With two wins in three games last week, the Trail Smoke Eaters new-year’s resurgence was noticed by the powers-that-be over at league office.
The BCHL announced Monday that Trail Smoke Eaters forward Erik Cooper is Player of the Week for the week ending Jan. 22.
Cooper netted two goals and an assist including a dramatic, double-overtime penalty shot winner on the road to defeat the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 5-4 Saturday.
“It was a little surprising,” said Cooper, who didn’t hear about the honour until late Monday night.
It’s the first PoW award for any Smokie this season while last year’s team received four PoWs – two to Cullen Bradshaw and one each to Keifer Smiley and Ryan Aynsley.
“We’ve had a good solid start (to the new year) and we’re really focused on playing 500 hockey,” added Cooper. “The guys have had a good couple weekends together and we’re looking to keep it going.”
With the exit of Smokie lead-scorer Clayton Chessa at the Jan. 10 trade deadline, offence became even more of a question mark.
“Offensively, I’ve always felt I’ve had an important role on the team but now that he’s gone, someone’s got to step up in scoring and (Tanner) Clarkson’s been doing really well lately, and (Connor) Tiechko, (Garrett) McMullen and I have been playing really well together and (Brent) Baltus has been stepping up too of late.”
The Anchorage, Alaska product helped the Smokies to a 2-1 record and totaled two goals and three assists for the week.
“He’s really stepped up and along with (Clayton) McEwan has really taken over the room,” said Birks. “He (Cooper) is starting to put some points on the board too and getting more offensive opportunities.”
With the exit of team leaders like Chessa, Logan Proulx, and defenceman Tanner Hicks, guys like Cooper and McEwen have filled that void.
“It’s something that has probably been key to our success in the second half, and since the other leaders left, it was up to us to take over the reigns,” said McEwen.
2012 has seen the Smokies improve in almost every facet of their game: wins, goals for and against, shots for and against, penalty killing and power play.
“We’ve played seven pretty good hockey games, a couple bad periods here and there but for the most part we’re playing real well,” added Birks.
The Smoke Eater will try to keep it going as they hit the road for a three-game swing to the Lower Mainland playing Surrey, Chilliwack and Langley this weekend.
The 20-year-old Cooper leads the team in scoring with 10 goals and 16 assists and attributes much of the teams better play to a rest, and continued hard work.
“We’ve always had a really tight locker room,” said Cooper. “I think going home for a break then coming back refreshed, we really set goals to play .500 hockey and its working so far.”
The Penticton Vees forward and former Smokie Travis St. Denis scored his 200th BCHL point on the weekend as the Vees won their 25th in a row with a 3-1 victory over the Prince George Spruce Kings. St. Denis counted 137 of those points in his three years with the Trail Smoke Eaters before requesting a trade late last season.
The Vees remained ranked the number one team in the nation with Powell River breaking into the top 20 in this week’s Canadian Hockey League poll.