Friday, February 10, 2012

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Spruce Kings

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Prince George Spruce Kings
When: Feb. 10, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The Smokies go for four straight home wins tonight in front of a special guest. The Fred Page Cup will be on hand for both games this weekend against Prince George before heading north with the Spruce Kings.

Trail will also welcome back a familiar face in defenseman Shane Poulsen tonight. The 17 year-old blueliner (and former Spruce Kings AP) has been out with an upper-body injury suffered December 10th in Merritt.

Despite spending the entire season at the bottom of the Interior Conference, the Smokies find themselves facing an opportunity to make up some ground. Seventh-place Salmon Arm sits 10 points ahead of Trail (37 to 27) but have played 49 games to Trail's 46 (the Silverbacks are in Penticton tonight). The two teams have one more meeting (a week from today at Cominco) and no doubt the thought of climbing out of the cellar is firmly on the minds of the 20 players toting black and orange.

This weekend's set is just as, if not more important to the Spruce Kings, who also have a Sunday matinee scheduled in Salmon Arm. Prince George (3rd Interior, 54 pts) sit only three points clear of 5th-seeded Vernon, and I'd imagine that after sweeping the Smokies in three meetings up north, our visitors will look upon this weekend as an opportunity to gain points rather than lose them.

I chatted with Smokies bench boss Bill Birks about this weekend's matchup, to listen click here.

Last Meeting: The Smokies and Spruce Kings closed out 2011 in Prince George with the home side recording a 5-2 victory. Prince George leads the seven-game season series 3-0 with all four remaining matchups scheduled for Cominco Arena.

Our Opponent: The Spruce Kings bolstered their attack at the Jan. 10 deadline by acquiring overager Jarryd Ten Vaanholt from Victoria, and so far, he hasn't disappointed. The West Vancouverite is averaging a point per game in red and blue, and is taking some of the focus off one of the most dynamic top lines in the BCHL. The league's leading scorer Paul DeJersey needs one more goal to reach 40 for the season (and also to increase his rate of production to 500% of his 2010-11 totals), while linemates Michael Colantone and Jujhar Khaira are straddling the 60-point mark (58 and 63 respectively). The Spruce Kings are stingy in their on end too, with both Kirk Thompson and Ty Swabb posting goals-against averages below 3. A pair of former Smokies make their return to Cominco tonight as well. "Alaskan Elk" Ben Matthews played 107 regular-season games with Trail before being traded in the off-season. Forward Mike Betz put up a point per game as a 17 year-old in half a season with the Smokies in 2009-10, but has yet to put up similar numbers in subsequent BCHL stops in Penticton and PG.

In the Press Box: As mentioned, Trail welcomes back Poulsen from injury tonight, while forward Adam Wheeldon also draws back in. Tuesday's 3-1 loss in Vernon came with casualties, though, as blueliners Brandon Egli and Joren Johnson will both miss out this weekend (as a result the team has recalled D Bryce Perpelitz from KIJHL Kimberley). Prince George do not have any injuries listed.

Broadcast Info: Join me for all the action here beginning at 7:25 both tonight and tomorrow.

KIJHL Tonight: A playoff preview on tap in local junior "B" action this evening as Castlegar hosts Nelson (7:30, Castlegar Complex). The Rebels and Leafs have split six games so far this season and will go at it again tomorrow in Nelson. I spoke with Castlegar forward Peter Mingus after Tuesday's win over Grand Forks, to listen click here. I also chatted with Border Bruins goaltender Dylan Quinn following a 48-save performance, his thoughts can be heard here.

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