Trail Smoke Eaters face tough battle in Chilliwack Chiefs

The Trail Smoke Eaters will look to halt their current losing skid when they face one of the league’s top teams tonight.

The Trail Smoke Eaters will look to halt their current losing skid when they face one of the league’s top teams in the Chilliwack Chiefs tonight at the Cominco Arena.

“For us to be successful, we need everyone going,” said assistant coach Craig Clare. “This far into the season, you can’t use that as an excuse. We believe this team is capable of getting into the playoffs, and we have to get rid of this slide and move on to the next game.”

The Chiefs meanwhile have been red hot having won six of their last seven games, which included a 2-1 double overtime victory over Trail Jan. 9 in Chilliwack. Trail is 11-9 at home this season while the Chiefs are 9-6-2-1 on the road.

Trail’s tough stretch of six straight losses was compounded by injuries and the loss of defenceman Ryan Swanson.

Swanson left the team and returned home earlier this week due to personal reasons. His exit comes at a very bad time, with the Smokies missing Jake Kauppila, Ross Armour, and Kyle Star who are out with injury until at least next weekend.

Even more unfortunate, Swanson’s departure comes after the Jan. 10 CJHL trade deadline and the Jan. 15 USJHL deadline, so the Smokies cannot fill his card or make a trade even if they wanted to.

“We don’t have any more roster spots,” said coach Nick Deschenes. “The ruling is designed to prevent players from jumping around to teams at this point. So basically we’re down to six ‘D’.”

Swanson has played two years for the Smoke Eaters but as a 20-year-old player, he didn’t quite meet expectations, with three goals and 15 assists and 55 PIM in 44 matches this season.

In any case, the Smoke Eaters have to treat it like losing a player to injury as they get set to host Chilliwack and Vernon this week.

“When it’s all done we can look back and micro-analyze everything,” said Deschenes. “But because of what’s at stake, we have to move forward … Whenever you have injuries, you can have a tendency to let up, but we have to really attack, and take advantage. We’re at home, and we play well at home, we’re comfortable here, and we should be able to get some wins here down the stretch.”

Trail’s playoff fortunes depend on their results the next five weeks. With 14 games remaining, Trail plays 13 against Interior division rivals including a must-win match against Vernon on Saturday. The Smokies trail the Vipers by two points.

Puck drop goes tonight at 7:30 p.m..