The Trail Smoke Eaters could be looking at their first round playoff opponent when they host the Prince George Spruce Kings tonight at the Trail Memorial Centre.
The Smoke Eaters sit comfortably in second place in the Interior Division standings and would currently face either the Spruce Kings or the Victoria Cougars in the first round, given the BCHL’s cross-over effect.
While Merritt flounders, the Victoria Grizzlies (37-points), Spruce Kings (37-points), and West Kelowna Warriors (33-points), would slot into the Interior’s sixth, seventh and eighth seeds. With nine games remaining, wins over potential playoff opponents may set the stage for Trail’s post-season success.
“I think just having sustained success against the teams we match up against or potentially match up against is important,” said Trail head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “We talked about that in the games against Merritt and in Wenatchee, same thing, you never know if you face the teams in the first round or second round.”
The Smoke Eaters earned 3-of-4 points in Wenatchee on the weekend, which included a 4-3 win and a 2-1 shootout loss. Trail will close out its season series against Wenatchee at home on Friday, and will play five of seven February games against Interior teams, including two versus the surging West Kelowna Warriors.
“We like it that we’re playing teams on multiple occasions in a very short amount of time, so we’re getting that feel of playoff hockey, where you have to go against the same roster night in and night out and you have to adjust your game-plan on the fly.”
The defending BCHL champion Spruce Kings have struggled to a 16-26-2-3 record and are currently in fifth and last place in the Mainland Division, seven points behind Langley. However, the Spruce Kings are also coming off a 4-3 victory over the league-leading Coquitlam Express a week ago, and can’t be taken lightly.
Prince George is led by Providence College commit Nicholas Poisson who has 19 goals and 43 points in 42 games this season. Poisson, forward Finlay Williams (Michigan) and defenceman Nick Bochen (Quinnipiac) all tallied three points in a 6-5 loss to the Chilliwack Chiefs on Saturday.
P.G. also made moves at the trade deadline acquiring defenceman Jarin Sutton from the Grande Prairie Storm and forward Jackson Zloty from the Calgary Canucks of the AJHL for futures. The lumbermen also acquired forward Haydn Delorme from Coquitlam just prior to the Jan. 10 deadline.
Trail’s late additions of Matt Osadick, Carson Briere, and Kyle Pow have fit in nicely with the Smoke Eaters bolstering its line up offensively and defensively, as well as in the locker room.
“Each guy we brought in, we try to pay attention to character,” said Tambellini. “Each of them have found a way to seamlessly fit into our group, and that’s been a great part of the leadership of our team this year. They set a standard for how our team works and acts every day, and it’s on our new guys to fit in right away, and each guy has done a good job of that.”
The puck drop for the Smoke Eaters-Spruce Kings game goes at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Cominco Arena.