The Trail Smoke Eaters begin a difficult stretch with four games scheduled in the next six days including three at home this week.
The Smokies take on the Langley Rivermen tonight at the Cominco Arena, before facing their Interior division rivals Merritt Centennials Saturday, and Salmon Arm SilverBacks again on Tuesday. The Smokies then travel to Penticton for a game against the Vees Wednesday.
Langley sits atop the Mainland division with a 19-10-1-2 record and 41 points, a point ahead of Prince George.
The Rivermen recently added a familiar face to their line up, signing former Smoke Eater goalie Lyndon Stanwood on the weekend, after the 20-year-old was released from the Chilliwack Chiefs.
Stanwood had a 2-10 record with the Chiefs but a respectable .900 save percentage, and played one game for the Kamloops Storm of the KIJHL, a 4-0 shut out win on Friday before being signed by the Rivermen.
The Smokies forwards will also have to beat Castlegar native Tanner Johnson, 18, who patrols the blueline for the Rivermen. The six-foot-one defenceman has been solid on the back end and has contributed nine points in 30 games this season.
The Rivermen defeated the Smokies 4-3 in overtime in the first game of the season. However, Trail iced a very different line up with eight different starters on opening night.
The Smoke Eaters dealt Riley Corbin, Cody Bardock, Valik Chichkin, Bryce Knapp, Michael Roberts, and Curtis Toneff last month, and added Mitch and Rylan Ball, Brandon Volpe, Sheldon Brett, and Dylan Bowen.
While the team’s new players haven’t had much time to acclimatize, they will certainly get a taste of what the Interior division competition will be like this week.
The team has made a lot of changes over the last month with the hiring of new coach Nick Deschenes, but each one with a purpose.
“We have every player that wants to play for the Smoke Eaters here, and that is a common bond. . . and now we’re going to do our best to create that team environment that we need to have in order to be successful.”
On Saturday the Centennials visit the Cominco Arena. The Cents own a 3-1 series lead on the Smoke Eaters and with the likes of Sebastien Pare, Jeff Wight, and Scott Patterson leading the charge, Trail will have to find a way to neutralize the Cent’s top line.
It will also be Bowen’s first game against his former team, while former Smokies Shane Poulsen and Dane Birks will suit up for Merritt. Poulsen played in 72 games for the Smoke Eaters over two years collecting nine goals and 24 assists, while Birks was an AP for the team in 2011. The Cents are coming off a 4-1 loss to the Penticton Vees Wednesday, and are currently tied for third place with Salmon Arm, five points back of the Vees who lead the division with 40 points.
Game time Friday and Saturday is 7:30 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.