Friday, January 13, 2012

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.

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