A confident Trail Smoke Eaters team returns to the ice this weekend looking to continue their winning ways and pick up their first win on home ice.
Following two big victories on the road over Merritt and Prince George, the Smoke Eaters face off against the Cowichan Valley Capitals on Friday at the Cominco Arena and follow that up with a tilt against Interior division leaders the West Kelowna Warriors on Saturday.
“It will be huge,” said Smokies coach and GM Bill Birks. “The divisional opponents games are bigger, but every time we go out we have to have the mindset that we need some points. The boys got that (winning) taste again and hopefully we can roll with it for a while.”
The Smoke Eaters faced Cowichan in its second regular season match Sept. 8, winning handily 6-2, but since then the Capitals have been anything but slouches, suffering only one overtime loss to the Victoria Grizzlies in their four games since. The Caps sit one point behind Powell River for the top spot in the Island division, and are led by former Grizzly and RIT commit Myles Powell who has three goals and five assists in six games, Dane Gibson at 2-5-7 and Steen Cooper, 1-4-5, a Minnesota State commit.
The Capitals are also backstopped by a very capable 20-year-old Robin Gusse, a former goaltender for the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The Quebecois goaltender sports a 4-1 record with one shutout, a 1.78 GAA, and .948 save percentage.
And it won’t get any easier on Saturday against an unsurprising West Kelowna team, which after losing its first two games, reeled off five wins in a row and now leads the Interior division.
The Warriors also got a little better on the back end this week picking up 18-year-old defenceman Spencer Morse who played with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL last season. The Warriors have seven committed players and are led by forwards Ambrose Firkus, Jason Cotton, Carl Hesler, Seb Lloyd, and David Pope, and collectively come to Trail ranked 15th in the country in the CJHL weekly poll.
The Warriors are deep and if anything their Achilles heel may be in goal, but netminder Andy Desautels, who has started every game for WK, is coming off his best outing – a 4-2 win over Salmon Arm Saturday.
The Smokies, meanwhile, were good through-and-through last weekend, said Birks, particularly in goal where Adam Todd and Dustin Nikkel combined to stop 82 of 86 shots over the two wins. Different lines pitched in on each night with the trio of Braden Lamont, Tyson Witala, and Jake Kauppila stepping up and counting six points against Prince George, while it was a different line in on each of the three goals Friday with Adam Uflsax, Jesse Knowler, and Bryce Knapp scoring on Friday, not to mention defenceman Curtis Toneff enjoying a three-point weekend.
The Smoke Eaters will need similar performances against two tough opponents in Cowichan and Kelowna this weekend, and after three less than inspiring home games against Penticton and Merritt, it is definitely time, Birks says, to “turn our home woes around.”
Game time is 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday versus Cowichan and Merritt respectively at the Cominco Arena.