The Trail Smoke Eaters are well-rested after 10 days off, yet, they are also primed and eager to start Round 2 against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in the BCHL playoffs on Friday at the Trail Memorial Centre.
Trail and Salmon Arm swept their opening round series’ against the Prince George Spruce Kings and Victoria Grizzlies, respectively, and have been action-starved and idle since March 3.
“Our goal was to sweep the first series, and scheduled the first four games in five days in hopes of getting a long break off to reset from the regular season, and our guys took care of it,” said Trail head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “We’re happy with the series, and to walk away only giving up three goals even strength, it was a good four games for us.”
The Silverbacks finished the season with a 30-23-4-1 record, and won the season series against the 36-17-2-2-1 Smoke Eaters, 4-2. Despite, their winning record against Trail, Salmon Arm struggled through an up-and-down season. The ‘Backs jumped out to a great start, but then went on a mid-season slide where they lost 10 straight games, and fired their head coach, before ending their futility streak with a 7-4 win over Trail in Salmon Arm on Dec. 15.
The Smoke Eaters, however, won their most recent match handily, a 5-1 victory on Feb. 21 at home.
“They (Salmon Arm) are a really different team (from Prince George), it’s a really Jekyll and Hyde team,” said Tambellini. “We’re not sure what version of them we’re going to see, but it’s an older team, they have some power forwards, a heavy group. We’re prepared for whatever the series turns out to be, and we have them pre-scouted, but until we see what it looks like on Friday night, we really don’t know what kind of series it’s going to be.”
Like Trail, Salmon Arm played tight defensive hockey outscoring their opponent 12-5 in four games, with a 4-0 shutout. Trail outgunned P.G. by a combined 11-3 score through four games, which also included a 4-0 shutout.
Silverbacks received stellar goaltending from Ethan Langenegger, who stopped 110 of 115 shots, for a .957 save percentage and a 1.25 GAA. Smokies goalie, Logan Terness, was even sharper, stopping 97 of 100 shots for a .970 save percentage and a 0.73 GAA.
The usual high-scoring Trail offence was somewhat neutralized by a Prince George team that exectued a trap-style defence and relied on good goaltending throughout the series.
Kent Johnson, 1G 6A, led the way for Trail with Philippe Lapointe tallying three goals and five points, and Owen Ozar with two game-winners and four points. The 11 goals in four games is a modest offensive output for the third highest-scoring team in the BCHL, a team that averaged almost four-goals-per-game during the regular season. However, it does not worry the Trail coach, who was more impressed with the team’s defensive response.
“I’d be much more worried if we were winning games 7-5 and 7-6,” said Tambellini. “In playoff hockey, if you can defend you have a chance to win, playing shoot-out hockey at this time of year is a recipe for disaster.
“We played the series we were given, and we like the way we came out of it.”
Salmon Arm was led by veteran defencemen Jeremy Gervais, 5 pts, and Akito Hirose, 3 pts, while recent addition Luke Mylymok weighed in with four goals and five points, and rookie Drew Bennett kicked in with four points.
Despite the first-round sweeps, the next series is a whole new season, and the Smoke Eaters and Silverbacks are more than ready to get Round 2 started on Friday at the Cominco Arena – and so are the fans.
“I think it’s hard to look at the first round as a real indicator of what we’re going to see,” added Tambellini. “Both teams from our conference finished extremely low in the standings, and with no real rivalry. Both teams took care of them real quick, but it’s not going to play a big influence on the way we’re going to prepare for Salmon Arm.”
The Smoke Eaters host Games 1 and 2 of the series on Friday and Saturday night at the Trail Memorial Centre, with the face off at 7 p.m.