The Trail Smoke Eaters will look for their 20th win of the season this weekend when they hit the road for a three-game swing through the Lower Mainland.
The Smokies will have their toughest test of the season on Friday night when the take on the BCHL leading Coquitlam Express. The Express boast a 26-5-0-0 record and are perfect at home, going 17 games without a loss.
To make it even more of a challenge, the Smoke Eaters will be without top forwards Philippe Lapointe, Kent Johnson, and Owen Ozar and defenceman Powell Connor, who are at the World Jr. A Challenge (WJAC) with Team Canada West.
The Express will also be without forward Massimo Rizzo, who was also selected to Team West.
“They’re riding a 17 game home streak right now, so you’re almost playing with house money the first night,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “We’ve lost all our top players, but we’re a very motivated group and we’d love to be the first team to knock them off in their home rink.”
Despite the gaping holes in their line up, Trail made a Dec. 1 deal for talented forward Carson Briere and former Kelowna Rockets defenceman Kyle Pow, who will provide some relief when they join the team for the games this weekend.
“It’s good timing to have Briere and Pow in the line up,” said Tambellini. “When you lose four superstars out of your line up it’s always a big loss, but it will be a great chance for our depth and some of our 20-year-olds to step up and make an impact.”
The Smoke Eaters are also bolstered by the recent return of d-man Cody Schiavon and rookie forward Walker Erickson. It’s also fortunate for the Smoke Eaters that rookie goalie Logan Terness is back with the team after just missing the cut for Team Canada West.
“We haven’t lost too much on our defence, we still have eight ‘D’ for the weekend,” said Tambellini. “It will be a good test, but again learning how to win without being perfect in your line up is a great thing to learn how to do. We’ve done that all year, and if any group can make the most of this, I believe it’s ours.”
Trail has been good on the road this year, going 11-4-1-1, for the second best road record in the BCHL. They’ll follow their match against the Express with a return tilt against the 14-15-0-1-1 Langley Rivermen on Saturday and the 14-9-4-2 Chilliwack Chiefs on Sunday.
Trail skated to a 4-4 draw with Langley on home ice Nov. 22, and beat the Chiefs 3-1 on Nov. 23. Langley will be without their top forward Brendan Budy, and Chilliwack will miss defenceman Xavier Henry, who join the four Smoke Eaters at the WJAC in Dawson Creek.
Terness was brilliant in a 48-save performance in the 3-1 win against Chilliwack their last meeting, and his play this season has given the Smoke Eaters the stability they were looking for between the pipes.
“If somebody told me that a 16-year-old would be starting for us, and even be at the Canada West camp with the best players in western Canada, we would have all taken that any day,” said Tambellini. “It was a great experience for him. The players that made the team, especially the goaltenders, were all experienced older guys; Logan will have his time, he’s had a great year so far and I’m glad he got recognized.”
Trail faces off against the Express at 7 p.m. Saturday, at 7:15 p.m. in Langley Saturday, and at 2 p.m. in Chilliwack.
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