Sports ‘n’ Things: Smokies push for playoffs

"There is good reason for hope for Trail fans."

Local junior hockey teams are on two different tracks. Beaver Valley may pretty much clinch the Neil Murdoch Division title with a win tonight at the Hawks’ Nest – not numerically but to a position from which only a total Nitehawks collapse over the final month of the season can deny them top spot.

• Meanwhile, every Smoke Eater game from now on will have a bearing on their push for a recently- rare playoff position in the Interior Division.

Beginning last night, the Smokies play the last two of a five-on-the-road swing that is putting a lot of klicks on the bus tires and begin a period of twice as many (10) home games as (5) road games to finish the season.

After poor results at the mainland division – including a final game against a weak Surrey team that the entire organization seems to have underestimated after dominating a shorthanded Eagles squad at Cominco Arena the previous weekend – coming games, especially the first three at home, are almost must win situations.

That home heavy schedule begins Sunday. Trail will play the last two games for the year against  out-of-division teams Sunday and Thursday, then faces another four-pointer against Vernon, the two teams penultimate meeting for 2015/16, on Saturday. By that time the Vipers and Smokies will each have played the same number of games, so  the standings will be straightforward to follow through the season ending stretch run.

The Smokies, in general, have played improved hockey over the past six weeks, and at their disciplined best can compete with most teams in the BCHL. This is not a strong five-on-five scoring group, however, so special teams – the power play has shown some improvement while the penalty kill has been good most of the season – will most likely decide Trail’s standings fate.

There is good reason for hope for Trail fans.  The team has been better, seven points better in fewer games, at home than on the road, and their last two shots at Vernon are at Cominco Arena, including what could turn out to be a big, huge, massive season finale on Feb. 27.

Don’t wait for then to get on the bandwagon. The team provides great entertainment value almost every outing at Cominco Arena and there is good reason for fans to be hopeful, so you should get out and support it, particularly Sunday.

I admit it is nice to have reason for a positive outlook at this relatively late stage in the BCHL season. A few quick good results from the Smoke Eaters would make it even nicer.