The Trail Smoke Eaters won’t have much time for turkey as they gear up to play four games in six days in BCHL action this Thanksgiving Day long week.
The Smokies open the grueling holiday weekend with a home-and-home starting in Salmon Arm against the SilverBacks tonight, and returning to the Cominco Arena on Friday.
The Smokies then face-off against the Powell River Kings Sunday and travel to Vernon to play the Interior division rival the Vipers Tuesday.
“It’s huge but last weekend was huge,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Bill Birks. “We didn’t have a very good showing Saturday night for sure . . . It’s a huge weekend they all are, every game is, it’s playoff mode right now.”
The Smoke Eaters are coming off a tough 6-1 loss to Merritt in which they managed just 17 shots on net, while Salmon Arm lost to the Vipers 3-2 Saturday after taking down Penticton Vees 5-2 on Friday.
The SilverBacks and Vipers are tied for fourth spot and currently one point ahead of Trail in the tightly contested Interior division, with the league-leading West Kelowna Warriors with 17 points followed by Penticton, 14, and Merritt, 12.
The three inter-divisional games against Salmon Arm and Vernon could spell a turning point for the season, and the unpredictable Smoke Eaters will have to do better than they did against the Cents if they want to stay in contention.
“We had trouble doing anything on Saturday, it wasn’t just that it was our own end, our breakouts, our passes – we had trouble doing everything.”
The team has shown promise offensively, and received better-than-average to sensational goaltending at times, but defensively as a team it has struggled, allowing more than twice as many goals, 43, than Penticton, 19.
“Our back end is not very good right now, but it’s not just them, it’s our forwards in the D-zone as well,” said Birks. “I know we’ve been working on it, but it seems the more we work on it the worse we get so we’ve been doing it again all week, and hopefully we can get something going here.”
Trail has three former SilverBacks in its lineup in Travis Stephens, Braden Pears and Dustin Nikkel, while Salmon Arm counters with former Beaver Valley Nitehawk Connor Browne Maloski.
Alex Gillies, a Michigan Tech commit, leads the Gorillas with 17 points and is second in the league in scoring while Landon Smith has counted 15 and sits in fourth spot in the BCHL scoring race.
The Smokies will have to find a way to generate offence, as they face a very solid goaltending tandem in returning netminder and University of New Hampshire commit, Adam Clark, and 18-year-old Angus Redmond, a Michigan Tech commit.
Despite a day off Saturday, it won’t get any easier on Sunday for the Smoke Eaters as they take on the fourth-ranked team in the nation, as the Powell River Kings come to the Cominco Arena with just one loss.
The Kings have been mighty in their own end, allowing just two goals a game, and are currently on a six game winning streak, that includes a come-from-behind 4-3 overtime win against West Kelowna Friday.
“We got Salmon Arm back-to-back, then Powell River who is arguably the best team in the league right now, and Vernon on Tuesday,” said Birks. “I said it before, I’ll say it again there are no easy games in this league, and on any given night, any team can beat any team.”