Kent Johnson and The Trail Smoke Eaters return to action this weekend with a home-and-home vs the Merritt Centennials. Jim Bailey photo.

Trail Smoke Eaters look for strong start to 2020

Trail Smoke Eaters open 2020 with three straight games against Interior rival Merritt Centennials

The Trail Smoke Eaters are hoping for a celebratory start to the New Year as they return to the ice this weekend for a home-and-home against the Merritt Centennials.

Trail finished December on a winning note with a 4-3 win over the Cowichan Capitals Dec. 20 and a 4-1 victory over the Vipers in Vernon, Dec. 18.

The Smoke Eaters begin 2020 in second place in the Interior with a 23-13-2-1-1 record and trail the Penticton Vees by six points.

The 10-24-1-3 Centennials sit in sixth place in the Interior Division with 24 points. The Cents are led by Christian Buono with eight goals and 30 points, and will welcome back talented import forward Daniel Tkac, who laced them up for Slovakia at the World Junior Championships.

Merritt also sent their top goal scorer Josh Kagan to the Nanaimo Clippers on Dec. 6 in exchange for Toronto native Evan Benwell and future considerations. Benwell has two assists in 11 games this year.

Former Trail goalie Tanner Marshall man’s the Centennials crease but was bombarded by his former team in their previous two matches as Trail beat the Centennials 7-1 in their first meeting on Oct. 4 and 9-2 on Nov. 27.

Related read: Smoke Eaters complete comeback over the Cowichan Capitals

Related read: Jason Bay returns to Trail, baseball card signing at Smoke Eaters game

Trail plays their next three games versus the Cents, before playing a home-and-home to close out their season-series against the Penticton Vees on Jan. 10-11.

In other BCHL news over the holidays, a couple head coaches were unexpectedly relieved of their duties.

The Salmon Arm Silverbacks confirmed the firing of head coach Scott Atkinson on Monday, after removing him from their website earlier in the day. The Silverbacks endured a nine-game losing streak until a 7-4 win over the Smoke Eaters ended it on Dec. 15.

Assistant coach Tyler Shattock assumes the head coach position on an interim basis. Atkinson had a 72-69-8-2-1 record with the Silverbacks since being hired in June 2017.

The last place West Kelowna Warriors fired head coach Brandon West and appointed Simon Ferguson as head coach. Ferguson is the former coach of the BC Major Midget League leading Okanagan Rockets.

“We want to thank Brandon West for his efforts as our Coach and GM,” owners John Murphy and Rod Hume said in a statement. “He is a true professional and we wish him the very best in the future. This decision is about becoming a better hockey club now and in the future. We are charting a new course and building a new culture. Simon Ferguson has impressed us with his ability to lead, his hockey acumen, and his energy. We expect our players to respond well to his leadership and we look forward to supporting him in every way.”

The Warriors managed just seven wins in 37 games so far this season and look forward to better results in 2020.

In BCHL action this past weekend, the Salmon Arm Silverbacks and Vernon Vipers split a home-and-home with the ‘Backs winning 5-2 in the Snake Pit, and the Vipers beating the Silverbacks 4-2 in Salmon Arm. While Trail holds a six-point cushion on Salmon Arm and eight points on the Vipers, the Silverbacks have two games in hand and the Vipers three, so it will be close heading down the stretch.

In the Mainland Division, it took two shootout wins for the Coquitlam Express to sweep the Chilliwack Chiefs by scores of 5-4 and 3-2. Coquitlam remains the top team in the BCHL with 33 wins and 5 losses for 66 points.

Smokies Notes: – Trail forward Tyler Ghirardosi will be out four-to-six weeks with a lower body injury.

– BCHL leading scorer Kent Johnson was also given the nod for the BCHL’s prettiest goal of the year on twitter. The Smokie forward’s ‘Michigan’ – where he lifts the puck on the toe of his stick and wraps it in from behind the net – against the Cowichan Capitals on Dec. 20, earned the honour, while another end-to-end rush versus the Wenatchee Wild cracked the top-10. It’s the third ‘Michigan’ type goal scored by Johnson this season.

– Twitter also honoured Smoke Eaters goalie Logan Terness with Save of the Year (so far). Apparently down and out, Terness dove across the crease and robbed a Salmon Arm player with the blocker for the number-1 steal.

– On Saturday, former Major Leaguer Jason Bay will be at the Cominco Arena before the Smoke Eaters game to sign limited edition baseball cards for the first 500 fans.

The puck drop for the Smoke Eaters vs Centennials match goes at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Cominco Arena.

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