Friday, February 24, 2012

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Centennials (+ KIJHL Playoffs Underway Tonight!)

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Merritt Centennials
When: Feb. 24, 7:30 PM
Where: Nicola Valley Arena, Merritt

Despite not having collected two points, the Smokies head to Merritt tonight a confident bunch on the heels of a 4-2 loss in Penticton that hung in the balance until the bitter end. The Smoke Eaters and Vees were deadlocked 1-1 well into the third period before two goals in under a minute broke things open. Kyle Horsman and Clayton McEwan scored for Trail, while James D'Andrea's 39 saves earned him first-star honours.

Tonight the Smokies face a Centennials club that may have broken out offensively after a week to remember (7-1 and 8-0 wins over Vernon and Coquitlam in particular), and the cozy confines of the Nicola Valley Arena serve as an interesting counterpoint to (in comparison) the vast expanses of the SOEC in Penticton.

Trail, like last night, will garner success from keeping things simple. The dump 'n chase methodology used last night almost worked against Penticton; I'd imagine nothing less from the Smokies tonight.

Tonight also marks the first time these two sides have met since a 3-0 Cents shutout win December 10th in Merritt. It's also the first of four meetings between Trail and Merritt between now and March 10th (the next being Wednesday at Cominco Arena).

Last Meeting: The Centennials opened the scoring in the opening minute en route to a 3-0 victory in the Nicola Valley. Trail, though, continues to lead the season series with a 2-1-1 record (1-1 away from home).

Our Opponent: Merritt comes into tonight's game at the head of the 2-3-4-5 race in the Interior Conference with 65 points, three ahead of Prince George (who enjoy a game in hand) and 5 up on Chilliwack. The Cents are tough to beat in their own barn as well, Merritt's 16-5-0-4 home record is second-best in the Interior Conference (not to mention the Centennials are the only team in the BCHL to collect two points in Penticton this season). 18 year-old Regan Soquila can make a case for being one of the best forwards in the league without a college commitment, he leads Merritt in scoring with 63 points (though only fifteen of those are goals). The back end is smart and mobile, with three commitments including 16 year-old Dylan Chanter, who secured his college future at New Hampshire earlier this week. Lino Chimienti and Tyler Steel have been a great 1A/1B tandem in goal, each with a GAA under 3.

In the Press Box: For the first time in a long time the Smokies dressed a (relatively) full lineup last night in Penticton. Only forward Adam Fares missed out.

Broadcast Info: As was the case last night, no Trail broadcast this evening. Alex Grebenyuk has your call both on the pay-per-view side and on local radio Q101 in Merritt. Watch/listen here.

KIJHL Playoffs: All the fun in our local Junior B circuit begins tonight with action on two local fronts. First-place Beaver Valley hosts Spokane (7:30, Beaver Valley Arena) in Game 1 of their Neil Murdoch division semi-final tonight. The 'Hawks swept the 8-game season series with the Braves including an 11-2 win two weekends ago. BV finished with the league's best regular-season record and will be a tough opponent for anyone this post-season.

The other local series gets underway tonight as well between Castlegar and Nelson (7:30, Castlegar Complex). After a Jekyll and Hyde season series that saw each team win twice at home and twice away, the Leafs and Rebels are set to lock horns, playoff style for the first time since Nelson swept a best-of-seven division final three years ago. Leafs goaltender Andrew Walton has collected the win in all four Nelson victories against his former team, and the brother act with Rebels forward Stuart will be one to watch, much like the Kootenay Conference final last year when Stu's Castlegar side defeated Andrew's Fernie Ghostriders in six games.

Here's a look at the schedule for both series:

02/24: SPO @ BV, NEL @ CGR
02/25: SPO @ BV, NEL @ CGR
02/27: CGR @ NEL, BV @ SPO
02/28: CGR @ NEL, BV @ SPO
03/01: SPO @ BV, NEL @ CGR *
03/02: CGR @ NEL, BV @ SPO *
03/03: NEL @ CGR *
03/04: SPO @ BV *

* = if necessary

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