The Trail Smoke Eaters ended 2012 on a positive note with a 4-2 win over Merritt Centennials, and would like to kick off the New Year with the same result over the Surrey Eagles Friday.
After an extended holiday break, the Smoke Eaters hit the ice at the Cominco Arena against the Mainland division’s second-place Eagles in the midst of a tight playoff run.
In their only other meeting on the season, the Eagles nipped the Smokies 5-4 in overtime in Surrey Oct. 21.
Surrey is backstopped by last week’s BCHL Player of the Week, Michael Santaguida, and the Smokies will have to fire lots of rubber at the University of Vermont commit to be successful. The Eagles’ goalie leads the league with a 2.13 goals against average and a stunning .937 save percentage.
Surrey has won three games in a row thanks to back-to-back shut outs over Coquitlam, 2-0, and Chilliwack, 3-0, last week.
Bentley University commit Brady Shaw leads the team in scoring with 34 points while the back end is patrolled by skilled Quinnipiac commit Devon Toews and Craig Wyszomirski who earlier this week committed to play for Merrimack.
The Smokies currently sit in fifth spot in the Interior division with 33 points, one point behind Salmon Arm and three points ahead of Vernon. However, both Salmon Arm and Vernon hold three games in hand on Trail, as the Smokies iced the most games of all BCHL teams before Christmas.
“It’s a long season and we’re at game 37,” said assistant coach Brent Heaven. “We haven’t been healthy for almost two solid months, and being able to battle and do some of the things we’ve done over this period with the injuries, and not just injuries but injuries to some key players, you know it’s a testament to the group we have, that if we work hard and play within the systems we’ve established, we can play with anybody.”
The schedule has been rigorous and its toll on forwards like team leading scorer Brent Baltus, Jesse Knowler and Bryce Knapp, as well as defenceman Braedon Jones and Shane Poulsen, and goalie Adam Todd, has been significant.
With a lighter schedule upcoming for 2013, a healthy squad, and solid work ethic could translate into a playoff spot.
Looking ahead, coach Bill Birks New Year’s wish is to stay healthy, but for the Smokies’ to make the playoffs he also realizes a more consistent performance on the back end would definitely help.
“Our defensive play is good sometimes and really bad sometimes,” said Birks. “Consistency (is key), it’s like anything.”