The Trail Smoke Eaters will be road warriors for the next couple weeks as they head north to Prince George to take on the Spruce Kings tonight in BCHL action.
Trail is 2-4-0-0 and has yet to score the first goal in any of its games this season, but have fought back in five of those matches and secured two victories, which included the thrilling 5-4 overtime win over Victoria Sunday at the BCHL Bauer Showcase.
“I hope it carries on into this week,” said Smoke Eater coach Cam Keith. “It’s a very important week, and we’re kind of road warriors from here on out for the month, it’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
The Smokies play a 1-5-0-1 Spruce Kings team that is much improved of late and is well rested, beating Merritt Centennials 7-2 on Thursday and losing a close 3-2 match to the Penticton Vees on Friday at the Showcase. Prince George looked like a very different team than the one that was outscored 8-29 in the first five games of the year. The team is led by Tanner Campbell who had four assists at the Showcase, Brett Mennear and Jamie Huber each had two goals and an assist, and Drew Lennon had three points against Merritt including his first BCHL goal.
For Trail, the line of Luke Santerno (3-5-8), Josh Laframboise (2-3-5), and Kale Howarth (4-3-7) combined for six points in the Victoria game. In addition, skilled forwards Andre Ghantous and Ross Armour teamed up for the Smokies’ third goal and were an impressive combination. Ghantous, a 17-year-old Glendale, Calif. native, has six assists for the Smokies and likely garnered some attention from the over 200 professional and college scouts at the Showcase.
The Showcase also offered the opportunity for the new Trail coach to get a read on opposing teams.
“I watched Prince George play and had a chance to watch Salmon Arm play twice, and Vernon as well. It’s going to be the same situation we’ve run into in the past here, it’s going to be a very strong division, but I don’t think we’re very far off those other groups. I think we’ll be very competitive this year and be able to push for a playoff spot.”
Following the tilt in PG, the Smokies return via Penticton for a game against the Vees on Saturday, then follow that up with a trip to Vancouver Island the following weekend. In between, the Smokies have one home game on Wednesday when they host Merritt.
“I’m a firm believer in getting those big road trips done early, especially because it kind of brings the group close together,” said Keith. “You play a lot of games in a row, you don’t really have time to think and over-analyze games, you just kind of play, and it’s either a make or break point in a way, they have to mesh together and you hope the team gels really well at that time and find a way to get through those games.”
It won’t get any tougher than the 5-1 Vees on Saturday. The Vees are led by rookie Ty Amonte (son of former NHLer Tony Amonte) with three goals and nine points and veterans Owen Sillinger (4-4-8), and Nic Jones (2-5-7), but the strength of the Vees lineup thus far has been its defence and goaltending. Penticton has allowed just 12 goals in six games, the best in the league thanks to 20-year-old Toronto native Mathew Robson who has four wins in five games and sports a 1.72 GAA, and a .938 save percentage.
Smokies captain Connor Brown-Maloski and defenceman Konsta Jaske suffered injuries against Powell River in Chilliwack and are game-time decisions.