The Trail Smoke Eaters get a reprieve from the road for the next two weeks and will try to gain some ground in the standings as they host Interior division rivals in three of their next four matches at home.
The Smoke Eaters play the Nanaimo Clippers tonight, and battle the Salmon Arm SilverBacks in three of its next five games, in addition to a hosting the Vernon Vipers next Friday, in what must be considered crucial matches if the Smokies are to claw their way back into playoff contention.
Tonight, the return matchup spells the final game between the Clippers and Smokies on the season. Nanaimo is coming off a 3-2 victory over Penticton Vees Saturday, and will look to duplicate a 5-0 shutout of the Smokies in Nanaimo on Oct. 27.
Jayson Argue earned the shut-out over Trail with a 29-save performance and has carried much of the load for the Clips, with a 2.69 goals-against average and a sparkling .920 save percentage in 19 starts.
Rookie Sheldon Rempal is the hottest Clipper as he leads the team in scoring with eight goals and 15 assists in 23 games, including nine points in his last five matches.
Nanaimo holds down third spot in a tight Island division with a 12-9-0-1 record, trailing Victoria by one point and six back of the league-leading Powell River Kings.
The Smokies are coming off a pair of losses last weekend, a 5-2 loss to Prince George Friday, and, gave up a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 setback to Salmon Arm the next night. Trail will look for better results against the ‘Backs at the Cominco Arena this weekend.
“The response wasn’t there on Friday, but the group responded well on Saturday,” said Smokies coach Nick Deschenes.
The Gorillas are prolific up front and solid on the back end, particularly with University of New Hampshire commit and six-foot-five goaltender Adam Clark (2.93 GAA, .911 save percentage) between the pipes.
Salmon Arm currently sits just two points back of top spot in the Interior division, trailing both the Vees and West Kelowna, each with 29 points.
With three players in the top 20 in scoring, the surprising SilverBacks have the most potent offence in the BCHL with 83 goals. Led by league-leading scorer Landon Smith with 16 goals and 34 points, Alex Gillies 17-9-26, and Evan Anderson 12-12-24, the Smoke Eaters will have to be at their best defensively, and find a way to beat Clark if they are to be successful.
“They (Salmon Arm) have got a good team and I thought we played them well for the most part (Saturday),” added Deschenes. “There was just a couple let downs that again as we move forward, just identifying that every play has an impact on the game. Everything has a purpose and if we all execute and do our jobs we’ll have good results.”
It will also be the first game for the Smoke Eaters since sending defenceman Curtis Toneff to the Merritt Centennials for Dylan Bowen, and Brendon Lamont to the Penticton Vees. Look for the newly acquired Bowen to be in the Smokies lineup this weekend, while Centennials coach Luke Pierce is salivating over Toneff’s arrival.
“We felt that we needed to add a different element to our defense core and believe that Curtis is the right type of player for our group,” Pierce said on the Cent’s website. “He adds more experience and a certain level of physicality and grit. He has had a productive season so far offensively and can contribute when needed in that capacity.”
The Smokies have been suffering from illness and injury of late, so the time at home will hopefully revitalize an ailing team both on and off the ice.
Adam Todd and Tyson Witala remain sidelined with injury, and Valik Chichkin will miss tonight’s game due to a suspension.
The puck drops at the Cominco Arena at 7:30 p.m. versus the Clippers tonight, and the SilverBacks on Saturday.
Smoke Signals: The Smoke Eaters will also be undertaking the BCHL Five-Hole Food Challenge on Saturday, and invite fans to make a donation or bring a non-perishable food item to the Cominco Arena with all proceeds going to support the Salvation Army food bank.