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.