Saturday, November 12, 2011

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Vipers

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Vernon Vipers
When: Nov. 12, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

After a pair of consecutive lop-sided defeats, the road doesn't get any easier for the Smoke Eaters as they host Vernon for the third (and final) time this season.

After a shaky first period against the Vees last night, Trail ramped up their game thanks to a string of power-plays that saw the team generate some offense, and more importantly confidence. The Smokies' man advantage has improved to the point that it now sits in the top half of the BCHL standings (8th) with an efficiency rating of 20.59%.

It's quite obvious, though, the Smoke Eaters need the kind of start tonight that propelled them to an early 2-0 lead on Sunday in Westside. When put behind the 8-ball, the Cominco Arena can be a difficult place to play for visiting squads with the square corners, lively end boards and odd stanchion bounces. It's up to the home team to assert themselves right out of the gate (which I thought Trail did last night until the string of three quick goals midway through the first) and make their home sheet an imposing place to play.

As always, the Viper DieHardFan blog has a comprehensive statistical breakdown ahead of tonight's game. To soothe your mathematical yearnings click here.

Last Meeting: These two clubs last met last Friday at Cominco, Vernon rode the strength of three first-period goals (and a dynamite performance I might add from the line of Michael Zalewski, John Knisley and Darren Nowick) to a 4-2 victory. The Vipers lead the season series 2-0 with all four subsequent meetings after tonight to be held at the Wesbild Centre.

Our Opponent: Despite WJAC absences (see below), the Vipers remain within striking distance of the division leaders from Penticton. Vernon, though, has gone only 5-5 in their past ten games after roaring out of the gate with 7 straight wins. Zalewski, one of eight college commits on the Vipers, leads the charge offensively with 23 points, while Castlegar's Ryan Renz is the top scoring d-man thus far with 8 assists. The Vipers D are good puck movers, and very physical (a thundering check by Renz on Adam Fares the exclamation point on last Friday's victory). Former Quesnel standout Kirby Halcrow has played the bulk of the minutes between the pipes for Vernon, both he and rookie Danny Todosychuk have recorded one victory against the Smoke Eaters this season. Vernon has been idle since a 2-1 victory at home against the Westside Warriors after splitting weekend games against Trail and Chilliwack.

In the Press Box: Four regulars are out injured for Trail, with forward Kyle Horsman being the closest to return (about 10 days away). Josh Roberts, Fares and Brandon Egli are out with various afflictions. Vernon is missing the same three players from last week due to the World Junior "A" Challenge: Castlegar's Aaron Hadley, along with defensemen Luke Juha and Brett Corkey are all unavailable, while fellow d-man Patrick McGillis has been sidelined with an injury.

Broadcast Info: Join me for the call on the pay-per-view/free audio end beginning at 7:30. Vipers voice Todd Miller has all the action from a Vernon perspective on 107.5 KISS-FM.

Local Hockey Tonight: All four local KIJHL teams are in action tonight, beginning with a matchup between Nelson and Grand Forks in the Queen City (7:00, NDCC Arena). The Leafs are returning home after collecting only one win in six consecutive away games, while the Bruins have yet to win this season. Castlegar and Beaver Valley switch places on the road, the Rebels visit the Penticton Lakers while the Nitehawks are in Princeton. BV defeated the Lakers last night while the Rebels were victorious against the Posse. The major midget Kootenay Ice face a tough test in Burnaby this weekend as they play a two-game set with the Vancouver NW Giants beginning tonight. Selkirk College will gun for a third straight victory in BC College play, they host Trinity Western University tonight (7:30, Castlegar Complex), and tomorrow afternoon.

Better Late Than Never: I mentioned this in the broadcast but neglected to acknowledge it here in the post-game write-up, but former Smokies and players with West Kootenay connections were all over the BCHL scoreboard last night. Defenseman Rajan Sidhu made his first Coquitlam Express goal a game-winner against former teammate Matt Larose and the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. Trail's Steve Koshey had a three-point night (1-2) in an 8-5 Surrey Eagles win against Victoria. Another former Smokie, Darnell Dyck, had a goal in his Langley Rivermen's 5-3 loss at Chilliwack, but new teammate Patrick Martens, late of the Nelson Leafs, had two assists in his debut.

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