It is hockey season, hockey weather, hockey time, and the Smoke Eaters need to gear up and get points before the holiday break.
As much as it seems Trail has improved over last season, they are still not in a playoff spot. They do have enough games in hand that, if they won them all, it would scratch them into a tie for the last available post-season place. That is, given current trends, a big, “if.”
It isn’t as if the Smokies have not played well a lot of the time. It is that, standings-wise, almost everybody else in the BCHL is playing well, too. In terms of points, only four teams are below .500, after almost half a season of play.
That magnifies the single point Trail lost three seconds before the end of the middle game of their recent three-game trip and makes regular time wins crucial for the team if it hopes to move into contention for the playoffs.
There have been 79 three-point games in the league to date – games in which losing teams receive a point, something Trail has acheived just once this year – and those miscellaneous loser points are a big reason the Smoke Eaters are as far out of a post season spot as they are.
Both tonight’s opponents, West Kelowna, and Trail’s fifth-place partner, Salmon Arm, have five such points. There are teams with two and three fewer wins than the Smoke Eaters that are tied with them in overall points. West Kelowna has only two more wins than Trail, but is eight points ahead of the Smokies and tied for second overall in the division.
The reality is that the Smokies must win outright against division foes to even hope to climb the standings against them.
Heading into a December in which a four-game home stand looms early, the Smokies have got to make, and take advantage of, opportunies for clear victories.
Trail, despite a big year-over-year improvement in results and an entertaining style that is drawing fans to help with the bottom line, needs a playoff round or two this season.
That means they already need to start making a charge into the second half of the schedule. That already means regulation time wins against division opponents are necessary.