Teams offer lots of home-town hockey on the horizon

The Nitehawks steamroller squashed Spokane to get back on track, and the struggling Smoke Eaters got their first point since November

Interesting start to the year in local hockey. The Nitehawks steamroller, which hit the ditch over the holidays, squashed Spokane to get back on track, and the struggling Smoke Eaters got their first point since November, in a game they had a lot of opportunity to win – all in the first week of 2012.

Both teams play at home again this weekend and next, so fans have a choice about which Home of Champions organization to support.

If you are an actual diehard for local hockey, the schedule allows you to get in six of the next eight home games for the two local clubs.

Even if you mostly just say you are a hockey fan, there are two dates coming up that should intrigue you.

A week Saturday, the Castlegar Rebels will be in Fruitvale. The Nitehawks have dominated almost everybody else, but the Rebels have beaten them three times already this season, including two straight to end 2011, and this game could go a long way towards deciding who wins the Neil Murdoch division of the KIJHL.

Nitehawks fans should know, too, that the Rebels bring a fair number of supporters with them to Beaver Valley. That means the Nitehawks’ fans could get out-shouted by visitors unless the valley provides a good turnout.

And why wouldn’t you go? Beaver Valley has a strong local load on their roster and have always provided great entertainment value. So go.

Then on Wednesday, the 18th, Trail gets another crack at Salmon Arm, a team they probably should have beaten two days ago, and fans can have a rare hopeful 2011-12 moment entering Cominco Arena.

We already knew this was going to be a long season for the Smokies. The team was undertalented at the start, and had injuries that didn’t help.

But, changes have been made. Trail is younger – and the roster is healthier – to start the new year. It was evident Wednesday that the current squad should be able to play well with at least the bottom tier of the Interior Division, on a talent basis, anyway.

All the change, of course, means the Smokies look a little, or a lot, disjointed in their team play at times. The coaching staff needs to formulate, sooner rather than later, at least a couple of set lines focusing on offence, and find defensive pairings that can become accustomed to each other.

Of course, we are already in, “next year country,” but that should begin right now given the relative youth of the lineup. Getting players comfortable and confident with each other could well lead to them being disposed to return to the squad, even after a down year.

Trail’s opponent tomorrow has a relatively high-powered offence, but surrenders a lot of scoring as well, so, if you go, there is the chance of a barn burner. So go.

– It must be so hard to play for Team Canada at the juniors, knowing, as the players do, that anything but a gold medal is considered a total disaster in this country. Knowing, too, as they do, that most of them won’t get another kick at the can.

They did make that third period of the semi-final breathtaking, however. Too bad so many people tuned it out early.