The Trail Smoke Eaters face two BCHL Interior division rivals this weekend, and it goes without saying, the games are crucial if the Smokies want to stay in contention for the playoffs.
The Smoke Eaters play the West Kelowna Warriors at home on Friday before facing off against the Vernon Vipers in Vernon on Saturday. Both the Vipers and Warriors are tied for second place in the division with 31 points, but the Snakes have one game in hand.
The Smokies were unlucky collecting just three-of-six points on the weekend, losing 6-5 against Victoria in overtime and dropping a 2-1 game to Nanaimo in the final three seconds of play, but injuries again factored into the losses and Trail was forced to ice four affiliate players over the three game road trip to the Island.
“We don’t have a lot of bodies so it’s a tough thing sometimes when they are coming at you full steam ahead and you’re just trying to survive to some extent,”said Nick Deschenes, Smoke Eater coach and GM.
Trail lost Craig Martin for six-to-eight weeks with a knee injury, while Bryan Basilico and Robbie Johnson are out with an injury, Jeremy Lucchini with illness, and Viktor Dombrovskiy is on the trade block.
“Right now we’re down six bodies, which is a lot when we only roster 22,” said Deschenes.
The Smoke Eaters will once again rely on a couple Affiliate Players to fill out the line up this weekend.
On the upside, Trail goaltender Adam Todd returned to the line up and was stellar in a 3-2 win against Cowichan, as did Dallas Calvin who picked up an assist on the weekend, and Brett Clark starred in his start against Nanaimo. Charlie Zuccarini continues to roll collecting four points on the weekend to put him in 10th overall in the BCHL with 16-14-30.
However, their first meeting with the Warriors this weekend will be a tough test for the Smokes.
West K is led by Liam Blackburn whose 13 goals and 42 points puts him second in league scoring, and the Prince George native is one point away from matching his total from last year.
Brayden Gelsinger, 30 points, Jonathon Desbiens, 29, and Jason Cotton, 28, round out a lethal forward attack for the Warriors. If anything, the Warriors may be lacking on defence having allowed the most goals in the division, 93, and played the most overtime games, 10, while winning five and losing five.
The Smokies have dropped two games to Vernon already this year, 4-1 and 3-0, and will need to get some offensive production on the stingiest defence in the league. The Vipers’ Danny Todosychuk and Jarred Schamerhorn have allowed a combined 59 goals with the former posting a 1.92 GAA and .933 save percentage, while Schamerhorn has a 2.65 GAA and a .913 save percentage.
The 11-11-0-1 Smokies will look to make up ground on the Warriors and Vipers with a couple of important wins this weekend.
“As a group we’re right in the mix with games in hand, and obviously every game you play you can climb the ladder pretty quick,” added Deschenes. “I think there is a lot of positives out of that road trip so we’ll just have a good week of practice and be ready to face West Kelowna for the first time, and then we owe Vernon, we haven’t showed up to play them yet this year.”
The Smokies host the Warriors Friday at the Cominco Arena at 7:30 p.m. Addmission for all fans 12 and under is a toonie which goes to the Canadian Cancer Society to raise funds to fight cancer.