It’s a bigger weekend than most for the Trail Smoke Eaters.
The Smoke Eaters parents will be in attendance for the weekend games and the players-parents banquet on Saturday, so there may be a little added pressure when the team hits Cominco ice against the Surrey Eagles on Friday and the Vernon Vipers, Sunday.
“We have to put together some wins here if we’re going to move up the standings,” said Trail coach and GM Cam Keith. “Hopefully two home games with the parents being here, and obviously two big match ups especially the one on Sunday with Vernon. We have to get over the hump with them.”
The Smoke Eaters lost to the Eagles 5-4 in overtime earlier this month in Surrey, but hope to turn the tables at home on Friday.
The Eagles were busy at the trade deadline signing Dryden Michaud from the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades, and Ty Schultz, a 20-year-old defenceman acquired from the Coquitlam Express for futures, with 186-games experience with the Medicine Hat Tigers.
But likely their most significant addition was that of 20-year-old goaltender Mario Cavaliere from the Georgetown Raiders of the Ontario Junior Hockey League in exchange for Dominic Dumas and futures. The Eagles also released goalie Nic Tallarico to make room for the veteran netminder.
Cavaliere stopped 48 shots in a 1-0 shut-out win over Nanaimo Clippers Saturday, and is 3-1 with a 2.04 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage since joining the team. With the Raiders, he appeared in 28 games, posting a 19-8-1 record and .932 save percentage.
“In Mario, we added a mature, experienced goaltender,” Surrey GM Blaine Neufeld said, calling it a “very large” acquisition. “He’s had tremendous success at the junior A level.”
“I’m extremely excited and satisfied with our roster. We went into the day looking to add a 20-year-old defenceman, 20-year-old goaltender, and quality forward. We did exactly that.”
Led by two of the top four scorers in the BCHL in Ty Westgard (12-45-57) and John Wesley (32-23-55), the Eagles are on a roll this month going 7-2 and are now tied with Prince George for top spot in the Mainland Division standings with 54 points.
Trail then faces the only team they’ve yet to beat in the Interior Division this season in the Vipers going 0-4 this season. Vernon is tied for the league lead with Penticton with 63 points, although the Vees have three games in hand. But Vernon has been slumping of late, losing to Coquitlam and Prince George last weekend, and winning just two of their last six.
“If we match up against them (the Vipers) in the playoffs, we have to prove that we can beat them here during the regular season,” said Keith. “Every team goes through a slide, so to speak, in their year. You want it to be timed that it’s not happening at the end of the year, so that’s kind of the mindset right now, you want to be trending up when we go into playoffs, no matter what position you are in the standings, you want to make sure you are playing your best hockey.”
Trail (26-14-4-1) currently sits in fourth place in the Interior, and despite a December slump, the Smokies are just six points out of first place, with a nine point cushion on fifth place West Kelowna Warriors and 13 games remaining.
“We’re in a great spot, and we’re very happy with what’s going on,” said Keith. “We just want to make sure we finish up strong here, be healthy, and have some positive momentum going into the first round, and get home ice.”
Trail faces off against Surrey at 7 p.m. tonight at the Cominco Arena and at 3 p.m. on Sunday versus the Vipers.