Top team to test Trail

After sweeping two of the Interior Division’s weaker sisters, the Trail Smoke Eaters now must refocus and prepare for the BCHL’s number-one club.

Powell River Kings bring royal lineup to the arena

After sweeping two of the Interior Division’s weaker sisters, the Trail Smoke Eaters now must refocus and prepare for the BCHL’s number-one club.

The Smokies, who chalked up three straight wins by Saturday, return to the ice Wednesday night when the Powell River Kings bring its impressive lineup to the Cominco Arena.

The Kings, who have reached the BCHL final in the past two seasons, are in the midst of an even more successfull campaign in the 2010-11 season.

In Monday’s Canadian Junior Hockey League rankings, the Kings sat fourth in the country, their lowest ranking since November.

But don’t think the Kings are slipping from their throne as the league’s best team.

The team has won four in a row and 13 of its last 14 games. Prior to a 4-2 defeat at the hands of Langley to start 2011, the Kings’ last loss came on Nov. 24 to Nanaimo.

Although dominant on home ice, Powell River boasts an envious road record with only three regulation losses in 20 games on opponent’s ice.

That kind of success has come on the strength of the Kings’ remarkable defensive play, which has allowed less than two goals a game.

Anchoring the defense is goaltender Michael Garteig, who sports a league best 1.53 goals against average in 36 starts.

Garteig, one of eight Kings to have secured a college scholarship, will join Trail’s Travis St. Denis as well as Montrose’s Connor and Kellen Jones at Connecticutt’s Quinnipiac University next year.

He leads the league with seven shutouts including a 1-0 blanking of the Smokies in September. He also recorded three in a row during the Kings’ undefeated December. He has teamed up with netminder Sean Maguire to keep Powell River’s foes to a paltry 1.73 goals per game.

Which means the Smokies’ snipers will have to make their shots count in what could be another tight battle between two talented clubs.

And while the Kings’ defence has limited opponents, the offence has delivered when needed.

Chad Niddery, who cut his junior hockey teeth with the KIJHL’s Grand Forks Border Bruins, has blosoomed into a set-up man for Matt Garbosky.

Niddery leads the Kings in scoring including a team-best 41 assists. That puts him tied for fourth in the league with Trail’s Scott Jacklin.

Garbosky has been the benefactor of Niddery’s passes netting 30 goals, tied for second in the BCHL, in 42 games.

It’s a tough week for both teams.

Powell River played in Westside Tuesday and will play four games in five nights against the Interior’s top teams. That includes Vernon and Penticton ranked 18th and 15th respectively in Monday’s CJHL rankings.

Meanwhile, Trail faces a key divisional test on Saturday when Salmon Arm comes to town. Less than 24 hours later the Smokies host the Coquitlam Express in a Sunday matinee.