With hundreds of scouts in the stands, the Trail Smoke Eaters players may have felt the extra pressure and gripped their sticks a little tighter as the Smokies dropped both matches at the Bauer BCHL Showcase in Chilliwack last week.
The Smokies averaged 4.5 goals per game leading up to the Showcase, but couldn’t find their scoring touch falling 2-1 in a tight-checking match against the Powell River Kings on Friday and 4-1 to Langley on Thursday at Prospera Centre in Chilliwack.
“We definitely didn’t like the results,” said Smoke Eaters coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “It’s a really different weekend. From a preparation standpoint, we play a 1 p.m. game, a 10 a.m. game, I think it’s one of the most difficult for players to play. There’s no fans in the building and they know there are 300 NHL and college scouts, so for young guys, it’s an interesting experience for them.”
The Interior Division struggled at this year’s event where hundreds of scouts from professional and college ranks gather to assess BCHL talent. Only the West Kelowna Warriors and the Salmon Arm Silverbacks went 2-0 at the Showcase, the other five Interior teams won just three of 10 games, and Trail was the only Interior team not to register a point, as Vernon lost both its games in overtime. Last season, the Interior took 20 of a possible 28 points and finished with a 9-3-2-0 record.
With the losses, Trail falls to third place in the division at 3-2-0-1, while Wenatchee and Merritt hold down top spot with eight points, and Penticton plunges into unfamiliar territory in seventh and last spot in the division with a 2-3-0-0 record.
“There’s no bad teams and there’s no great teams that are head and shoulders above the rest of the league,” said Tambellini. “So every game that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot so far, everyone’s tight, so maybe a team has a couple games that didn’t go their way, but everyone’s in a dog fight … and it’s going to come down to who does the details better in the middle of it. It’s going to be a grind for every team and I don’t think you’re going to see any teams run away with divisions.”
Against Powell River on Friday, Smokie rookie Kent Johnson continued to impress, scoring early in the opening period to give the Smoke Eaters the lead, yet Trail couldn’t answer to two second period goals from the Kings in the 2-1 loss.
Trail captain Braeden Tuck set up Johnson for a wrap around goal on Kings tender Mitch Adamyk at the 17:21 mark. It was Johnson’s second goal of the season and fifth straight game with a point, while Tuck has registered at least a point in every one of Trail’s six games this season.
“Our one line of Kent Johnson, Braeden Tuck and Levi Glasman played outstanding on the weekend,” said Tambellini. “Kent Johnson established himself as the best ‘02 (player) in the country and a potential NHL top pick, so for what the Showcase is meant to do, we had a couple guys really establish themselves.
“As a team, we definitely didn’t get the result we were looking for.”
Trail goalie Tanner Marshall got his first start of the season and turned aside all 10 shots he faced in the opening 20 minutes of action, including a couple of timely saves on the PK to keep the Smoke Eaters in the lead.
However, the Kings tied the match 61 seconds into the second period when Ryan Brushett took a pass from behind the Smokies net and beat Marshall five hole to even the score at 1-1.
Powell River took the lead for good at the 11:22 mark off of a bad bounce in the slot. Nathan Kelly’s shot from the left point bounced off of a body right to Liam Lytton, who fired the puck through Marshall’s legs for a 2-1 Powell River lead as the Kings outshot Trail 19-14 through two periods.
The third period saw the Smoke Eaters battle back and generate a few good looks but fail to capitalize as the Smoke Eaters fell in back-to-back games for the first time this season.
Marshall was sharp in net for the Smokies turning aside 24 of the 26 shots he faced, while Mitch Adamyk stopped 23 of the 24 shots for his fourth win.
“Marsh played great,” said Tambellini. “I knew he was chomping to get in the net, and he made some unbelievable saves. He kept us to two goals, and we needed everyone else to find a way to get more than one, so he definitely did his part.”
In a chippy battle on Thursday, goals from Jake Livingstone, Kalen Szeto, Ryan Helliwell, and Chase Pletzke lifted the Langley Rivermen to a 4-1 win over the Trail Smoke Eaters.
Trail’s Tuck scored on the power play early in the second period to tie it, but Szeto and Helliwell replied building a 3-1 lead through two periods before Pletzke’s third period goal iced it.
Langley outshot Trail 26-24, with the Smokies losing their first game in regulation this season, and the first game they didn’t score at least three goals.
The Smokies offence took a big hit early in the season with injuries to top forwards Hayden Rowan, Owen Ozar, and Spencer McLean. Ozar and McLean have yet to play a regulation season game, while Rowan, a Yale commit, scored three goals in three games before suffering an injury in a match against Salmon Arm. Their collective absences were felt acutely at the Showcase.
“That was our best line in training camp so to have them out for this long, after a while, you start seeing the loss in your line up, and that was the first time we really missed not having those guys. We felt a little bit thin.”
Tambellini says he hopes to have all three back within a month, with Rowan possibly returning this weekend.
“We definitely don’t want to be rushing guys in September and early October, in case that lingers for the rest of the year.”
Trail plays the Alberni Valley Bulldogs on Friday and Wenatchee Wild on Saturday at the Cominco Arena with the puck drop at 7 p.m.
With files from Trevor Miller, Trail Smoke Eaters: