The Trail Smoke Eaters hit the road for the Thanksgiving weekend with a tough three-games-in-three-days series against Island and Mainland division rivals.
The Smoke Eaters have been road warriors this season and are currently undefeated with a 5-0 record in away barns. However, they’ll be in for a rigorous test when they travel to Powell River to take on the 5-1-1-0 Kings on Friday, then follow that up with a trip to Vancouver Island where they’ll face the Bulldogs in Alberni Valley, and then back to the Lower Mainland for a tilt versus the Chilliwack Chiefs on Sunday.
“With Powell River then having to go back to Chilliwack on Sunday, it’s going to be a test,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Cam Keith.
The Smokies are led by the line of Ross Armour, Kale Howarth, and Levi Glasman, currently 1, 2, and 3 in league scoring. The trio have scored 19 of the Smokies 37 goals, and while Trail has received strong performances from veteran guys like Andre Ghantous, Blaine Caton, Spencer McLean, Braeden Tuck and Ryan Moon, in the long haul secondary scoring will be more of a necessity than a luxury.
“With this road trip coming up that’s going to be everyone’s focus, when you’re playing three-in-three it’s tough, we can’t rely on just a few guys to give us offensive production, we need everyone clicking,” said Keith. “They are still creating offensive chances. It’s when you’re not getting chances when you’re concerned about a kid.”
Smoke Eater rookie Glasman has benefitted from playing on a line with Howarth and Armour, yet, the Red Deer forward brings a skill set that complements the veteran forwards. His four assists in a 7-3 win over Chilliwack underscores his prolific playmaking abilities.
“He thinks the game at a high speed, and there’s a reason he’s playing on his off-wing on the top line, it’s because he’s right there with them,” said Keith. “He’s probably the more tenacious forechecker out of the three, he’s the kid who goes in there retrieves pucks and he’s really good down low.”
Goaltending also has been a bright spot for the Smoke Eaters, with 20-year-old Brandon Wells a calm, composed, and capable presence in the crease. Arguably the biggest surprise has been the play of rookie goaltender Tanner Marshall. The Smoke Eaters had committed to Okanagan Hockey Academy standout Brandon Peacock back in June, but when he chose the WHL route, Marshall, who played with the Kelowna Chiefs of the KIJHL last season, came in and earned the spot in camp.
Ironically, Peacock was released by the WHL’s Everett Silvertips and is now suiting up with the KIJHL’s Summerland Steam.
Marshall has been outstanding in his three starts, with a win over the Surrey Eagles and two wins against Salmon Arm that included a 51 save performance in his first BCHL game. The Kelowna native has posted a 3.00 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.
“When you bring a 17-year-old you’re not thinking that he’s going to win you games, you’re hoping that he’s competitive and can give relief to your starter,” said Keith. “Your main focus for your backup at 17 years old is you’re developing him for the future, but that’s not the case for Tanner Marshall. He is a ‘right-now’ goaltender and has clearly shown that he can make the big saves at the key times and when there is a pressure situation like both games in Salmon Arm, he shut them down.”
Trail beat Powell River 4-2 in the BCHL Showcase, but the Kings also handed the Vernon Vipers their only loss of the season. The Kings lead the Island Division and will likely prove the Smoke Eaters toughest test in the three road games. With top-10 scorers in Jonny Evans, 1-12-13, and Carter Turnbull, 5-6-11, and veteran goalie Mitch Adamyk posting a microscopic 1.46 goals-against average, and a .950 save percentage, Trail will need its big guns firing on all cylinders.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are testy at home, having earned all three of its wins at the Weyerhaeuser Arena in Port Alberni, and Chilliwack is desperate for a ‘W’ after four straight losses. The upcoming games are already venturing into must-win territory for the Smoke Eaters, if they want to remain in the race for top spot in the tough Interior Division.
“As you see in our division right now, just to keep pace, you have to keep winning games,” said Keith. “So we can’t be happy with the place we’re in. With the team we have right now, we do have those expectations right now where we do want to try to win the division so there is never a time when you can lay off the gas pedal, you have to get points on these hard road trips. We have to find a way each night to try to get points, and come out of the Island trip on the positive side.”
The Smokies next home game goes Oct. 13 against the Victoria Grizzlies.