Former Smoke Eater Andre Ghantous returns to the Cominco Arena on Friday with the Penticton Vees, as the Smokies begin a home-and-home series with Penticton this weekend. Jim Bailey photo.

Trail Smoke Eaters battle Penticton Vees in home-and-home

Former Smoke Eater Andre Ghantous returns to Trail as a member of the Penticton Vees on Friday

Former Trail Smoke Eaters forward Andre Ghantous makes his return to the Trail Memorial Centre for the first time since joining the Penticton Vees on Sept. 25.

The Vees face the Smoke Eaters for their second of six matches this season on Friday at the Cominco Arena, before travelling to Penticton on Saturday for the return tilt. The Vees won the first game in Penticton on Nov. 10, 4-3 in overtime, and Trail is looking to knock off the first-place team in the Interior Division with a solid effort this weekend.

“We know these are all big games, every one of these is important, and we have to find a way to get as many points out of each night as possible,” said Smoke Eaters coach and GM Jeff Tambellini.

The home-ice fans have been getting their money’s worth. The Smoke Eaters have won three of their last four at home, including a 2-1 OT win over Merritt last week, and earned a point in the overtime loss to Coquitlam Express back on Nov. 9.

Related read: Smoke Eaters defeat Cents, fall to Vipers

“It’s been good, four games in a row with points, three wins in a row, and we have an advantage playing in our building,” said Tambellini. “We have great support, we have great people in our building that care and support our team, and we want to make that building a hostile place for opposing teams.”

Following the Smoke Eaters run to the Interior Division final in April, Ghantous was sent to the Alberni Valley Bulldogs as part of the future considerations deal that brought Connor Welsh to Trail at the Jan. 10 deadline. Ghantous, a Glendale, Calif. native, was at his best in the playoffs scoring 14 points in 15 games, and was instrumental in defeating the Vees in Game 7 of the Interior Division semifinal.

The 20-year-old gifted playmaker has tallied four goals and 17 points in 23 games this season good for fifth in Vees scoring.

Related read: Smoke Eaters complete trades, lose Ghantous

After a slow start, the 18-7-1-2 Vees have climbed their way back into top spot in the Interior Division and enjoyed a five-game winning streak going into Wenatchee last night.

David Silye leads the Vees with 12 goals and 38 points in 26 games, while veteran defenceman James Miller has amassed 15 goals and 35 points this season.

Led by Miller, the Vees have been solid again defensively, allowing just 66 goals in 28 games, and boast the best goal differential in the league, 34. Penticton’s goaltending has also been stingy. With 13 wins and just five losses, Jack Lafontaine is carrying most of the workload in net and sports a 2.04 goals-against average, two shutouts, and a .920 save percentage

Following an injury to top d-man Connor Hutchison, the Vees took steps to bolster the back end by adding 19-year-old Carson Kosobud from the USHL’s Central Illinois Flying Aces for future considerations last week, and moving 18-year-old forward Matthew Byrne to the Powell River Kings in a separate deal. Hutchison was injured in the OT game against Trail, and the Vermont commit is out for the season.

On the Trail side, Hayden Rowan is expected to be in the line up on Friday after missing last weekend’s games with an injury suffered against Prince George Nov. 21. Trail also is hurting on the backend with Kyle Chernenkoff out for concussion protocol after taking a hit from Vernon’s Jesse Lansdell on Saturday.

Powell Connor’s original injury against Vernon on Nov. 14 is not as serious as first expected, but he will be out of the line up for at least three more weeks.

“We planned on losing him (Connor) for a good stretch of games, so it’s nice to know we’ll be getting him back sooner, he’s a massive part of our defence.”

The Smoke Eaters and Vees face off Friday at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.

Smoke Signals: Trail goalie Adam Marcoux received special consideration as BCHL Player of the Week. The Smokies netminder stopped 87 of 93 shots in three games for a .935 save percentage, was named second and third star, while earning the Fortis Energy Player of the Game in a 2-1 win over Merritt.

Former Smoke Eater Ryan Moon traded from Cowichan to Alberni Valley in exchange for Spencer Hora. Moon played 89 games over two seasons with the Smokies scoring 14 goals and 28 points, before being traded to Cowichan Valley.

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