Sunday, January 29, 2012

Rivermen 5 Smoke Eaters 4

Evan Campbell's power-play goal proved the winner for Langley in a 5-4 matinee at the Langley Events Centre.

The Rivermen forward tapped home a third rebound past Lyndon Stanwood 11:16 into the third period on Langley's only power-play of the game.

The Rivermen opened things early, as Austin Plevy backhanded home on a breakaway less than 90 seconds in.

But Trail answered back on a 5-on-3 when Garrett McMullen tipped home an Erik Cooper point shot, then Brent Baltus gave the Smokies a 2-1 lead as he roofed a rebound with just 4 seconds left in the opening frame.

Cooper made it 3-1 in the first minute of the second, but Langley fought back over the remainder of the middle frame, culminating in goals 39 seconds apart.

Trail pressed after Campbell's power-play marker, as Luke Bertolucci jammed home a rebound in the dying minutes. The Smokies, though, were unable to equalise and dropped their second one-goal game in as many days.

Up Next: Trail plays 6 of the next 7 at home, beginning with a Thursday night affair Feb. 2 against Alberni Valley.

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.

Smokies/Rivermen Lineups

Here are the line combinations for this afternoon's game between Trail and Langley.

Smoke Eaters:
12 - McMullen, 16 - Tiechko, 21 - Cooper
14 - McDougall, 25 - Clarkson, 23 - Long
9 - Baltus, 11 - Bertolucci, 18 - House
17 - Horsman, 22 - Wheeldon

6 - Coish, 5 - Johnson
8 - Egli, 7 - Keca
2 - Coulter (AP), 3 - McEwan

33 - Stanwood
35 - D'Andrea

18 - Puskarich, 21 - Campbell, 20 - Greiner
12 - Sutliffe, 17 - Tebbutt, 10 - Dyck
27 - McMullen, 14 - Plevy, 8 - Tracy
15 - Vlanich, 9 - Pare, 26 - Playfair

3 - Nitsche, 2 - Bell
11 - Gushue, 16 - Bakken
24 - Chichkin, 22 - Pellah

30 - Barr
35 - Kruger

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Rivermen

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Langley Rivermen
When: Jan. 29, 2:00 PM
Where: Langley Events Centre, Langley

A busy weekend, and the January schedule both draw to a close this afternoon in Langley as the Smokies and Rivermen meet for the only time this season. Trail will get right back to work after Saturday's setback in Chilliwack, while the Rivermen are fresh off an offensive explosion last night at home to the Victoria Grizzlies.

And despite the Smokies falling 4-3 to the Chiefs last night, this team need not hang their heads. The 2012 version of Trail's BCHL entry has been competitive every night, and a win this afternoon would give the Smoke Eaters a 5-4-0-1 record for the month of January after a December that yielded no points.

Erik Cooper and Connor Tiechko have each scored five points this weekend already, as Trail's top line enjoys continued synergy. Cooper, the reigning BCHL player of the week put up four points (2-2) in his return to Surrey Friday while Tiechko had a pair of assists in his hometown of Chilliwack last night.

Our Opponent: The Rivermen scored early and often in last night's 13-2 home win over Victoria, with Derek Sutliffe putting up seven points alone and both Mike Tebbutt and former Smokie Darnell Dyck chipping in with five each. The Rivermen moved into sole possession of seventh place in the Coastal conference with the win and Alberni Valley's 5-4 loss in Powell River Saturday. It's been a re-building year for the re-vamped Langley squad with plenty of promise for next winter, including the likes of 16 year-old d-man Bo Pellah, and 31-point man Austin Plevy. With only three 20 year-olds on Langley's roster, the message is clear, that the future is now.

In the Press Box: As was the case for both Friday and Saturday's games, the Smokies will be without both Shane Poulsen and Adam Fares, with AP defenseman Adrian Coulter drawing in for a third consecutive game. Langley's only listed injury is to forward Scott Moyer.

Broadcast Info: Join me for all the action on Smokies Ustream beginning at 1:55. Brandon Astle has the pay-per-view here.

Local Hockey Today: Only one local KIJHL team is on the ice Sunday, as Beaver Valley visits Kimberley (2:00 MT, Kimberley Civic Centre). Each of the top five scorers in the league play for either the Nitehawks or the 'Nitros. The major midget Kootenay Ice wrap up a two-game set against the South Island Thunderbirds this morning too (10:00 am, NDCC Arena).

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Chiefs 4 Smoke Eaters 3

Shay Laurent's slapper from the left-wing circle 13 minutes into the third period sent nearly 2,600 Chilliwack fans home happy in a 4-3 Chiefs win over the Smokies at Prospera Centre.

Laurent's goal, only his second of the season, completed a four-goal comeback for the Chiefs, who fell behind 3-0 midway through the second period after two quick goals by Trail.

The Smokies opened the scoring twelve minutes in on a power-play when a Marley Keca point shot rebounded to Brent Baltus: the Nanaimo product lifted home a backhander for his seventh goal of the season as Trail led 1-0 after twenty minutes.

The Smokies added two more in a 49 second span in period two, the first a Garrett McMullen wrister that struck the back bar from the right side, the second an Erik Cooper effort from the low slot.

But a penalty shot awarded to Chilliwack's David Bondra changed the tide of the game, after he was adjudged to have been hauled down by a Smoke Eaters defender on a partial breakaway.

Bondra outwaited Smokies goaltender Lyndon Stanwood and backhanded in a goal on the penalty shot, and Chilliwack added a second when David Thompson snuck in from the point and wired home a wrister.

The Chiefs equalized just shy of the eight minute mark of the third, when tonight's first star Malcolm Gould snapped home a hot wrist shot from the top of the slot.

Laurent's winner gave the home side their first (and only) lead of the game just over four minutes later, and despite a late power-play Trail were unable to find a tying goal of their own over the final eight minutes of the third.

Despite the loss, another strong effort tonight from the Smoke Eaters. Tanner Clarkson, though held off the scoresheet, continued to show promise and created several scoring chances. His line with Riley McDougall and Brandon Long impressed, while McMullen, Connor Tiechko and Cooper enjoyed another strong game.

Gould was the most dangerous Chief on the ice, and a deserving first star, especially in the absence of leading scorer Derek Huisman, who served the second of a two-game suspension.

Up Next: The Smokies head a few blocks down the street from the team hotel here in Langley to face the Rivermen tomorrow (Sunday) at 2:00. Join me for all the action with my broadcast beginning at 1:55.

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Chiefs

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Chilliwack Chiefs
When: Jan. 28, 7:00 PM
Where: Prospera Centre, Chilliwack

An hour or so away from puck drop here at Prospera Centre, so a brief discussion on what's at hand.

The Smokies are in search of victory number three in a row, but will try for their first against a Chiefs club coming off a 4-1 win here last night against Merritt. Erik Cooper was a man possessed in last night's 5-4 overtime win at Surrey, putting up two goals and two assists for his second consecutive multi-point game.

The Fred Page Cup is on display tonight at Prospera, which should help provide a special atmosphere as the Smokies and Chiefs meet for the first of two meetings over the next seven days.

Last Meeting: Chilliwack took home a 5-2 decision in Trail on January 15th and have won all five meetings this season (the Smokies having collected an overtime point in their first visit here on October 28th).

Our Opponent: The Chiefs continue to battle alongside Prince George and Vernon in the Interior Conference's 3-4-5 spots, and have split their last two games entering tonight's affair. With two of the next three Chiefs games coming against Penticton, tonight's game is all the more important (to boot, Prince George hosts Vernon tonight as well). Leading scorer Derek Huisman will serve the second of his two-game suspension incurred earlier this week, while Trevor Hills returns from a one-game ban. Mitch Gillam will start in goal tonight while three AP players will also make the lineup.

In the Press Box: Trail's Shane Poulsen remains out while Adam Fares did not make the trip, the Smokies will dress AP defenseman Adrian Coulter (KIJHL Princeton) again this evening. For Chilliwack, Huisman, Jeremy Gossard and Mathieu Tibbet will miss out, with APs Matt Revel, Austin Edwards and Mitch Skapski drawing in.

Broadcast Info: Join me on Ustream for all the action beginning at 6:55, while Marc Fitzgerald has your pay-per-view call.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Smoke Eaters 5 Eagles 4 (OT)

Brandon Long scored in the final minute of the first overtime period to give the Smokies a hard-earned 5-4 victory in Surrey tonight.

The Calgarian took a centring pass from Erik Cooper and floated a backhand past Eagles goalie Andrew Hunt to give Trail their third win in four games.

It was a wild one, to say the least. Surrey jumped out to a 3-1 first period lead on a hat-trick from 16 year-old Demico Hannoun, with Trail's only opening-period tally coming from one of three former Eagles on the Smokies roster, Connor Tiechko.

It was another former Surrey player, Cooper, who took over in the second. The Alaskan scored two middle-frame goals to lift the Smokies into a 3-3 tie after 40 minutes.

Tiechko snapped home his second of the night early in the third before a late equalizer from Alex Hagen, who found himself alone in the slot after Robert Lindores created a turnover at the Trail line.

Surrey were not without chances to win. A Brandon Morley shot sailed over the net in overtime, and Brandon Tanev struck iron too.

Lyndon Stanwood made 24 saves to collect his 6th victory as a Smokie, while Hunt was tagged with the loss.

Needless to say, another gutsy win by the Smokies, the second straight in which they've trailed by two goals in the second period. Cooper, with four points against his former club, was nothing short of fantastic, and a well-deserving second star.

Up Next: Trail visits the Chilliwack Chiefs on a night when the Fred Page Cup will be on display at Prospera Centre. Faceoff is at 7, join me on Smokies Ustream for all the action beginning at 6:50.

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Eagles

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Surrey Eagles
When: Jan. 27, 7:00 PM
Where: South Surrey Arena, Surrey

A rare matchup tonight in Surrey as the Smokies close out January with a three-game coastal swing. Trail loaded the bus at just before 7:00 this morning and are en route to the South Surrey Arena as I write this.

The Smokies should be feeling pretty chipper about things of late; the team has posted a 3-3-0-1 record through the month of January, proving that "Mission 500" is well within reach.

It's also a return to Surrey for a pair of Smoke Eaters. Hometown boy Tim Coish played with the Eagles last season, while overage forward, and reigning BCHL Player of the Week Erik Cooper spent parts of two seasons with the Eagles before being part of the deal that sent Trail's Steve Koshey to the coast. Speaking of Koshey, it's his one and only shot at his hometown team during his 20 year-old season, no doubt the Eagles' third-leading scorer will be raring to go this evening.

I spoke with Cooper on Wednesday about the matchup and his weekly honour, listen to that interview here.

Last Meeting: Way back on December 3rd, 2010. The Smokies stormed out to a 3-0 first-period lead at home only to have Richard Vanderhoek and Dale Hunt score two goals each in a 4-3 Eagles win. Trail's record against the Coastal Conference this season stands at 1-3-0-2.

Our Opponent: The Eagles are soaring in the Coastal standings and with a win tonight could climb into a first-place tie with Powell River (who are idle tonight). Only Penticton has fewer regulation-time losses this season than Surrey, who boast the third-best home record in the BCHL. Alaska-Fairbanks commit Tyler Morley leads the way offensively for Surrey (20-24-44), while former Smokie Koshey leads all d-men with 28 points. The Eagles have 7 committed players on their roster including Alex Hagen, who has performed well against Trail this year during his time with the Vernon Vipers. Andrew Hunt has gotten the lion's share of work in goal, boasting a 2.67 GAA that stands fifth in the BCHL. Only Powell River (13) has scored more short-handed goals than the Eagles, who have 12 (led by T. Morley with 4).

Broadcast Info: Join me for the away audio feed beginning at 6:55, click here to listen. Eagles play-caller Colin Tiggelaar has your pay-per-view feed tonight beginning at 7:00 here.

Local Hockey Tonight: All four local KIJHL teams are in action tonight with two on home ice. The Castlegar Rebels begin a home-and-home set in Nelson against the Leafs (7:00, NDCC), while further south Spokane hosts Beaver Valley (8:00, Eagles Ice-A-Rena). Grand Forks, fresh off a 6-2 setback to the Braves last night, host the Kelowna Chiefs (7:30, GF Arena).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Weekend Audio

Some tape from this past weekend's action for your listening pleasure.

I chatted with Smokies head coach Bill Birks following the split against Vernon and Salmon Arm, hear his thoughts here.

I also talked to a pair of Nitehawks after the 7-3 win in Castlegar Sunday evening:

For forward Justin Niminiken, click here.

For defenseman Derek Lashuk, click here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cooper Named BCHL Player of the Week

Cooper in action against Coquitlam earlier this month (Randy Emery photo)

Big congrats to Smoke Eaters forward Erik Cooper, who today was named BCHL Player of the Week!

The 20 year-old Alaskan put up five points in three games including that dramatic penalty-shot OT winner Saturday night in Salmon Arm. He leads the Smokies with 26 points this season and is the first Trail player to receive the Player of the Week nod this season.

The full release from the BCHL is available here.

Cooper's play has taken off since the start of the new year. Always strong in the face-off circle, he's getting more offensive opportunities thanks to a new role as power-play pointman, and pucks that didn't find the back of the net earlier in the season are starting to ripple twine now. Not only that, as one of only two overagers left on this year's Smokies squad, his off-ice role has become bigger, and speaking with head coach Bill Birks it's apparent both Cooper and captain Clayton McEwan are acting as strong role models to an ever-improving core that gives Smoke Eater fans something to really be excited about come September 2012.

Cooper (and the rest of the Smokies) will face his old club in Surrey Friday night.

Great job Erik!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Smoke Eaters 5 Silverbacks 4 (OT)

Erik Cooper scored on a penalty shot in the final minute of 3-on-3 overtime as the Smokies came back to sneak past Salmon Arm 5-4 in extra time in the Shuswap.

After Riley McDougall's first as a Smokie and Tanner Clarkson paced Trail to a 2-0 lead in the first period, the Silverbacks scored four unanswered goals to storm ahead 4-2 after 40 minutes.

But for the second time this month against Salmon Arm, the Smokies fought back.

First, Brandon Long's second goal in as many games cut the lead to 4-3, then Cooper's second equalizer against the 'Backs in January lifted Trail into a tie in the final 3 minutes.

The 20 year-old Alaskan then ended things after being awarded a penalty shot, after being checked to the head in his defensive zone by Silverbacks forward Stefan Nicholishen. Cooper snapped a wrister past the blocker of Salmon Arm goaltender Adam Clark to seal Trail's first away victory since November 6th, and their second win against the Silverbacks in as many tries.

Lyndon Stanwood collected the victory in goal for Trail, his second straight and fourth overall since joining the Smokies from the KIJHL.

Needless to say, a real character win for the Smokies, and one that saw them take advantage of many opportunities granted them by Salmon Arm. A needless penalty in overtime added to the eight power-plays granted Trail through the 60 minutes of regulation (the Smokies scoring 3 times on the man-advantage), and you can make the argument that a win like tonight's could well have been a season-changer if it happened in October or November. Nonetheless, a hard-earned away split for Trail, and surely tonight's game will act as solace for a frustrating end to Friday's game in Vernon.

Up Next: Trail take their road show to the coast beginning with a Friday night tilt against old friend Steve Koshey and the Surrey Eagles.

Local Hockey Tonight: The line of Anthony Delong, Dylan Sibbald and Tyler Robinson combined for 12 points in a 9-1 Castlegar Rebels win over Grand Forks. Attendance at the Castlegar Complex was 92, disappointing given the Rebels were the only local junior team in action at home tonight. Beaver Valley shut out Kelowna 4-0 but will lose forward Tyler Collins to a one-game suspension for tomorrow's tilt with the Rebels in Castlegar (for fighting in the final ten minutes). Nelson beat Columbia Valley 4-1. The major midget Kootenay Ice were victorious as well tonight, 4-3 in Prince George against the Cariboo Cougars.

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Silverbacks

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Salmon Arm Silverbacks
When: Jan. 21, 7:00 PM
Where: Sunwave Centre, Salmon Arm

For the first time this year, the Smokies visit the Silverbacks without a 7-hour bus ride as part of their gameday package. A heartbreaking 5-3 loss in Vernon last night, to me serves notice that this Smoke Eaters team is game for the spoiler role the rest of the way this season, if the five-game homestand earlier this month wasn't already enough of an indication.

Tonight, Trail gets another crack at a pesky Silverbacks team that has undergone many changes (due in part to their position in the Interior Conference standings), and will surely be out for revenge after suffering a 3-1 loss at Cominco Arena on Wednesday.

I'd imagine Lyndon Stanwood will feature back between the pipes tonight for the Smokies, after James D'Andrea made 35 saves in last night's loss at Wesbild Centre. As mentioned last night, the Calgarian did well to keep his side in a game in which they were badly outshot, though I'll argue the 40-17 shot advantage Vernon enjoyed was far from a true indicator on how the game actually went.

Last Meeting: Trail stormed out of the gate with 3 goals in the first 6:08 to brush back the 'Backs 3-1 at Cominco Wednesday night. The Silverbacks lead the season series 5-1 with the Smokies having collected 3 points in the six games.

Our Opponent: Like Trail, the Silverbacks are well on the outside, looking into the Interior Conference playoff picture, and despite a sub-par performance Wednesday do possess some pop. Devin Muller has 15 points in the season series while mobile defenseman Sean Flanagan seemingly creates opportunities offensively on every shift. Expect Kurt Williams to get the go in goal after Adam Clark played the last two in Trail.

In the Press Box: Trail are without D Shane Poulsen and F Adam Fares, with Castlegar Rebels Riley Henderson and Stuart Walton in their place. Salmon Arm's injury list includes forwards Brad Robinson, Graham McBain, Myles McCauley and d-men Braden Pears and Bennett Hambrook.

Broadcast Info: Mother Nature has scuttled my plans to drive up to Salmon Arm for the game today, therefore Silverbacks play-caller Scott Campbell has tonight's exclusive call (pay-per-view and free audio available here) beginning at 7 pm.

Local Hockey Tonight: All four local KIJHL teams are in action, but only one is at home. Castlegar hosts Grand Forks in the back end of a home-and-home set (7:30, Complex). The Rebels have outscored the Border Bruins 26-2 in their last two meetings. Beaver Valley will get Dallas Calvin back from injury tonight in Kelowna, while the Nelson Leafs visit the Columbia Valley Rockies. The major midget Kootenay Ice are on the road as well taking on the Cariboo Cougars in Prince George.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Vipers 5 Smoke Eaters 3

The term "unlucky" about sums up Friday's 5-3 loss to Vernon for the Smoke Eaters.

After a Brent Baltus equalizer with less than two minutes remaining in the third period, a laser beam from Adam Tambellini from the left face-off circle seconds later secured the Vipers' 6th victory in as many tries against Trail this season, and kept the Smokies winless away from home since November 6th.

Vernon opened the scoring in the first period on a goal Michael Zalewski will never, ever be able to replicate. His dump-in careened off the end boards, off the skate of Smokies goaltender James D'Andrea and rolled across the goalline. Zalewski was a deserving first star, and after his second period goal improved his point total against Trail this season to 14 (he'd later add an assist).

But Zalewski's output was wrapped around a pretty individual effort by Brandon Long. After a turnover in neutral ice, the Calgarian outwaited Vipers goaltender Kirby Halcrow to tuck home his third goal of the season to level things at 1-1 after 20 minutes.

After Zalewski made it 2-1 Vipers, the Smokies would get another gift, this time partly wrapped by Castlegar's Ryan Renz. The blueliner's "d-to-d" pass landed right on the stick of Trail's Connor Tiechko, who snapped a wrister past Halcrow to even the score at 2-2.

Another bright light for Vernon tonight was captain Patrick McGillis. He gave the home team the lead midway through the third on a Vipers power-play from the slot after a lengthy spell of possession on the Trail perimeter.

That set the stage for Trail's comeback. With Renz in the box for a hit that (mostly) missed Erik Cooper, Baltus slapped a puck towards the goal from the top of the right circle; it took a deflection and fooled Halcrow to put the Smokies back on even terms.

Almost instantaneously, though, Tambellini gave the Vipers the lead back on a rocket from the left circle. McGillis would add an empty-netter to seal the deal for Vernon, secured a much-needed two points and denied Trail a taste of some much-deserved road success.

D'Andrea, for his part, did what you'd ask of any goaltender, and that was give his team a chance to win. Trail was badly outshot tonight (which think grossly exaggerates any edge the Vipers had in play). Kudos to the 19 year-old for stepping in after seeing Lyndon Stanwood carry the load over the last month.

Up Next: Trail heads 45 minutes northeast to take on Salmon Arm Saturday night. Note there will not be a Smoke Eaters Ustream broadcast as originally planned, my apologies for the inconvenience.

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Vipers

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Vernon Vipers
When: Jan. 20, 7:00 PM
Where: Wesbild Centre, Vernon

The first of five straight on the road goes tonight in Vernon as the Smokies pay a visit to a rink that has given them fits this season. While all three visits by the Vipers to Cominco Arena hung in the balance until late in the third period or overtime, the change in venue has not served Trail well, losing in their prior two visits by scores of 8-3 and 10-1.

That said, this is a much more confident, and more focused Smoke Eaters team than the one that struggled through December. I'll go as far as to suggest Trail was unlucky to collect only five of ten points at home, as they competed through each of the five games.

No question the Smokies have struggled on the road; Trail's last victory away from home was that dramatic overtime win in Westside November 6th. I've contended though, that this team would start to win games at about this point of the season since very early on. I think finally we might be starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Last Meeting: As mentioned, December 16th in Vernon, a 10-1 Vipers victory which could well have been the low point of Trail's December. Vernon leads the season series 5-0 with one of the victories coming in overtime.

Our Opponent: Let's not understate the importance of these (and all subsequent games) to the Vipers. Vernon finds themselves in the unfamiliar situation of being on the outside of the playoff picture, five points behind fourth-place Chilliwack (with an even number of games played) entering tonight's action (Chilliwack, by the way, are in Prince George tonight for the second half of a twin-bill at the Coliseum). one player in particular has eaten the Smoke Eaters alive offensively this season, that being Californian Darren Nowick, who also drew the attention of Trail players in another fashion during the last meeting. Both Nowick and Mike Zalewski have 10 points (5-5) in the season series.

In the Press Box: Trail's Shane Poulsen remains out, while forward Adam Fares is doubtful. Castlegar Rebels d-man Riley Henderson was a healthy scratch in his KIJHL squad's 10-2 win over Grand Forks last night, he's expected to draw into the lineup for both weekend games with the added possibility of an AP forward making the trip as well. Vernon were without Nowick, fellow forwards John Knisley and Jedd Soleway, and d-men Luke Juha and Max Mowat for their 5-1 loss to PG Sunday.

Broadcast Info: There will be no Trail broadcast this evening, I'm planning to join the team tomorrow in Salmon Arm barring un-navigable, snowy roads. Todd Miller has your call on the pay-per-view side here, audio here on Vernon's KISS-FM.

Local Hockey Tonight: A noticeably slim Friday on local rinks. Only Beaver Valley and Nelson are in action in the KIJHL, both away. The Nitehawks visit Alex Ross and the Summerland Steam, while the Leafs are in Golden tonight. Of note, KIJHL president Bill Ohlhausen told The Nelson Daily he's expecting a decision regarding former Osoyoos player Josh Gray sometime today. For a backgrounder on that situation click here, I'm hoping to have thoughts from Leafs bench boss Frank Maida here and on Mountain FM soon but unfortunately he proves a difficult interview to get a hold of, at least for our office.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

BCHL Announces Changes For Next Year

Some intriguing news out of BCHL headquarters today to say the least, and if you're a regular browser of blogs around the league you'll know I'm far from the first to touch on what came down tonight.

First, the full release is available on the BCHL website here.

The two big changes that seem to be real head-scratchers with my colleagues around the league are both the choice to drop from 60 to 56 games next season, and that the Prince George Spruce Kings will play in the Mainland division next year.

The shortened schedule (which also includes two games in the newly-announced BCHL Showcase, meaning each team's home dates drop from 30 to 27), is being heralded in the interest of more flexibility in scheduling weekend home dates. The Smoke Eaters have been fortunate enough to play quite infrequently on weekdays (2 of the last three Wednesdays aside). The biggest issue for me isn't so much that there are fewer home dates (which will almost surely bring about a decrease in revenue), but that it appears as though fewer teams will make their way here to the West Kootenay.

Why, you might ask? Details of the 2012-13 schedule have yet to be announced, but take into consideration the fact the Interior division will have only six teams (Merritt, Penticton, Salmon Arm, Trail, Vernon and Westside). Assuming the "half-interlock" schedule (or a modified version of it) will be put into place for next fall, that means fans in Trail could see as few as TEN of the fifteen other teams in the league, down from the eleven that will or have already made their way to Cominco Arena this season. I'd imagine it will be cumbersome enough for Smokies fans to deal with the fact that four of Trail's final eight home games this season are against Prince George (no offense Spruce Kings, but I like my Crayola box with 64 colours and not 16), let alone the repetition that could be brought into play next fall.

The showcase, I think, is a brilliant idea, if it's done right. Imagine all 16 teams descending on Prince George, Trail or Powell River for a weekend and the boost that could bring to each city's local economy. Chambers of Commerce in Nelson, Castlegar and Trail continue to laud this past summer's BC Seniors Games and the positive short, and potential long-term impacts that four-day event had on a corner of the province few people know about. My only concern is what impact it might have on the Smokies' pre-season tournament, typically held the weekend prior to September 7th-9th, and whether teams in the BCHL may opt out of participating given that the season-opening weekend would be just around the corner.

The two issues that still need to be addressed, in my mind, are the 2013 playoff format and whether the 21-man roster will continue to exist following this season. While a "top 4 in each division" scenario has been rumoured, it'll be interesting to see how it's governed given the fact that there will be three divisions in play rather than two. We could perhaps see a seeding situation much like the recently-rejected NHL conference realignment, in that regular season standing could play a role in determining who plays who once the post-season reaches a certain point.

The 21-man roster is another animal, and one the Smokies coaching staff have made quite clear they would like to see returned from whence it came. To use Trail's example, the Smokies have not dressed a full 20-man roster (sans APs) since September 24th. Even increasing the roster size by one player would add so much more flexibility for every BCHL team.

I'm hoping to connect with Smoke Eaters president Tom Gawryletz over the next few days, but my posting/airing of his take on the mid-season meetings could be delayed given this weekend's road swing.

Egli, Bill Stewart Audio

Some tape from last night as well as my conversation with Wenatchee Wild (NAHL) president Bill Stewart on his club's desire to join the BCHL.

For Brandon Egli's thoughts on last night's 3-1 Smokies win over Salmon Arm (including his first goal since opening night), click here.

For Stewart's thoughts on NAHL travel and what happens next for the Wild after USA Hockey blocked their application to join the BCHL, click here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Smoke Eaters 3 Silverbacks 1


After five previous tries the Smokies found success against a Salmon Arm team that has given them fits this season, and an early start was what Trail needed to do it. The Smokies scored all three of their goals by the time the game was 6 minutes and 8 seconds old, and Lyndon Stanwood made 32 saves to help his team finish the five-game homestand at .500.

Trail started things off just past the four-minute mark when Connor Tiechko snapped home a wrister through the legs of Silverbacks goaltender Adam Clark for his sixth goal of the season. Clark may have been partly screened by Tiechko's linemate Brent Baltus who was cutting through the low slot at the time of the play.

1:39 later, the Smokies while on a power-play increased their lead thanks to a nifty cross-crease pass from Riley McDougall to Tanner Clarkson. The West Kelowna product became the second Trail player to hit double-digits in goals this season (after departed Smokie Clayton Chessa), and extended his point streak to four games.

Just sixteen seconds after that, a Brandon Egli slapper found the back of the net on a second Trail power-play. For Egli, it was his first goal since the opening game of the season against Westside.

Travis Stephens scored the lone Salmon Arm goal early in the third period following a goal-mouth scramble in front of Stanwood.

The Silverbacks had their fair share of chances, though, most notably for Sean Flanagan early in the middle frame. With Stanwood down and out of the play Flanagan fired on goal from the low left circle only to have his shot parried away by a Trail defender. And after receiving his own rebound the Saskatchewan product fired another shot through the crease, wide of the goal.

And even though no one dropped the gloves on a chilly Wednesday in the West Kootenay, tempers definitely flared. The Silverbacks took exception to a hit by Smokies captain Clayton McEwan on Salmon Arm forward Jeff Kennedy at one blue line, then late in the game Stefan Nicholishen was tossed for a check from behind on Tiechko that the Trail forward never saw coming. The return engagement in Salmon Arm Saturday night could well prove as an opportunity for both parties to settle their differences.

Up Next: Before the back end of what serves as a home-and-home for Salmon Arm, the Smokies travel to Vernon Friday night to start the two-game mini-trip. The Salmon Arm game will be broadcast on the Smokies Ustream channel Saturday night.

But Still: If you missed tonight's second intermission feature with Wenatchee Wild president Bill Stewart, watch for the full nine-minute interview on Off the Wahl tomorrow (Thurs).

Smokies/Silverbacks Lineups

Tonight's line combinations for Trail/Salmon Arm at the Cominco Arena:

Smoke Eaters:
12 - McMullen, 16 - Tiechko, 21 - Cooper
14 - McDougall, 25 - Clarkson, 23 - Long
9 - Baltus, 11 - Bertolucci, 18 - House
17 - Horsman, 22 - Wheeldon, 20 - Fares

6 - Coish, 5 - Johnson
8 - Egli, 7 - Keca
2 - Henderson (AP), 3 - McEwan

33 - Stanwood
35 - D'Andrea

94 - Hendrickson, 14 - Nicholishen, 20 - Gillies
91 - Muller, 9 - Zulinick, 83 - Stephens
10 - J. Kennedy, 15 - Barden, 16 - Wilde (AP)
18 - Kipp (AP)

8 - Friedel, 5 - B. Kennedy
11 - Flanagan, 4 - Berry
12 - Hanna, 24 - Love

41 - Clark
29 - Williams

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Silverbacks

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Salmon Arm Silverbacks
When: Jan. 18, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The Smokies have a chance to finish the five-game homestand with a .500 record as they host Salmon Arm for the second time in 14 days this evening. Since returning home from the holiday break, Trail has been playing much more inspired hockey, but third periods proved to be their nemesis in losses over the weekend against Coquitlam and Chilliwack.

I've been impressed with a new-look second line for Trail featuring Tanner Clarkson, Brandon Long and Riley McDougall over the past three games. Clarkson now leads the Smokies in goals with 9 (admittedly 4 were scored while he was a Nanaimo Clipper), and it's apparent a more prominent role for the West Kelowna product is paying dividends.

To be successful tonight, Trail's d-corps need to continue to be physical. 18 year-old Marley Keca has taken the lead of late in the hit department, and with only five (regular) healthy bodies on the back end I'm sure he'll play a lot of minutes again tonight.

I spoke with Smoke Eaters assistant Bob Dever yesterday in advance of tonight's game, listen to what he had to say here.

Last Meeting: The Smokies battled back from a 4-2 third-period deficit on January 4th at home but an OT winner from Shane Hanna after successive two-on-one rushes by both teams in the three-on-three portion of extra time. The Smokies now have an 0-4-0-1 record against the Silverbacks this season.

Our Opponent: Salmon Arm remains ten points out of a playoff position with only 19 games remaining in their schedule, and made moves since the last meeting two weeks ago. In is former Chilliwack Chiefs blueliner Mike Berry, while faceoff specialist Kody Dhaliwal was dispatched to the SJHL but wound up back with the Chiefs at the January 10th deadline. Morgan Zulinick and Devin Muller continue to be the focal points of Salmon Arm's offense, and the likes of Sean Flanagan and Hanna contribute as part of a mobile defense corps. After facing the gigantic Adam Clark during the last meeting, it's likely the Smokies will again see Kurt Williams this evening between the pipes.

In the Press Box: Trail remains without d-man Shane Poulsen, meaning AP Riley Henderson again gets the call from the KIJHL's Castlegar Rebels. Salmon Arm gets both Berry and Muller back from two-game suspensions tonight, while Kimberley's Bennett Hambrook and forward Graham McBain have both been out of the lineup of late.

Broadcast Info: All the action gets underway at 7:30, join me for the pay-per-view beginning at 7:25 here.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chiefs 5 Smoke Eaters 2

Mathieu Tibbet scored twice, and a thirty-second stretch of the third period quashed a Smoke Eaters rally in a 5-2 Chilliwack victory Sunday afternoon at Cominco Arena.

Tibbet streaked down the right wing on a Chilliwack rush 13 minutes into the opening frame and wired a shot through the legs of Lyndon Stanwood to open the scoring, then just over a minute later the Chiefs extended their lead when Trevor Hills tapped home a rebound off an Anderson White wrister.

The big highlight of a rather dry second period was a scrap between Trail's Adam Wheeldon and the Chiefs' Garrett Forster. Both youngsters landed heavy right hands in the centre-ice tilt.

Chilliwack added to their lead early in the third when Tibbet scored his second of the afternoon, rifling home a shot from the left side after Jeremy Gossard poked a loose puck in his direction.

But Trail would answer back on consecutive power-plays. After Shay Laurent put Chilliwack down by two men after getting tangled with the Smokies' Brent Baltus, the Nanaimo product whipped home a shot right off a faceoff in the offensive zone to put the Smokies on the board. Moments later, Tanner Clarkson would cut the lead to 3-2 after a pretty entry feed from Riley McDougall. The West Kelowna product out-waited Chiefs goaltender Mitch Gillam to backhand home his team-leading ninth goal of the season.

Two quick goals quickly snuffed out the Trail rally. On a three-on-one Spencer Graboski finished a rush by bearing down the middle and beating Stanwood low, then 30 seconds later on another odd-man break Gossard one-timed a shot past the left pad of the Smokies goaltender.

Trail outshot their opposition for the fourth consecutive game, but Gillam's workmanlike 33 saves kept the Smoke Eaters at bay.

Up Next: Trail wraps up a five-game homestand Wednesday against Salmon Arm before playing the following five games on the road.

Smokies/Chiefs Lineups

Here are the line combinations for this afternoon's game between Trail and Chilliwack.

Smoke Eaters:
12 - McMullen, 16 - Tiechko, 21 - Cooper
14 - McDougall, 25 - Clarkson, 23 - Long
9 - Baltus, 11 - Bertolucci, 18 - House
17 - Horsman, 22 - Wheeldon, 20 - Fares

6 - Coish, 5 - Johnson
8 - Egli, 7 - Keca
2 - Henderson (AP), 3 - McEwan

33 - Stanwood
35 - D'Andrea

23 - Hills, 28 - Forster, 17 - Spring
27 - Sitterley, 9 - Huisman, 14 - Gould
11 - Gossard, 18 - Graboski, 20 - Tibbet
12 - Bondra, 16 - Dhaliwal, 15 - Hansen

4 - Laurent, 8 - Hutchinson
25 - Jang (AP), 5 - Thompson
7 - White, 19 - Perron-Fontaine

1 - Gillam
35 - Udy

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Chiefs

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Chilliwack Chiefs
When: Jan. 15, 3:00 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The Smokies try for a weekend split, as well as their first victory of the season against Chilliwack this afternoon after a hard-fought battle against Coquitlam on Friday.

The Smokies battled back from 1-0 and 3-1 deficits only to fall 5-3 to the Express, but 2012 has shown me so far this young squad is adopting a renewed commitment level and are working toward finishing the season on a good note.

Smokies leading scorer Erik Cooper had one of his stronger (if not his best) game of the season Friday, scoring twice on Trail's top line with Connor Tiechko and Garrett McMullen. As one of only two remaining twenty year-olds on the team (captain Clayton McEwan being the other), I saw Friday's performance as a good show of character from a guy being counted on to be a leader on and off the ice.

The Smokies will welcome back AP defenseman Riley Henderson for this afternoon's tilt, you may remember the Castlegar Rebel played Jan. 7 in the 3-2 victory over Victoria. I took in his Rebels' 3-2 overtime win in Beaver Valley last night in what I'm sure anyone would agree was one of the most entertaining games of this KIJHL season.

Last Meeting: These two sides met three times in quick succession in early December, with the most recent encounter being a 4-1 Chiefs home win December 9th. David Bondra scored the winner as part of a three-goal flurry in the third period; Tanner Clarkson had Trail's only goal and James D'Andrea made 42 saves. Chilliwack has won every meeting this year with the Smokies posting a 0-3-0-1 record in the season series.

Our Opponent: The Chiefs have had an up-and-down weekend that sees them play their third game in as many days this afternoon. A 4-3 see-saw victory over Prince George Friday was quickly erased by a 5-1 loss in Merritt last night. Despite going 3-6-0-1 over their last 10, the Chiefs (20-15-0-2) are still relatively safe, trailing 3rd place Prince George by one point (with two games in hand entering play today), and leading 5th place Vernon by three points (with a game in hand). The Chiefs' top line of Derek Huisman, Malcolm Gould, and Bondra sit 1-2-3 in scoring (43, 39 and 38 points respectively) with new acquisition Kody Dhaliwal assuming fourth position after being picked up from Salmon Arm (via SJHL Flin Flon) at the deadline. Former Quesnel Millionaire Anderson White's return complements a big, veteran-laden blue line (with 3 20 year-olds) that for the moment is minus captain Tyler Miller. Mitch Gillam has received the bulk of the Chiefs' starts in goal with both he and Bryton Udy posting a save percentage of over .900. (Gillam though was pulled in the first period of last night's loss in Merritt).

In the Press Box: Trail remains without defenseman Shane Poulsen, hence the Henderson callup. Chilliwack's scratches last night included captain Miller and forward Jaret Babych, while AP Robert Jang appeared in his third BCHL game last night. Of note, former Smokie Matt Bissett has been signed to an AP card by Chilliwack as well.

Broadcast Info: Join me for the webcast beginning at 2:55, your link is available here. 89.5 the Hawk has your away audio needs covered.

Local Hockey Today: The major midget Kootenay Ice are in action as we speak in Coquitlam against the Greater Vancouver Canadians. Trail's Jake Lucchini, fresh off an All-Star appearance, posted a hat-trick in Kootenay's 3-2 win yesterday. Selkirk College try for the split this afternoon against Simon Fraser University (1:30 PM, Castlegar Complex). My alma mater Clan won 6-1 last night with former Smokies d-man Taylor Swaffield registering an assist.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Express 5 Smoke Eaters 3

Coquitlam goaltender Khaleed Devji watches a shot fly by as Riley McDougall and Tanner Clarkson jostle with ex-Smokie Rajan Sidhu (Randy Emery photo)

John Siemer collected four points as the Coquitlam Express won their ninth consecutive game, 5-3 over the Smokies Friday at Cominco Arena.

Siemer opened the scoring early in the first period, taking a centring-pass from Alex Kerfoot in the low slot and wristing a one-timer past Trail goaltender Lyndon Stanwood.

A strange hop in the Coquitlam zone landed on Erik Cooper's stick minutes later, the Alaskan fired home his first of two goals to even things up before Siemer capitalized again on a two-on-two rush with linemate Brady Shaw.

Coquitlam added to their lead early in the second period thanks to a short-handed tally from Connor Redmond. The ex-WHLer raced down the right wing on a two-on-one and fired low on Stanwood for his third goal of the season.

Trail answered back quickly. Cooper deflected Garrett McMullen's centring feed moments later to bring the Smokies back to within one, and then 1:10 later Tanner Clarkson stickhandled past two Express defenders in the left-wing corner and fired cross-ice to a pinching Marley Keca for the equalizer.

Coquitlam, though, would do the only scoring of the final frame. A Siemer shot from the goalline bounced to forward Malcolm McKinney, who while unabated in the slot wristed home the go-ahead marker.

Shaw would add insurance mopping up a loose puck after Siemer was stoned by Stanwood on a mid-third period breakaway.

Khaleed Devji made 25 saves to collect the victory for Coquitlam, who were without leading scorer Alex Petan for a third straight game.

The Smokies were right in this one, though, outshooting the Express 11-4 in the third period. Were it not for saves off the likes of Adam Fares alone in front of the net and a few missed nets, the result of this one might well have gone the other way. Cooper played one of his most inspired games of the season, while the line of Clarkson, Riley McDougall and Brandon Long continued to show some developing chemistry.

Up Next: The Smokies play a matinee Sunday against the Chilliwack Chiefs. Note the 3:00 PM faceoff at Cominco Arena.

KIJHL Tonight: Tyler Robinson scored twice, including the game-winner as Castlegar snuck past Creston Valley 4-3 in overtime. New Rebel Dylan Sibbald had an assist in his debut. Beaver Valley got a three-point performance from Mason Spear in a 6-3 victory over Kimberley. I should note the Rebels and Nitehawks tangle in Fruitvale Saturday (7:30, BV Arena) and Mountain FM will be on hand to help celebrate Beaver Valley's 30th anniversary. It should definitely be a fun night and hope to see a full house.

Local Look-See: Trail's Logan Proulx scored once as Cowichan Valley edged Nanaimo 2-1 in OT in other BCHL action tonight. The Capitals remain in first place in the Coastal Conference. South Slocan's Tyler Hlookoff had the OT winner in the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns beat the University of Calgary Dinos 3-2 tonight.

Smokies/Express Lineups

Here are the line combinations for tonight's game between Trail and Coquitlam.

Smoke Eaters:
12 - McMullen, 16 - Tiechko, 21 - Cooper
14 - McDougall, 25 - Clarkson, 23 - Long
9 - Baltus, 11 - Bertolucci, 18 - House
17 - Horsman, 22 - Wheeldon, 20 - Fares

6 - Coish, 5 - Johnson
8 - Egli, 7 - Keca
3 - McEwan

33 - Stanwood
35 - D'Andrea

91 - Georgeson, 16 - Fyffe
27 - Siemer, 8 - Nardi, 44 - McKinney
26 - Redmond, 18 - Hennig, 11 - Michelle
14 - Kerfoot, 20 - Bourne, 12 - Shaw

77 - Atkinson, 10 - Hodder
24 - Bird, 5 - Wong
23 - Sidhu, 7 - Finkelstein

31 - Huggins
1 - Devji

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Express

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Coquitlam Express
When: Jan. 13, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

Trail welcomes two old friends back to the Cominco Arena tonight for the only meeting of the season against the Coquitlam Express. Blueliners Rajan Sidhu and Nicholas Wong are back in Trail for the first time since being dispatched in separate deals, Sidhu to AJHL Drumheller in mid-October and Wong to Grande Prairie via Nanaimo in December.

Sidhu played 50 regular-season games with Trail, one of his two goals this season came during his final appearance in orange and black and served as the game-winner against the Penticton Vees. Wong, meanwhile, played only 17 games with the Smokies but put up nine points. Coincidentally, the pair are teammates with their third different BCHL squad after plying their trade with Cowichan Valley earlier in their junior careers.

I chatted with Sidhu yesterday morning before he hopped on the bus, listen to that conversation here.

Reunion discussion aside, it's a chance for the Smoke Eaters to continue a strong start to the calendar year, and continue along with Mission 500 in the wake of the departure of leading scorer Clayton Chessa earlier this week. Trail played possibly their most complete game of the season in a 3-2 win last Saturday against Victoria in what could well serve as a breakout game for forward Tanner Clarkson, who scored twice.

Last Meeting: You have to go back to January of 2011 for the last encounter between Trail and Coquitlam, a 5-0 Smokies victory at Cominco Arena. Erik Cooper scored twice for Trail while Kiefer Smiley made 30 saves between the pipes.

Our Opponent: Unlike Victoria and Salmon Arm before them, the Express are in the playoffs, for now. Coquitlam holds down the fourth and final playoff spot in the Coastal Conference with a six-point lead over fifth-place Nanaimo, and have been on fire of late winning seven straight games. Third-year Express Alex Petan leads the team in scoring with 53 points (22-31) but to my knowledge is questionable for tonight's game (see below). Watch for 17 year-old Alex Kerfoot, who sits second on the team with 38 points. Sidhu, Wong and Clinton Atkinson make up a veteran-laden defense that also includes ex-Vancouver Giant Zach Hodder. Since being picked up by Coquitlam goaltender Cole Huggins has been sensational as well, posting a 12-0-1 record with two shutouts. He and Khaleed Devji form a strong 1A-1B combination.

In the Press Box: For Trail, defenseman Shane Poulsen is still a couple of weeks away from returning. Express forward Petan has missed the last two games after taking a heavy hit January 4th from Alberni Valley's Turner Popoff.

Broadcast Info: Your pay-per-view and free audio selections will both be available here beginning at 7:25.

KIJHL Tonight: Two games of local importance in the KIJHL. Kimberley visits Beaver Valley (7:30, BV Arena) in a battle of two high-scoring sides. The Nitehawks won 11-2 in Grand Forks last night and the Nitros and Hawks possess each of the top five scorers in the league between them. Castlegar welcomes back former coach Brent Heaven and the Creston Valley Thunder Cats tonight (7:30, Complex). I chatted with Rebels bench boss Steve Junker about new pickup Dylan Sibbald Wednesday, listen here.

All-Star Magic: Good luck tonight to Trail's Jake Lucchini, who will represent the Kootenay Ice at the BC Major Midget All-Star Game in Coquitlam. The 16 year-old leads the Ice in scoring (15-15-30), and has also put up 10 points (4-6) as an AP with Beaver Valley.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Chessa To Nanaimo In Three-Team Swap

The Smokies were indeed active on deadline day, even if details on the deal didn't filter down until late yesterday evening. Forward Clayton Chessa moves on to Nanaimo in a three-team swap that also involves the Vernon Vipers. Trail receives future considerations while the Vipers pick up fellow overager Colton Cyr.

Chessa was Trail's leading scorer with 13-11-24, and observing this team night in, night out was one player I can definitely say came with his work boots every night. Perhaps fittingly, his final action in a Smoke Eaters uniform was a diving pokecheck to clear a puck out of Trail's zone in the final seconds of Saturday's 3-2 win over Victoria.

Chessa told me via Twitter he figures the move west will be good for him, as he joins a Nanaimo team trying to claw their way back into the Coastal Conference playoff picture currently sitting 6 points behind the Coquitlam Express (who visit Friday). He is slated to make his Clippers debut tonight in his hometown of Surrey.

The full release from the team is here, and an interview I completed with Trail head coach/GM Bill Birks earlier today is available here.

All the best in Nanaimo Clayton, it's been a pleasure watching you play.

Martens Returns to Nelson

A big pickup for Nelson as was reported on Mountain FM and 103.5 the Bridge yesterday, that being the return of forward Patrick Martens to the Leafs from the BCHL's Langley Rivermen.

At the time of his departure to Junior "A," Martens led Nelson in scoring (22-17-39 through 21 games), and put up 10 points (3-7) in 21 BCHL games this season. No question he will provide a huge boost up front to a Leafs squad that find themselves currently firmly planted in 3rd place in the Neil Murdoch division.

I chatted with Patrick yesterday as he was preparing to return to the West Kootenay, listen to that interview here.

He is expected to make his Nelson Leafs return Saturday at home against Fernie.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Weekend Tape, Bus Driver Accolades

Some audio distraction from the trade deadline madness. Be assured if and when any of our local teams make a deal there will be plenty of reaction here and on Mountain FM.

I chatted with three Smoke Eaters following the win Saturday:

For Lyndon Stanwood, click here.

For Tanner Clarkson, click here.

For Riley McDougall, click here.

I also spoke with a pair of Castlegar Rebels after Sunday's win over Grand Forks:

For Tyler Jones, click here.

For Riley Henderson, click here.

JR Honoured: Anyone who's ever spent any time around the Rebels organization knows about James Ross (JR) and all the fine work he does for the team. He's been featured on the Vancouver Canucks website as a local hero for the time he puts into the club. Way to go JR and watch out for those potholes!

Lyon On The Move: Don't often talk WHL here, but as deadline day continues a note that Grand Forks product Brett Lyon has been sent from the Moose Jaw Warriors to the Kelowna Rockets. Lyon has 28 points (11-17) this season and now will get to play out his WHL career much closer to home.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Smoke Eaters 3 Grizzlies 2

Trail's Tanner Clarkson fires the opening goal over the shoulder of Victoria netminder Garrett Rockafellow Saturday (Randy Emery photo)

Tanner Clarkson scored twice, and Lyndon Stanwood made 31 saves as Trail bumped a nine-game slump with a 3-2 home-ice victory over the Victoria Grizzlies.

After a scoreless first period, Clarkson walked down the right wing and rifled a wrist shot over the shoulder of Grizzlies goaltender Garrett Rockafellow just shy of the 13-minute mark of period two.

For the West Kelowna product, it was his first goal in five games and third as a Smoke Eater, but he would add to his Trail account early in the third period to extend Trail's lead.

Clarkson converted a Brandon Long centring pass 2:20 into the final frame to ignite what was a wild third period at Cominco Arena.

The Grizzlies got back within one courtesy Alex Holland minutes later, but both Stanwood and Rockafellow kept their opposing offences at bay until Garrett McMullen put home an empty-netter in the final minute to extend Trail's lead to 3-1.

Victoria's Coltyn Hansen made things close once more moments later, wiring a wrister into the top right corner at 19:21 but the Smokies hung on for their first win since November 29th.

New Smoke Eater Riley McDougall tallied an assist in his Trail debut, playing on a line with Clarkson and high-school classmate Long.

For the Smokies, tonight's game was undoubtedly the most complete, engaging effort of the season. I can't think of a Trail player who didn't play well, and for this squad, a win over a team like Victoria (who themselves are fighting to get back into the playoff picture) can help only to boost the morale and confidence level.

Up Next: The Smokies host Rajan Sidhu, Nicholas Wong and the Coquitlam Express Friday night. Game time is 7:30.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Smokies/Grizzlies Lineups

Your line combinations for tonight's game between Trail and Victoria.

Smoke Eaters:
12 - McMullen, 16 - Tiechko, 19 - Chessa
14 - McDougall, 25 - Clarkson, 21 - Cooper
9 - Baltus, 11 - Bertolucci, 23 - Long
17 - Horsman, 22 - Wheeldon, 20 - Fares

2 - Henderson (AP), 5 - Johnson
8 - Egli, 7 - Keca
6 - Coish, 3 - McEwan

33 - Stanwood
35 - D'Andrea

14 - Ten Vaanholt, 9 - Myron, 11 - Murphy
98 - Holland, 12 - Moran, 4 - Hansen
22 - Kaiser, 16 - Collins, 15 - Walchuk
20 - Sandor, 21 - Powell, 13 - Ellison (AP)

6 - DeJong, 5 - Woodyatt
27 - Bilous, 2 - Ursic
3 - Gonzales, 18 - Schmeisser

1 - Rockafellow
31 - Tucker

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Grizzlies

New Smokie Riley McDougall during his 2010-11 campaign with the AJHL's Okotoks Oilers

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Victoria Grizzlies
When: Jan. 7, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The only meeting of the season between the Smokies and Victoria Grizzlies goes tonight with Trail set to debut another piece of the 2012-13 roster. Calgary's Riley McDougall was acquired earlier this week from the AJHL's Calgary Canucks in a deal that sees defenseman Tanner Hicks head east to join the Brooks Bandits.

The trade means Trail may be a bit short on the back end this evening, but should be well-stocked in energy after Wednesday's dramatic comeback to force overtime against Salmon Arm. The Smokies welcomed leading scorer Clayton Chessa back with open arms, and anyone in attendance Wednesday could see his presence had a ripple effect through the rest of the team.

It's also a chance tonight for Adam Fares to face his former team for the first time since being acquired by Trail at the beginning of October. The Thunder Bay native played the first three games of the season with Victoria, tallying one assist. The lumbering forward didn't play much Wednesday on a fourth line with Adam Wheeldon and Kyle Horsman, but look for his role to increase as time goes on and he settles into life back in the lineup after missing the better part of two months with an injury.

Last Meeting: It's been awhile to say the least. Way back on December 11, 2010 the Smokies rode a Ryan Aynsley winner to a 2-1 away victory at Bear Mountain Arena. Interestingly enough, the only player to figure in the scoring, penalty minutes or goaltending records (for either team) who will play tonight is Victoria's Wade Murphy, who recorded an assist and 2 PIMs.

Our Opponent: Like the Silverbacks, the sixth-seeded Grizzlies are battling to stay alive in the playoff race, but received a big boost last night with a 4-3 win in Vernon. Victoria sits 6 points behind the 4th-seeded Coquitlam Express (who have two games in hand). Offensively, the Grizzlies' top line is led by the aforementioned Murphy; his 62 points (22-40) are good enough for fourth among the BCHL's scoring leaders. Linemates Mike Moran (18-28-46) and Wes Myron (17-25-42) are also within the top 20. The Grizz were without top-scoring defenseman Taylor Pernerowski in last night's 4-3 victory at Vernon, but they're a big bunch, including 6-5 Jesse Ursic. Former Revelstoke Grizzlies goaltender Garrett Rockafellow has been shouldering the load of late in goal after Jamie Tucker was hurt in a game in Duncan last month. The Smoke Eaters and Grizzlies lead their respective conferences in terms of goals allowed, Trail with 178, Victoria with 145.

In the Press Box: Trail will be without defenseman Shane Poulsen, while forward Taylor House is questionable. Victoria's Pernerowski missed last night's game (as mentioned above), while Jarryd Ten Vaanholt left in the second period and did not return.

Broadcast Info: The pay-per-view (and free audio options) can both be accessed here beginning at 7:25.

Local Hockey Tonight: Plenty going on tonight involving local squads. In the KIJHL, Nelson is home to Grand Forks (7:00, NDCC) while Beaver Valley hosts the Princeton Posse in a battle of division leaders (7:30, BV Arena). Selkirk College resume their BCIHL schedule tonight on Vancouver Island against the University of Victoria, while the major midget Kootenay Ice are in Kelowna for a two-game set against the Okanagan Rockets.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Smokies Trade Hicks, Acquire AJHL Forward; Zamec Tape

What essentially works out to a three-team deal has been completed between the Smoke Eaters, AJHL's Brooks Bandits and AJHL's Calgary Canucks.

First, the Smokies shipped '92 defenceman Tanner Hicks to the Bandits for future considerations. Hicks was Trail's leading defensive scorer, tallying 13 points in 24 games since arriving in the West Kootenay from Alberni Valley.

Second, the Smokies picked up '93 forward Riley McDougall from the Canucks for futures. The Calgary native has 17 points (5-12) this year, after putting up 25 (13-12) as a rookie in Okotoks last season.

The full release from the team is here. An interview I conducted with head coach Bill Birks is also available here.

Tough to see a player of Hicks' calibre leave the Smokies, but he will do well in Brooks (who by the way are led in scoring by former Trail forward Matt Wilkins and also feature former Smokie Ryan Luiten up front). He'll get to play closer to his home in Calgary and possibly get a shot at a long playoff run, as the Bandits lead the league's South division.

McDougall meanwhile, comes in as a top-6 guy who should figure in the Smokies plans for the next couple of years. It's quite clear this team is building for the 2012-13 season and hopefully the Calgarian can complement an ever-growing crop of '93s.

All the best in Brooks Tanner and welcome to the Smokies Riley!

Border Bruins Audio: As promised, some tape from yesterday's proclamation that the Grand Forks Border Bruins are not done for. I spoke with head coach/GM Matt Zamec yesterday, that interview can be listened to here.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Border Bruins Staying Put

In light of rumblings they may fold or may move at the end of this season, the Grand Forks Border Bruins have made it clear they're committed to the Boundary. A release posted on Grand Forks' website makes the following statement:

Although the 2011-2012 season has not produced the results the association had wanted the executive and its board of directors remain diligent and optimistic for the future of the KIJHL in Grand Forks.

I spoke to head coach and general manager Matt Zamec Thursday afternoon, he told me the following during a lengthy interview that will be posted here tomorrow once it's run on Mountain FM Friday morning.

"I've heard the rumours too and I think it's the standings that are the source of them. There's other towns that are looking to get into the league and looking at the standings it jumps at people that, well, there's the team to move perhaps. The board and the volunteers that we have here are fantastic, they're dedicated and committed to making this work. The team is not getting sold and the team is not moving."

For me, I think it's important for the team to nip any speculation in the bud right away. Even though Grand Forks has won only once this season, it's important for those in charge of the team to look to the future immediately and part of that is starting to re-instill a sense of pride and tradition now.

The Bruins face Castlegar Friday (7:30, GF Arena) and Sunday (5:00, Castlegar Complex).

Post-Salmon Arm Audio

A pair of short interviews following last night's 5-4 overtime loss against Salmon Arm.

For captain Clayton McEwan, click here.

For forward Clayton Chessa, click here.

Roster Note: Those of you at the Cominco Arena may have noticed AP Craig Martin wearing the number 14 assigned to injured forward Josh Roberts. The 19 year-old Connecticut product has been granted a release from the Smoke Eaters after scoring 7 points (2-5) in 17 games. He was injured after a heavy collision into the end boards during a game at Westside in early November.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Silverbacks 5 Smoke Eaters 4 (OT)

Shane Hanna played 3-on-3 overtime hero as Salmon Arm won their fifth straight game over Trail this season, 5-4 at Cominco Arena Wednesday.

Hanna took a centring feed from new Silverback Travis Stephens at 3:01 of the 3-on-3 frame and tucked the puck underneath Smokies goaltender Lyndon Stanwood for his second goal of the season.

Salmon Arm opened the scoring 1:35 into the first period when Devin Muller intercepted an outlet pass in the Trail zone and scored short-handed. For the Swiss product, it was his 13th point against the Smoke Eaters this season and gave the visitors an early boost.

But Trail would reply just as quickly. Craig Martin (called up from KIJHL Beaver Valley) batted home his fourth BCHL goal this year two minutes later to level things at 1-1.

Salmon Arm scored twice early in the second, thanks to a Kody Dhaliwal centring pass that went in off a skate and a deft finishing job by Alex Gillies 39 seconds later, but the Smokies would answer back later in the middle frame, when Garrett McMullen put his own rebound past Silverbacks goaltender Adam Clark on a Trail power-play.

A Myles McCauley blaster from the high slot restored Salmon Arm's lead to 4-2 before the break, but the Smokies were undaunted.

After a point shot bounced off the shinpad of Salmon Arm blueliner Brendan Kennedy, Clayton Chessa marked his return to the Smokies lineup with a hot wrister 6:31 into the third. Fellow overager Erik Cooper tied things up with 4:26 left in regulation when he tapped home a centring pass from Brent Baltus.

Overtime was just as open, if not more so. After 4-on-4 decided nothing, the teams traded two-on-ones through the 3-on-3 extra time, before Hanna ended proceedings with his dramatic winner.

I was quite impressed by Trail's ability to bounce back tonight, both after surrendering the early goal and later when they found themselves trailing by two in the third period. Chessa was a force (offensively and defensively) on every shift he took, while rearguard Tanner Hicks logged a lot of minutes on a defensive pairing with Clayton McEwan, and started the rush that led to Cooper's late equalizer.

The point earned (Trail's first since November 29th) should be seen as a positive. The loss stings, but the focus now is on learning and ending the season with momentum to take into next year.

Up Next: The Smokies continue their five-game homestand Saturday night against the Victoria Grizzlies.

Local Look-See: Plenty of West Kootenay products figuring in tonight's out of town scores. Trail's Travis St. Denis had two goals and two assists in Penticton's 6-1 win over Vernon; Castlegar's Aaron Hadley had the lone Vipers marker. Trail's Steve Koshey scored the overtime winner tonight as Surrey beat Nanaimo 3-2. In the KIJHL, Smokies AP Jesse Collins scored twice, while fellow Trail affiliate Tre Potskin also tallied in Creston Valley's 4-3 win over Golden.

Smokies/Silverbacks Lineups

The line combinations for tonight's game between Trail and Salmon Arm.

Smoke Eaters:
12 - McMullen, 16 - Tiechko, 19 - Chessa
14 - Martin (AP), 25 - Clarkson, 21 - Cooper
9 - Baltus, 11 - Bertolucci, 23 - Long
17 - Horsman, 22 - Wheeldon, 20 - Fares

2 - Hicks, 5 - Johnson
8 - Egli, 7 - Keca
6 - Coish, 3 - McEwan

33 - Stanwood
35 - D'Andrea

94 - Hendrickson, 16 - Dhaliwal, 83 - Stephens
91 - Muller, 9 - Zulinick, 89 - McCauley
10 - J. Kennedy, 14 - Nicholishen, 22 - Pears
20 - Gillies

8 - Friedel, 5 - B. Kennedy
11 - Flanagan, 24 - Love
12 - Hanna

41 - Clark
29 - Williams

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Silverbacks

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Salmon Arm Silverbacks
When: Jan. 4, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The Smokies ring in the New Year with a five-game homestand, which begins tonight against Salmon Arm. After a December to forget, tonight marks an opportunity for this young team to get a fresh start and some positive momentum for the second half of the season, and also an opportunity for fans at the Cominco Arena to see some faces who haven't graced local ice for quite some time.

Forward Adam Fares (pictured above) plays his first home game in exactly two months tonight while Clayton Chessa and Luke Bertolucci are also expected to draw back in after missing 6 and 2 games respectively. In Fares, Trail gets a physical presence up front who isn't unwilling to drop the mitts, while Chessa and Bertolucci will provide some offensive spark for a team that has scored only four goals in their past five games.

I chatted with head coach Bill Birks yesterday evening about tonight's game, hear what he has to say here.

Last Meeting: Bryce Gervais and Kody Dhaliwal combined for seven goals as the Silverbacks thumped Trail 11-2 at Salmon Arm on November 9th. Salmon Arm has won all four meetings this season with three of the next four encounters (including tonight) set to be played in Trail.

Our Opponent: Trail won't have to worry about Gervais, who has since been traded to Penticton, or several other players including captain Brett Knowles, who was shipped to Cowichan Valley earlier this week. Gone as well since the last meeting are d-men Matt Brown (AJHL Calgary Mustangs) and Klay Kachur (Westside), as well as forwards Brock Balson (WHL Kamloops) and Kyle Oleniuk (SJHL). Salmon Arm has speed to burn with the likes of Wisconsin commit Morgan Zulinick and Devin Muller up front, but they are the only two 'Backs with 10 or more goals on the season. Brown's departure came about in conjunction with the acquisition of feisty d-man (and former Nitehawk) Taylor Love, who had an assist and 2 penalty minutes in his Salmon Arm debut Friday night in Vernon. Salmon Arm sits 9 points back of Prince George for the final playoff spot in the Interior Conference, so needless to say, the time to win is now.

In the Press Box: Trail forward Josh Roberts and defenseman Shane Poulsen are both out long-term, while forward Taylor House is also out tonight. Blueliner Tim Coish is questionable. Silverbacks forward Brad Robinson is out for the season.

Broadcast Info: Your requisite audio and video links are available here, either for myself or Silverbacks voice Scott Campbell. All the action on the Smokies pay-per-view end gets underway at 7:20.