The race for top spot in the Interior Division heats up tonight when the Trail Smoke Eaters host the Penticton Vees at the Cominco Arena in Trail.
The Vees are one of the hottest teams in the BCHL right now, outscoring their opposition 32-6 in the last four games, and, with games against Vernon and Merritt on the weekend, Trail will need to be on its game this week if it hopes to stay atop the BCHL standings.
Following a 4-1 win against Vernon on Nov. 11, the Vees offence exploded with a 7-1 blasting of Surrey last week, an 11-3 victory against West Kelowna Friday, and a 10-1 drubbing of Cowichan Valley on Saturday.
“It’s going to be a one game at a time kind of scenario,” said Keith. “We’re going to prepare for Penticton on Wednesday and try to slow them down. I don’t think we’ll have the same scoring power we normally do, so try to play more of a defensive style of game rather than trade chances.”
Injuries have decimated the Smoke Eaters offence of late with Ryan Murphy, Blaine Caton, Braeden Tuck, Levi Glasman, and Carter Jones all missing game time. But as the saying goes – ‘when the going gets tough, the tough don’t make excuses’. The Smoke Eaters ground out wins over Salmon Arm and Alberni Valley last weekend and have suffered just one loss in their past 10 games, that includes a 4-1 victory over the Vees on Oct. 28.
Penticton’s offensive output is fairly evenly distributed with 11 players in double-digit scoring. Led by forward Owen Sillinger with nine goals and 25 points, Vees defensemen Nickey Leivermann (6-14-20) and Jonny Tychonick (5-14-19) have been on a tear, with Leivermann, this weeks BCHL PoW, netting a hat trick against against West K and Tychonick kicking in with four assists on Saturday versus the Capitals.
“They’ve found their offence so right now is not a time to test our offence against their offence because we just don’t have our full arsenal in,” said Keith.
The Smokies are the league’s most prolific scoring team leading the BCHL with 110 goals and 13 players in double-digits, but face the BCHL’s stingiest defence with the Vees allowing just 51 goals in 22 games. The Smokies’ Kale Howarth (15G, 24A) and Rossland native Ross Armour (14G, 25A) lead the way with 39 points apiece and a share of top spot in the BCHL scoring race.
Spirit River native Brandon Wells carried the netminding load through November for the Smokies earning five straight wins before the loss to Prince George. Rookie Tanner Marshall, out since Oct. 27, returned from injury just in time to earn the two wins on the weekend.
Wells was outstanding in Trail’s 4-1 win over Penticton last month stopping 19 shots for the victory, while rookie forward Tyler Ghirardosi had a breakout game, scoring twice, with Howarth and Armour netting the other goals for the Smoke Eaters.
Trail owns the second most potent power play with a 23.3 per cent success rate and is eighth in PK at 82.3 per cent, and is poised to face Penticton’s best penalty kill at 87.5 per cent, and the fourth best power play at 21.6 per cent.
This week will be a test for Trail as they get set to face the 17-5-0-4 Vernon Vipers at home on Friday, and travel to Merritt to play the 9-12-2-1 Centennials on Saturday.
Caton should be back in the line up for tonight’s game, but Murphy, Tuck, Glasman, and Jones are likely scratches.
The puck drops against the Penticton Vees at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.