The Trail Smoke Eaters look to feast on the competition when they embark on a Vancouver Island road trip this Thanksgiving weekend.
Trail kicks off their three-game road swing against one of the top teams in the league in the surprising 9-4-0-0 Cowichan Valley Capitals on Friday. The Smokies then face off against another surprising team, albeit for its struggles in the early season, Island Division champion Victoria Grizzlies (4-7-0-0) on Saturday, before returning to the mainland for a Sunday tilt against former Smoke Eaters coach Cam Keith and the Surrey Eagles at 4-8-0-0.
Greater Trail’s appetite for Smoke Eaters hockey has been growing, since the last game played at the Trail Memorial Centre was a 6-2 victory over the Grizzlies way back on Sept. 22. Yet, their run on the road has been a successful one, as the Smoke Eaters have four wins and just one loss, and carry a five-game win streak into Duncan.
“It’s been really good for us to take it out of town and get to know each other as a group a little bit more,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “It’s the way the schedule is, but it’s good to have early, and it’s good for us to get away.”
The Capitals are out to one of their best starts in a decade. The Mike Vandekamp coached team split their games at the BCHL Showcase presented by Bauer in Chilliwack last week, falling 4-2 to the Langley Rivermen, then taking down Surrey by the same score. Caps’ leading goal scorer, forward Brady Lynn, netted a hat trick in the victory, while rookie goalie Zach Borgiel earned his ninth win and has posted a 2.20 goals against average and a .925 save percentage. Borgiel also earned two Player-of-the-Month honours in September.
Cowichan suffered their fourth loss of the season on Saturday in a 3-1 defeat to Alberni Valley, despite outshooting the Bulldogs 48-22. The Caps have dynamic forwards and a strong backend anchored by 20-year-old defenceman Tyrell Bucher, who has a goal and 13 points this season.
“We have a great test on Friday night,” said Tambellini. “We’ve knocked off five of the middle to bottom teams, and now we want to go and start chipping away at the teams at the top so we have a great test (against Cowichan). I think it will be a good test on the weekend where we have three games in almost two-and-a-half days.”
The Smoke Eaters offence was firing on all cylinders in a 7-4 victory over Prince George and a 7-1 drubbing of Merritt at the BCHL Showcase in Penticton last weekend with Mike Colella tallying eight points and Kent Johnson seven.
The defence has also been sound, bolstered by the recent addition of former WHLer Jameson Murray, and solid play from rookie goalie Logan Terness and veteran Donovan Buskey. The 17-year-old Terness has been especially impressive allowing just two goals on 65 shots in his last two starts. The Burnaby product has a 2-2 record with a 2.16 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage.
“Logan as a young goalie, you’re always looking to protect him and make sure you never throw him too much, but every time Logan’s gone in – I believe his numbers are sitting in the top-five of the BCHL right now, so he’s earned the ice time he’s getting and he’s going to get more if he keeps that up,” said Tambellini.
The Smoke Eaters dominated the Grizzlies in a 6-2 victory in their last home game, but the Grizzlies are coming off an inspired 7-2 victory over the Powell River Kings on Sunday, and will ultimately prove a different team on home ice.
Surrey jumped out of the gate with two straight victories but have been inconsistent winning just twice since then.
The three weekend matchups provide a good opportunity for the Smoke Eaters to climb the Interior Division standings, as they currently trail the third-place 5-3-1-1 Wenatchee Wild by one point and are five back of the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
“Now our team is functioning and playing at the high level that we want, and it would be good to go on a swing where we’re going to play a lot of hockey in a few days, and hopefully come back with a lot of momentum.”
Catch the games online on HockeyTV or listen on Mixlr. The broadcast gets going at 6:50 p.m. with coach’s comments.