The road has been very, very good to the Trail Smoke Eaters, and the team will look to keep that winning ride alive when they head to the coast this weekend.
So far this season, Trail is 9-2-1-1 away from home, the second best record in the BCHL. Despite a poor start at home, that success away from the Cominco Arena doesn’t surprise Trail head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini.
“When we built this team, this is what we expected,” said Tambellini. “We had very high standards with this group, just depth wise, and we’re pretty much where we thought we’d be at this point.”
The Trail Smoke Eaters embark on another epic road trip and face off against the Powell River Kings on Friday, Nanaimo Clippers Saturday, and Port Alberni Bulldogs in Campbell River on Sunday.
The three-games-in-three-days grind is a tough one, but offers 16-6-2-1 Trail an opportunity to catch and possibly surpass the Interior Division leading Penticton Vees and Salmon Arm Silverbacks both at 18-5-1-0. The ‘Backs beat Penticton on Wednesday, 4-3, and are tied for the division lead, two points ahead of Trail. The Vees face Salmon Arm again on Friday and Wenatchee Wild on Saturday, while the Silverbacks are back in action Sunday vs the Wild.
A little help from Wenatchee, combined with Smoke Eaters wins can propel Trail into the division lead. The Smoke Eaters have gone 16-1-1-1 in their last 19 games, and are on an eight-game point streak with wins over Penticton, Vernon, Wenatchee and Salmon Arm in the last two weeks.
“Once you get the group healthy,” said Tambellini. “Whether it was on the road or at home, we expect to win every night, and learn how to win in a lot of different ways. We’re starting to do what we expected from this group from day one.”
The return of captain Philippe Lapointe and defenceman Trevor Isaksson, as well as adding top defenders in Jameson Murray and Cody Schiavon, have given the Smoke Eaters even more depth and balance. Lapointe has 16 points in eight games since returning to the lineup Oct. 25, and the Smokies only one overtime loss in that stretch.
“We believe he (Lapointe) is the best player in the league when you talk about a guy that does everything,” said Tambellini. “He hits, he fights, he scores, he’s leading the league in points per game. He’s the best leader I’ve seen in junior hockey in the short time I’ve been here.”
The Smoke Eaters, offensively, have been the best team in the BCHL, leading the league in goals-for at 94. Kent Johnson sits atop the scoring race with 19 goals and 47 points, followed by Michael Colella, 13-24-37, and Owen Ozar in fifth place with 11-20-31.
Defensively, the Smoke Eaters addition of Jameson Murray and Cody Schiavon has been a huge game changer. But even more notable is the stellar play of Logan Terness. The rookie goalie has solidified the back end and with the addition of veteran goalie Matteo Paler-Chow from Powell River, the Trail tandem and defensive corps are among the best in the BCHL.
“We believe the defence is the core of our group,” said Tambellini. “Just what Logan’s been able to do the first half of the season plus just the depth we have on defence has given us so much margin of error every night, when you have a guy that makes the right save almost every time, it gets you through those spots in the game where you lose momentum, and we start winning games, that maybe you didn’t deserve to.”
Powell River skated to a big 2-0 win over Coquitlam Express on Sunday, but had a rough October winning just twice in 10 games, and falling to fourth place in the Island Division. Trail lost it’s Sept. 18 meeting with the Kings at home, 5-2, so will look for a measure of revenge.
Paler-Chow returns to his former home coming off a big 3-2 win in his debut with the Smoke Eaters against the Vernon Vipers on Saturday.
“The thing we like about Matteo, he is an experienced guy, has been in the league, he’s played in Trail, played against Trail, and he’s taken a team to the finals,” said Tambellini. “So when you have a guy that has that experience in our league it goes so far, he’s a guy that isn’t fazed by much.”
Meanwhile, the Island Division leading Clippers (16-6-6-1) are rolling, winning five straight games, and undefeated in November. Trail beat Nanaimo 4-1 at home on Oct. 18, but can expect a more confidant group at Frank Crane Arena where they’ve won 10 of 14 games.
Alberni Valley rescheduled its game with the Smoke Eaters after finding an ammonia leak at the Alberni Valley Multiplex last Tuesday. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, who have won nine of 11 games at home, the match will be played in Campbell River on Sunday at Rod Brind’Amour Arena at 2 p.m.
“We’ve had really good success on the road this year, and we have a group that prepares on the road, just like they do at home, so there’s not a big difference where we play,” said Tambellini. “That’s the sign of an experienced team. We play three good teams that all play well at home so we’ll get good tests each of those games, but looking to continue doing what we’ve been doing.”
Tune into the games on HockeyTV or Mixlr with Smoke Eaters play-by-play announcer Ben Phillips.
Smoke Eaters notes: Trail defenceman Cody Schiavon will be out of the Trail lineup for the next few weeks, after suffering an upper body injury.