The Trail Smoke Eaters will look to get back in the hunt for a playoff spot tonight when they face Interior division rival West Kelowna Warriors and follow that up with a Saturday tilt versus the Chilliwack Chiefs.
The Smoke Eaters beat the Warriors 3-1 at home in their one and only meeting so far this season, in what was one of the most exciting games of the year on Nov. 28. Trail is also chasing the Warriors for a playoff spot. The 15-10-0-5 Warriors sit 10 points up on the Smokies, and will be Trail’s opponent in four of its seven remaining games this month.
“As you move closer to the end of the season, these two points become more and more important especially when you don’t get the results the game before,” said Smoke Eater assistant coach Craig Clare.
The Smokies are coming off a tough 5-3 loss to Prince Rupert on Sunday, and are winless in their past four games. Trail currently sits two points back of fifth-place Salmon Arm, 27 points, and the 16-12-0-2 Merritt Centennials with 34 points in the fourth and final playoff spot.
The league’s second top scorer, Liam Blackburn, will lead the Warrior’s charge into the Cominco Arena. Blackburn, a New Hampshire University commit, has 13 goals and 33 assists for 46 points on the season and is a gifted playmaker.
“We understand where we’re at and we play West Kelowna and Salmon Arm a couple of times before Christmas so it’s really important to set ourselves up nice going into the New Year, so we still have control of our own destiny,” said Clare.
The Smoke Eaters will have another tough test on Saturday when they face the Chilliwack Chiefs who hold down first-place in the Mainland division. The 20-9-0-1 Chiefs are one of the hottest teams in the BCHL going 8-2 in their last 10 games, with recent wins over Salmon Arm, 5-3, and Prince George, 6-3.
It will be the first time the two teams meet this season, and the Smokies will have to neutralize a balanced Chief attack led by Vermont commit Craig Puffer who is on a six-game point streak and has 19-14-33 this season. Chilliwack also has seven players in the line up collecting 20 points or more, including former Beaver Valley Nitehawk Kurt Black who has 10-13-23 and is fourth in team scoring.
The Smokies Jake Lucchini leads the Smokies with 13-22-35 and is eighth in league scoring, while Charlie Zuccarini is right behind him at 17-17-34.
Game time is 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Cominco Arena.
Defenceman Sheldon Hubbard was dealt to his hometown to play with the Grande Prairie Storm of the AJHL for future considerations on Thursday. Hubbard played 20 games for Trail in 2014 netting two goals and three assists.
Trail forward Craig Martin is out with injury and will not play.