The Trail Smoke Eaters look for their seventh straight win tonight when they host the Prince George Spruce Kings at the Cominco Arena, and follow that up with a Sunday afternoon tilt against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
Although it’s only November, the 16-4-1-0 Smoke Eaters are on top of the BCHL standings and on a roll. The Smokies swept all three road matches against Island Division teams last weekend, with Levi Glasman earning Player of the Week honours; Trail also announced an NCAA commitment for Seth Barton, and are the highest ranked BCHL team, 15th, on the Canadian Junior Hockey League Top-20 national rankings.
“We’re happy where we are at but we also know we need to continually get better,” said Smoke Eaters coach and GM Cam Keith. “It’s a very tough division, and we’re still tied with Vernon.”
Despite winning eight of their last nine games and tied for first place overall in the BCHL, the Smokies don’t have the luxury to sit back and enjoy the view from the top of the Interior Division with a tough game against the Spruce Kings tonight, and then crucial matches against division rivals Salmon Arm, Penticton, Vernon, and Merritt on the immediate horizon.
“The realistic part of it now is being a win-some lose-some team isn’t satisfactory anymore. We have a special group this year, and we’re taking it as this is our year, and trying to win the BCHL.”
The 10-7-2-3 Spruce Kings are coming off two double-overtime victories over Mainland Division leaders Langley Rivermen, and will look to carry that momentum into Trail tonight.
“Prince George is a very good team, and I think they’re second in their division right now, and they have some very good players, and we’re catching them on their first game, which is also going to be a challenge.”
Prince George also added some talent and grit this week, acquiring high-end forward Blake Hayward from the Coquitlam Express in a trade for 20-year-old veteran and former WHLer Nicholas Holowko. Hayward twice played in the World Junior A Challenge and is a Union College commit, who netted 29 points last season in 51 BCHL games. Hayward will play his first game for P. G. tonight against the Smokies.
“Blake brings a great skill set to our team,” said Spruce Kings GM Mike Hawes. “He also plays with an edge which will be a nice addition to the group. He will be leaned heavily upon to help provide leadership on and off the ice.”
The Spruce Kings are led by Quinnipiac commit Ethan De Jong. The 18-year-old forward has eight goals and 23 points this season and is a skilled playmaker, particularly when lined up alongside veterans Kyle Jonson (9-9-18) and Ben Brar (8-12-20).
Evan DeBrouwer came over from Nanaimo earlier this year and has stabilized the crease for the Spruce Kings. Sporting a 7-6-3 record, DeBrouwer has had the hot hand of late, stopping 116 of 122 shots in his last four starts for a .951 save percentage.
Trail’s home games are key to their continued success, and wins this weekend will be timely as Interior-Division points are at a premium with Vernon facing off against Penticton in a home-and-home, West Kelowna at Wenatchee, and Merritt playing Salmon Arm.
“Every game now, we feel like we need to win because home ice is so important as we saw against Vernon last year,” said Keith. “It was really tough for us – you need to have home ice, and that’s our focus right now is to make sure we win these divisional match ups and get wins against our non-conference teams.”
Salmon Arm is going in the other direction. The ‘Backs are coming off a 5-2 loss to West Kelowna on Wednesday, and have lost six straight since a 3-1 victory against West Kelowna on Oct. 22. Trail beat Salmon Arm in their first two matches this season.
“Salmon Arm is a team that’s been improving, and I think they’re .500 now, where they started off very slow … they’re a much improved team, so it’s going to be two tough games, especially because we’re playing a little bit hurt right now.”
The Smokies road trip to the Island did prove costly, as Trail will be without injured forwards Blaine Caton, Ryan Murphy, and Braedon Tuck for tonight’s game. Goaltender Tanner Marshall is expected back in the line up, after sitting out two weeks with an upper body injury.
The puck-drop for the Smoke Eaters vs Spruce Kings game is at 7 p.m. tonight at the Cominco Arena, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday against the Silverbacks.