Final home game of the regular season tonight
The Salmon Arm Silverbacks could be labeled as the poster child for parity in the BCHL’s Interior Division.
The Silverbacks, who face the Trail Smoke Eaters tonight in the final regular season game at the Cominco Arena, are coming off their seventh win in eight games against the two-time RBC Cup champion Vernon Vipers on Wednesday.
Yet when they suit up to face the Smokies tonight, they’ll take on a team they haven’t been able to beat this season.
In four meetings, the Smokies have won three and tied one. And although the Silverbacks are one of the hottest teams in the BCHL, with seven straight victories, their last lost came at the hands of the Smoke Eaters in January.
“It’s not easy to figure out,” said Trail head coach Jim Ingram.
“We match up well with them. I think they’re very skilled in their top six and have a makeup must like ourselves.”
Ingram added every team appears to have an Achilles heel. For instance both Trail and Salmon Arm have struggled against Westside this year.
“It really does speak to the parity of the league,” agreed Salmon Arm head coach Tim Kehler.
He acknowledged that many of those wins over the Vipers were one-goal games where a mistake either way determined the outcome.
“That’s the same thing when you look at our series with Trail.
“First of all Trail has played very well against us and they’re a very good team. They have found ways to be better than us in key areas of the game.
“I think back to our last game, a 3-2 loss in Trail, a game that I thought we were playing exceptionally well. We made the big mistake in the third period in our defensive zone coverage and the Smoke Eaters were able to capitalize on it.
“We hope that over this stretch we’ve worked out those mental mistakes.”
The stretch Kehler referred to is the team’s current seven-game winning streak. Salmon Arm has climbed into the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s Top-20 rankings sitting in 19th spot.
During the span of their winning streak, the Silverbacks have outscored their opponents by a whopping 45-19 margin.
“It’s been scoring by committee and scoring a lot of goals,” said Kehler, whose roster features 10 players with 10 or more goals.
“That’s probably been the biggest story line. We’ve had tremendous contributions right throughout the lineup.”
Those shooters will be put to the test this weekend however.
In Trail’s four meetings with Salmon Arm, the Smokies’ goalies have played a starring role in three of those games with Kiefer Smiley and Matt Larose both earning first-star kudos in winning efforts.
Ingram agreed it’s the time of the year where the number-one goalie will carry the ball for the rest of the way although he hasn’t ruled out using Larose in the final week of the regular season.
“Smiles is going to carry us but I’d like to get Matty into at least another game. He’s our future. He’s more than done his job in the net for us this year and he’s going to be our number-one guy next year.”
However, the teams will be focused on this year and the importance of this weekend’s two-game showdown.
A loss by the Smokies tonight will mean Trail won’t finish any higher than third in the division. However, a weekend sweep will make the final weekend very interesting.
“We know we have to be at our best to beat a Trail team that needs a win to keep pace with us,” said Kehler.
“With a win we can put them behind us for good.
“That will be a motivating factor for us. And I’m sure Jim will use that too.”
The BCHL announced the road to the Fred Page Cup will begin Feb. 25. The top seven teams in both the Interior and Coastal conferences will advance to the playoffs with the first-place teams earning a first-round bye.
All series will be best-of-seven.