The number-2 ranked Junior A team in the nation visits the Cominco Arena tonight to take on the Trail Smoke Eaters.
The Penticton Vees roll into the Silver City currently on a five game winning streak after beating the Chilliwack Chiefs 3-2 Saturday. Having lost just four games all season, the Vees were ranked second in Canada this week according to the Canadian Junior Hockey League rankings.
“We haven’t seen them for a while,” said Cam Keith, Smokies coach and GM. “So it’s going to be one of those feeling out processes in the first period.”
The Vees beat the Smoke Eaters in their first meeting, 3-2, way back on Oct. 1 in Penticton, but 20 games later both teams have added different components and whether the Smoke Eaters can compete with the Vees upgrades will unfold tonight.
“When you’re playing against Pen you’re going to expect a lot of offence, a lot of transition, a lot of speed, and we’re going to have to try to slow them down, play below the dots and be more of a grinding game than a race track.” said Keith.
The Interior Division leading Vees continue to build their roster as the season progresses. The Vees signed Jamie Armstrong two weeks ago from the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers. The six-foot-two, 190 pound forward was ranked as high as 124th in the NHL Central Scouting’s 2016 Draft list and is a skilled and physical forward. The Vees also added former WHL forward Duncan Campbell to their roster at the end of last month. The 20-year-old veteran winger played in 148 games over three seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings including an appearance in the 2016 Memorial Cup.
“Anyone who has coached or played with Duncan immediately speaks of his great character and his strong work ethic; he’s the definition of a two-way player,” head coach and GM Fred Harbinson said on the Vees website. “Duncan brings championship experience which will be vital come the end of the year.”
The Vees also added six-foot-four centerman and Harvard commit Matt Gosiewski from the Minnesota Magicians of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) in mid-October, not to mention the league’s top goaltender in Mathew Robson, who the Vees signed at the beginning of the season after the Ontario native was deemed ineligible to fulfill his scholarship and play with the NCAA’s Clarkson University Golden Knights.
The six-foot-three, 20-year-old netminder has gone 18-4 this season with two shut outs, a 1.82 goals against average, and a .931 save percentage.
The Vees are led by veterans Nic Jones with 34 points and Chris Klack with 26, as well as rookies Grant Cruikshank (16-6-22), a University of Wisconsin commit, and Boston University commit Ty Amonte (8-13-21).
But Trail will have to be better offensively against a vaunted Vees defence that has allowed just 54 goals in 27 games this year. Trail has two wins in their past five games, allowing just 10 goals, but scoring even fewer – nine. It may be a tough task with two of the top three point-getters in Luke Santerno and Josh Laframboise questionable for tonight’s match.
However, Trail managed to beat Island Division leaders Victoria, 2-1, last week without Laframboise and Kale Howarth, and then won 3-1 over Chilliwack with Laframboise still out. The Smokies received big games from Connor Brown-Maloski and Ross Armour against the Chiefs Friday, and had the line of Spencer McLean, Andre Ghantous, and Blaine Caton step up against Merritt despite a 3-2 loss. The Smoke Eater defence has also stabilized with the addition of Jonas Gordon, and Trail’s goaltending has been good if not great most of the season, with Linden Marshall holding the third best save percentage in the league at .919, and Zach Dyment a very respectable .909.
“It’s another challenge for our guys, and they seem to respond when we play the better teams in the BCHL, so we’ll have that same mindset that we had against Chilliwack and Victoria,” added Keith. “We can play with these teams, we just need to play our style of game and protect our home ice.”
Trail faces off against the Vees at 7 p.m. tonight at the Cominco Arena.