We have known about the no-possibility-of-playoffs for the Smoke Eaters for a very long while now. The fun thing is, they are still a factor in the playoff race.
Beating Chilliwack, twice, then losing at Vernon, has already impacted the standings.
Prince George’s four games here in the next three weeks gives the Smokies an opportunity to stay very relevant to the rest of the interior, given the much improved play Trail has produced of late.
The next week brings more or less meaningless (standings) games against other playoff also-rans, but a strong weekend against the Spruce Kings can bring a small but tangible goal into the realm of reachable.
The Smokies have been slowly closing on the Salmon Arm Silverbacks for seventh place – not a big accomplishment even if they can do it, but not something Smokie watchers considered even plausible a month ago.
After that, every two points (except those for an away game in Westside) Trail plays for will have great meaning for their opponents. At present there are four teams within striking range of the bottom three playoff spots in the division. Second-placed Merritt is eight points above fifth place at present, but the third fourth and fifth place teams all have two games in hand.
That means the four games Merritt has still to play against Trail (two in each team’s building) are likely very, very important to the Centennials. It might mean the final weekend, when Trail hosts Merritt, then visits Merritt and Chilliwack, will be as critical in standings terms as any games played in the division this season.
On top of that, somebody just might stop the rampaging Penticton Vees from sweeping the last five months of the season, and Trail, one of only three teams in the BCHL that has beaten the Vees, gets two kicks at that can down the stretch.
Yes, we have known about the down season for a while. Just running some facts out for you so you will know the remainder of the Smoke Eater season will contain games of high intensity, and quality, for a variety of reasons.
Trail has been in full rebuild mode for months and those now on the roster certainly realize they are already under the gun going into this summer’s training camp.
There are only two players on Trail’s current roster who are not eligible to return next season, so competition for spots on the 2012-2013 roster is already serious, even without any talented newcomers standing out in the next pre-season.
Add to that the strong incentives visiting teams have to play well against the Smokies and the vastly improved, highly entertaining play of the Smokies themselves, and you have a lot of reasons to plan to get out to the rink.
Given the generally down actual attendance at games, I assume season ticket buyers have a lot of spares in hand. No time like the present to share the wealth with your friends – they are likely, after watching the level of play at Cominco Arena, to be asking for a repeat before the season is over.