The Trail Smoke Eaters return home Friday looking for a record-breaking win against the Nanaimo Clippers.
“It’s exciting to be part of Smoke Eaters history, to tie the franchise record of consecutive games won (8), that’s exciting,” said Trail coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “So happy for our guys, and happy to be a part of it.”
Trail is coming off a sweep of the Capitals (6-5, SO), Victoria Grizzlies (5-1) and Surrey Eagles (3-2, SO), and go for nine in a row versus the Shipmen.
Like the 8-5-1-0 Smoke Eaters, the Clippers are on a torrid pace winning seven in a row, including three on the road last weekend. Nanaimo is 9-3-0-1 and trail Cowichan Valley Capitals for top spot in the Island Division by just three points.
Trail has been an offensive force scoring 42 goals over that eight game span and averaging more than five goals per game, while Nanaimo has done it through defence, scoring 28 times in seven games, and allowing just 11 goals. The Smokies were pushed by Cowichan and Surrey this past weekend but ended up coming back and eking out two wins in a shootout.
“We’d like to win 7-2 every night, like at the Showcase, but that’s not always reality. We have to find a way to win games. Even though you shouldn’t, you find a way to come out with two points.”
Nanaimo is led by White Rock native Ethan Scardina, who earned Player of the Week honours earlier this month, and has eight goals and 17 points in 12 games, followed by Josh Bourne (7-6-13) and Kyler Kovich (6-4-10).
The Clippers are defensively solid, and led by six-foot-three blueliners Rob Drazner and Devon Mussio, who along with Trevor LeDonne, have contributed 27 points offensively.
The Clippers have allowed just 25 goals in 13 games, second best in the BCHL, and are backstopped by 19-year-old Jordan Naylor, who boasts a 5-1 record with a 1.48 GAA, and a .953 save percentage, second only to Penticton goalie Yaniv Perets.
“It’s going to be a great Friday night, the building is going to be full, so there will be a lot of people in the building, and just to have that emotion coming back home is going to be a great start. We’re going against another top team, so any time we get a chance to challenge ourselves against the teams we want to jump, it’s a great test for our group.”
Much of Trail’s production can be credited to special teams and a power play unit that’s been on fire. The Smokies power play went 5-for-15 on the weekend and their PK allowed just one goal on 10 chances. Trail now owns the BCHL’s second best power play unit scoring at a 23.8 per cent clip, while their PK has also moved up to sixth place with 83.3 per cent.
The Clippers, meanwhile, own the second best PK with a 91.8 per cent kill ratio.
“Everyone is feeling really good about our game, we’re having fun, we’re playing well, and it’s good we can get that start behind us and play our game,” said Smokies assistant captain Kent Johnson.
Johnson and Michael Colella have taken their game to another level, scoring 23 and 20 points, respectively, in the past eight games, while d-man Diarmad Dimurro has pitched in big time on the backend with 15 points.
“We just have to take it one game at a time, keep playing and help the team win,” said Johnson. “It was a tough start for me for sure, but now I feel really good, I have great chemistry with my linemate Mikey (Colella) there so that helps a lot and it’s nice the pucks are going in the net.”
Trail faces the 6-6-0-0 Vernon Vipers for the first time this season on Saturday. The Snakes are coming off three straight wins and added 20-year-old forward Dawson Holt from the WHL Regina Pats last week.
Trail hosts the Clippers Friday with the puck drop at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.