
Second year player Elijiah Barriga, 20, leads the Silverbacks attack with nine goals and 20 points in 17 games played, including the OT winner against the Clippers on Saturday, while another 20-year-old, Mitch Skapski, has 14 points in 15 games. Brandon Kegler has wielded the hot-hand in net for Salmon Arm winning both matches and allowing just three goals on 59 shots, while earning his first shutout of the season.
The surprising Grizzlies, a team that finished last in the Island Division in 2016, will pose another tough test for the Smoke Eaters on Sunday. Victoria is led by 20-year-old forward Cole Pickup, 10-14-24, and recent Yale commit Tyler Welsh at 6-11-17. Trail beat Victoria in its initial meeting at the Showcase, 5-4 in overtime, but the Grizzlies have depth up and down the line up with St. Lawrence commit Jake Stevens, a defenceman, contributing offensively with 15 points, and fellow d-man Cody Van Leirop scoring 13 points in 16 games. Victoria is also backstopped by Matthew Galajda who has played in 13 of Victoria’s 16 games with the league’s third best 2.30 goals against average, and a .920 save percentage.
The Grizz own the best penalty kill at over 85 per cent, but are near the bottom, 12th, on the power play scoring at a 17 per cent clip compared to Trail’s 24.6 per cent success ratio.
“They’ll be playing their third game in three nights so we need to take advantage of possibly an early fatigue factor on their part. But you never know, sometimes teams can get rolling, like our third game against Langley that was the best game on our road trip. They’re a very talented team and we know we have to play the non-run and gun style against them, because they are that offensively gifted, that if you try to do that they’re kind of like Penticton you don’t want to get into a punch-for-punch kind of game.”
Trail split with Vernon last week winning 4-3 in Vernon before losing 2-1 on home ice Saturday, a common refrain for the Smoke Eaters this season.
“We’re not hurt by last weekend, we’re happy with the split but moving forward we need to be better at home and that’s the direction we have been focusing on with practice and the mindset.”
The Smokies Kale Howarth notched three of Trail’s five goals and added an assist, with Luke Santerno having a three-point weekend, but it was the goaltending of Linden Marshall and Zach Dyment that arguably kept the Smokies in the games, as Vernon fired just under 100 shots at the Smokies goal over the two matches.
“Vernon took a page out of the book that we want to play by, and it’s something we’re going to focus on more, put pucks on net, and simplify the game in the offensive zone to create more scoring opportunities and then maintain possession more in the offensive zone.”
Another area of concern for the Smoke Eaters has been the lack of secondary scoring.
“We’ve been relying heavily right now on our first line, and we’re going to be mixing up the lineups a bit this weekend,” said Keith. “If things don’t change we’ll have to make some adjustments as well. You can’t rely on your one line to produce all your offence, you have to have a balanced scoring attack.”
The Smoke Eaters face off against the Silverbacks at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Cominco Arena, and have a 3 p.m. start on Sunday versus the Grizzlies.