Friday, November 30, 2012

Kings 4 Smoke Eaters 3

J.P. Villeneuve and Bradley Parker each enjoyed three-point nights as the Kings tripped up the Smokies 4-3 in Powell River Friday.

Villeneuve's wrist shot from the right circle 3:51 into the third period also proved to be the game-winner, as Powell River frustrated a short-handed Trail squad, and capitalized on timely bounces and turnovers to push the Smokies' winless skid to four games.

Trail, who were without seven regulars, opened the scoring on a bounce of their own 7:46 into the first period. The puck came to Scott Davidson who let go a quick wrist shot that beat Kings netminder Jonah Imoo. It was Davidson's third goal of the season, and first away from home in the BCHL.

The lead, though, lasted less than four minutes. After a failed clearance, Powell River rookie Parker unleashed a shot from the left-wing corner that bounced in off the back of Smoke Eaters goaltender Lyndon Stanwood. Powell River took the lead at 16:57 when Stephen Hiff fired home from the slot with the Smokies serving the first of two too-many-men penalties on the night.

The Kings would increase their lead to 3-1 early in the second as Parker strode down the left wing, cut goal-ward and powered the puck through Stanwood for his second goal of the game.

Trail had chances to cut the lead, namely a Luke Sandler penalty shot that missed the top corner, and a Djordje Leposavic point bomb that struck iron. Minutes later, Leposavic one-timed home a Braden Pears cross-crease pass on a Trail power-play to bring the visitors to within a goal at the second intermission.

Powell River would reclaim a two-goal lead thanks to Villeneuve, who found open space down the right wing after a Trail defenseman pinched at centre-ice. Villeneuve took Parker's pass and ripped a wrister past Stanwood for his eleventh goal of the season.

Once again, Trail would mount a comeback. Captain, and ex-King Garrett McMullen walked around a Powell River defenseman and snapped a shot over Imoo's right shoulder with just under 5 minutes left to cut the Powell River lead to 4-3. In the end, the Smokies could only muster 5 shots on goal in period three (including a Brent Baltus effort from the slot that Imoo had to dive across his crease to block), and a too-many-men penalty assessed inside the final two minutes quelled any idea of a rally.

The short-staffed Smoke Eaters kept their gameplan simple for the most part, but the few mistakes the team did make wound up in the back of the net. With both Vernon and Salmon Arm losing Friday, the loss stings all the more as a victory would have seen the Smokies leap-frog both clubs back into playoff contention. It's up to the leaders on the team now to help everyone shake off tonight's disappointment ahead of another must-win game tomorrow in Coquitlam.

My Three Stars:
1. Bradley Parker, Powell River
2. Scott Davidson, Trail
3. J.P. Villeneuve, Powell River

Up Next: Trail visits the Coquitlam Express to continue the road swing tomorrow. Game time is 7:00.

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Kings

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Powell River Kings
When: November 30th, 7:30 PM
Where: Hap Parker Arena, Powell River

Good morning from North Van, as I await a flight to the Sunshine Coast to meet the Smokies in Powell River tonight for a matchup that marks not only the end of November, but also the beginning of the second half of the BCHL season.

Trail enters the weekend 1 point behind both Salmon Arm and Vernon for the fourth seed in the Interior division, and will be in tough tonight against a Kings squad that, like Trail, likes to jump on teams that have a long day of travel from their homes to Powell River.

The Smokies also enter the weekend short several bodies. Already without Braeden Jones and Bryce Knapp, Trail will be without the services of defensemen Shane Poulsen and Marley Keca. Poulsen was hurt in the second period of Saturday's loss in Salmon Arm, while Keca is serving a suspension. Goaltender Adam Todd has also been sick all week and is questionable.

Despite the personnel adversity, Trail should feel good heading into tonight's game. The Smokies already have one win under their belts against Powell River this season (more on that below), and have one of the league's hottest snipers in Brent Baltus continuing his sensational season. Baltus has collected points in 12 of his last 14 games, while linemate Garrett McMullen has points in 11 of 14. After a weekend that saw the club score only two goals (both by Baltus) though, it will be up to the rest of the lineup to provide the type of timely contributions that have brought the Smoke Eaters success to this point in the season.

Last Meeting: Trail won 3-2 on a last-minute winner from Baltus September 30th at Cominco Arena. Tonight's game marks the finale in the two-game season series.

Our Opponent: The four-time defending Coastal champs have struggled with injuries and consistency all season long, but are a club that can lock down the defensive zone when needed. Goaltender Jonah Imoo carried the mail for Team Canada West at the recent World Junior "A" Challenge in Nova Scotia, while hulking blueliner Luke Ripley (also a member of that Canada West squad along with leading scorer Evan Richardson) recently became the fourth member of Powell River's roster to earn a scholarship when he committed to Notre Dame. The Kings, like Trail have played the most games in the league with 28, and do not have a 20-point man on their roster to this point in the season. Powell River added to its forward depth Thursday as well, acquiring Landon Robin from the Vernon Vipers for future considerations.

In the Press Box: Trail are without Keca, Jones, Poulsen and Knapp. Todd is questionable. Powell River does not have any listed injuries.

Broadcast Info: Watch tonight's game on FAST Hockey pay-per-view, or listen live on Smokies Ustream. Tonight's pre-game show begins at 7:20 with the opening faceoff set for 7:30.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hambrook, McDougall Audio

In case you missed my conversations with the two newest Smoke Eaters during this past weekend's broadcasts, both are now available here.

For my interview with defenseman Bennett Hambrook Friday, click here.

I also talked to forward Riley McDougall Saturday in Salmon Arm, to listen, click here.

Bits & Bites: Former Smokie Joren Johnson could make his SJHL debut tonight as his Battlefords North Stars host the Flin Flon Bombers. Johnson, 18, was traded east last week. The BCHL has handed Marley Keca a three-game suspension for a game misconduct assessed at the end of Friday's loss to the SilverBacks. Keca served the first game Saturday and is eligible to return Sunday in Chilliwack.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

SilverBacks 5 Smoke Eaters 2

Evan Anderson and Steven Iacobellis had two goals each, while goaltender Adam Clark made 41 saves in a 5-2 SilverBacks victory over the Smokies in Salmon Arm tonight.

Salmon Arm opened the scoring on a Ryan Schwalbe wrister from the right circle before Brent Baltus finished off a pretty 3-on-1 play with Garrett McMullen and Scott Davidson to bring Trail level less than a minute later.

Two defensive-zone turnovers gave the SilverBacks a second-period lead they would not relinquish, though.

First, Brandon Mistal stole a puck in the Smokies zone, allowing Iacobellis to score his second goal in as many games to make it 2-1, then late in the period Anderson picked a defenseman's pocket and tucked a puck past Lyndon Stanwood to increase the lead to 3-1.

Baltus would score his second of the game short-handed on a give-and-go with Djordje Leposavic at the 8:35 mark of the third period, cutting the home side's lead to 3-2, but 36 seconds later Iacobellis one-timed his second of the game home from the left circle to restore the two-goal lead.

Anderson sealed the game late as he walked around a Trail d-man, then outwaited Stanwood for his second goal of the evening.

The Smokies' effort was much, much better tonight, especially given the absence of both Marley Keca (suspension) and Ryan Edwards (personal). Shane Poulsen left the game early in period two with an upper-body injury and did not return, leaving Trail with just 4 blueliners. The loss drops the Smokies to sixth in the tight Interior division, but with favourable out-of-town scores tonight they remain one point back of fourth.

My Three Stars:
1. Steven Iacobellis, Salmon Arm
2. Adam Clark, Salmon Arm
3. Brent Baltus, Trail

Up Next: the Smokies hit the road again next weekend for a three-game Coastal swing, beginning Friday in Powell River.

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
Envoyé sans fil par mon terminal mobile BlackBerry sur le réseau de Bell.

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ SilverBacks

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Salmon Arm SilverBacks
When: Nov. 24, 7:00 pm
Where: Shaw Centre, Salmon Arm

Trail goes in search of the weekend split, and redemption tonight in the Shuswap against a SilverBacks team that is coming along nicely after a bevy of changes.

Salmon Arm frustrated an ineffective Trail squad, winning 4-0 at Cominco last night thanks to a two-goal effort from Alex Gillies. The Smokies struggled to gain any momentum in the offensive zone, as chances both ways were few and far between.

Tonight, the message is simple. Win, and you avoid falling into the Interior conference basement. Lose, and all of a sudden, the Smokies will be looking up at each of their divisional rivals despite a November that has delivered excitement, and results.

Last Meeting: Not much more needs to be said about SA's win last night. The season series is tied 1-1.

Our Opponent: The SilverBacks, along with Merritt are to me the most physical teams in this division, and that, combined with an effective neutral-zone trap, is what gave them success last night. Adam Clark takes up a lot of space between the pipes and should be brimming with confidence after his first career BCHL shutout. Three of Salmon Arm's goals last night were scored on special teams (2 PP, 1 SH).

In the Press Box: Trail remains without Braeden Jones and Bryce Knapp. The SilverBacks scratched Riley Hunt, Josh Bowes, Troy Petrick as well as newly-signed D Brett Fagerheim last night. Fagerheim, who started the year in the AJHL, could draw in.

Broadcast Info: Tonight's game is available on Fast Hockey PPV. Barring any further technical squabbles, there will be an audio feed on Ustream but I have set up a backup channel if that service is still down. Watch this space for links closer to gametime.

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
Envoyé sans fil par mon terminal mobile BlackBerry sur le réseau de Bell.

SilverBacks 4 Smoke Eaters 0

Salmon Arm's Alex Jewell forechecks against Smokies blueliner Marley Keca Friday (Randy Emery photo)

Alex Gillies scored two power-play goals to help Salmon Arm a much-needed 4-0 victory, and two points at Cominco Arena Friday night.

Gillies opened the scoring off a rebound seven minutes into the game, finding himself with an open net from the right circle for his seventh goal of the season.

The score remained static until a controversial moment on a Trail power-play in period two. Defenseman Valik Chichkin appeared to have been high-sticked while handling the puck at the blue line, but despite the protestations from the fans and Smoke Eaters bench, Salmon Arm carried the play down the ice on a short-handed two-on-one, a play which led to Anthony Croston's first BCHL goal after Bryden Marsh's initial effort was saved by Trail goaltender Lyndon Stanwood.

Gillies would increase Salmon Arm's lead to 3-0 on a nifty cross-ice feed from Evan Anderson in the third before Steven Iacobellis rounded out the scoring with his first goal of the season.

Salmon Arm goaltender Adam Clark made 28 saves to collect his first BCHL shutout, making first-period stops from close range off Scott Davidson and Tyler Berkholtz, and getting help from the cross-bar off a Brent Baltus snapper in the dying moments.

It was a game Trail needed to have, but the Smokies did not have nearly the level of execution needed to come away with two points. Credit Salmon Arm for playing a simple, hard-checking road game tonight. It wasn't flashy, and at times tonight the product on the ice might well have come short of the dollar value on the ticket, but in the end, the better team won, plain and simple.

My Three Stars:
1. Alex Gillies, Salmon Arm
2. Adam Clark, Salmon Arm
3. Brayden Sherbinin, Salmon Arm

Up Next: Trail will get an early chance at revenge against the SilverBacks, with a rematch in Salmon Arm Saturday at 7:00.

Technical Difficulties: I would like to extend my sincere apologies for anyone trying to tune in on the Ustream broadcast tonight, as the feed was unavailable for the first and third periods. Reading the various message boards associated with the software, I understand there was a system-wide outage with the "Ustream Producer" software I use to broadcast the games. Stay tuned to the blog, Smokies website and Smoke Eaters Facebook page in the near future as tonight's frustrating ordeal might well lead me to try a new web streaming provider. I've begun testing and will give plenty of notice if a switch is to be made.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. SilverBacks

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Salmon Arm SilverBacks
When: November 23, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The Smokies look to continue recent home form as a pivotal home-and-home with the SilverBacks kicks off tonight in Trail. The Smoke Eaters have won four of the last five home games, most recently an emphatic 5-2 win over the Penticton Vees last Saturday, and enter tonight’s game on the heels of a wild third-period comeback that saw Trail turn a 7-2 blowout into a 7-6 nailbiter in Penticton.

Brent Baltus, fresh off committing to Alaska-Anchorage earlier in the week, comes into tonight’s game fourth in BCHL scoring (29 points), having collected points in 11 of his last 12 outings. The 20 year-old is the second Smokie to commit to college this season after Scott Davidson signed with Quinnipiac in September.

Tonight also marks the first matchup for new Trail defenseman Bennett Hambrook against his former club. The Kimberley product started the season as SilverBacks captain, and put up two assists in his return to the Smokies Wednesday (he played 2 games as a 17 year-old AP while a member of the KIJHL’s Nelson Leafs in 2009-10). New D partner Valik Chichkin has scored in three of Trail’s last four games, including the OT winner in Trail’s 8-7 over Prince George a week ago.

Last Meeting: The Smokies rode a three-point effort from Baltus en route to a 5-2 win in Salmon Arm on October 27th.  Trail leads the season series 1-0.

Our Opponent: The SilverBacks are starting to round into form after a tough start to the season, and have a slough of new faces in the lineup tonight after a series of trades. Smooth-skating defenseman Shane Hanna is top dog in Salmon Arm scoring with 20 points, but is being chased down by reigning BCHL Player of the Week Brandon Mistal, who fired home six goals in three games last week and now has 10 this season. New Hampshire commit Adam Clark is the de-facto number one netminder after the departure of 20 year-old Colin Dzijacky (who was the goaltender of record in the last meeting) earlier this month. A win tonight would bring Salmon Arm to within 1 point of the Smokies in the ever-tight Interior division.

In the Press Box: Defenseman Braeden Jones and forward Bryce Knapp remain on the long-term injury list. Salmon Arm are without 17 year-old forward Riley Hunt, who has appeared in only 4 games since an early-season trade from Vernon.

Broadcast Info: Watch tonight's game on FASTHockey pay-per-view, or listen live at Smokies Ustream. Pre-game show begins at 7:20 with all the action set for 7:30.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

More "Movember," Baltus Talks UAA

(From top) Connor Collett, Marley Keca, Luke Sandler and Adam Wheeldon show off their growing ability after practice Monday

Brent Baltus became the second Smoke Eater to commit to college this season when he accepted an offer from Alaska-Anchorage earlier this week. Naturally, the 20 year-old was all smiles when I caught up to him after practice Monday. If you missed the interview on last night's broadcast, click here to listen.

Also included in this go-round, conversations with Mitch Foyle (here) and Ryan Edwards (here) from the weekend, as well as assistant coach Brent Heaven's thoughts pre-Penticton on the weekend and Trail's off-ice news (click here to listen).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Vees 7 Smoke Eaters 6

A wild third-period rally fell just short in Penticton Wednesday as the Vees edged the Smoke Eaters 7-6.

Trail started strongly out of the gate, going ahead 1-0 on a Jesse Knowler wrister 1:21 in as the Smokies forced the issue on the home side early.

Two unlucky breaks would lead to a pair of Vees goals before the break. First, the Smokies were called for icing although it appeared one linesman had called Adam Wheeldon's dump-in legal. On the ensuing sequence, Sam Mellor fired home from the left faceoff circle, tying the game at one.

Cam Amantea would take advantage of a wacky bounce behind the net alone in front, outwaiting Trail starter Adam Todd for his first goal in 17 games.

The Vees came out flying in period two, as both Louie Nanne and Wade Murphy struck for a pair of goals each (Murphy's second effort a short-handed marker) to take a 7-2 lead after 40. Trail's only goal, a power-play wrister from the right point from Shane Poulsen, his fifth of the season.

The score remained 7-2 until midway through the third when Trail mounted an improbable comeback. First Ryan Edwards scored to make it 7-3, then Austin Adduono banged home a rebound to make it 7-4.

Less than a minute after Adduono's goal, Valik Chichkin's point shot appeared to take a deflection and sail in. The goal, which was credited to newcomer Bennett Hambrook, chased Penticton starter Chad Katunar.

Newcomer Nic Renyard surrendered a backhander to Tyler Berkholtz to cut Penticton's lead to 7-6 with just under 3 minutes left, and the Smokies just kept pressing.

A high-stick on Vees captain Troy Stecher proved to be too much for Trail to handle though, and the home side escaped with two points after a Penticton win seemed certain after two periods.

My Three Stars:
1. Wade Murphy, Penticton
2. Tyler Berkholtz, Trail
3. Louie Nanne, Penticton

Up Next: Trail begins a home-and-home with Salmon Arm on home ice Friday night. Gametime is 7:30 at Cominco Arena.

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
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Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Vees

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Penticton Vees
When: November 21, 7:00 pm
Where: South Okanagan Events Centre, Penticton

After a busy two days off the ice, the focus shifts to the South Okanagan Events Centre as Trail goes in search of a third straight victory tonight.

To a man, the Smokies know they'll need to at least match their effort in a 5-2 win Saturday to earn a second straight triumph over the Vees, and a first win in Penticton since the 2010-11 season. Trail raced out to a 4-0 lead in the first 23 minutes of Saturday's home win, improving their exemplary home record to 8-3.

Tonight's game should mark the full-time debut of new defenseman Bennett Hambrook, who was acquired from Salmon Arm yesterday. The ex-Silverbacks captain played 2 games with the Smokies as an AP during the 2009-10 season, and if social media is any indication, the Kimberley native is chomping at the bit to get into the lineup with his new team.

Trail could also welcome back Marley Keca tonight after the nineteen year-old missed the last three games with a slight knock. Keca was back on the ice at practice Monday and tells me he's feeling much better.

I figure Adam Todd has done just about everything he can to earn a second straight start between the pipes tonight. Todd made 36 saves in Saturday's win and now holds a 3-0 record in black and orange since being acquired from Alberni Valley last month. He gives the Smokies a much different look in goal than Lyndon Stanwood and after a shaky start to life with Trail seems to be getting ever more confident with each save.

The Smokies must be mindful of discipline tonight. Trail has only won once on the road this season when surrendering a power-play goal, and have given up man-advantage markers in each of their last three games. I really liked the Smokies' commitment in the defensive zone last Saturday, but as the game wore on, the Vees' adjustments and tired legs (remember, Trail dressed only five defensemen) led to increased Penticton chances.

In all, the Smoke Eaters should be at their peak, confidence-wise, heading into tonight's game. After a first 16 games that saw this club hold 2-5 and 5-11 records, the fact that a win tonight would move Trail to within 1 point of second place in the Interior division is nothing short of remarkable.

Last Meeting: Trail scored three times in the opening 8:35 en route to a 5-2 win Saturday. Connor Collett scored the eventual game-winner on a rebound. The season series is tied 1-1 and after tonight's game, these two teams will not meet again until February 23rd, 2013.

Our Opponent: Penticton has dropped 5 of their last 7 games, but possess one of the most skilled lineups in the BCHL. Recent additions Brock Balson and Sean Flanagan (both from Salmon Arm) will only further perpetuate that notion. Calgary Flames rookie camp attendee Wade Murphy is Penticton's scoring leader (29 points) sitting only two points back of the Warriors' Marcus Basara for the league lead. He's also riding a 17-game point streak. Brad McClure leads Penticton in goals with 14. Penticton's mobile defense is led by Troy Stecher, who joins Trail's Shane Poulsen as co-defensive scoring leader (14 points each) for tonight's fixture. I wonder whether Nic Renyard will get another opportunity to show his stuff in goal tonight for Penticton. The rookie netminder has been quite good in both appearances he's made against Trail, and shut the door on the Smokies Saturday after coming on in relief of Chad Katunar.

In the Press Box: Trail remains without defenseman Braeden Jones and forward Bryce Knapp (both on IR). As mentioned, Keca could well return tonight. Penticton will again be without 13-goal man Michael Rebry.

Broadcast Info: Catch tonight's game on FASTHockey pay-per-view, or listen along live at Smoke Eaters Ustream. Tonight's pre-game show begins at 6:50, with the opening faceoff set for 7:00.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Smokies Trade For Silverbacks Captain Hambrook

New Smoke Eater Bennett Hambrook (7) blocks a shot during a game last season at Cominco Arena (Randy Emery photo)

The Smokies traded for defensive presence, physicality and leadership Tuesday, acquiring Salmon Arm captain Bennett Hambrook for future considerations.

Hambrook, a 20 year-old from Kimberley, isn't a big point producer but lays his body on the line night in, night out in the defensive zone, and was named the 12th captain in Silverbacks history at the outset of the 2012-13 season.

The official release on the Smokies' website is available here.

I'd heard several days ago that Trail bench boss Bill Birks was targeting Hambrook as an addition to an ever-deepening back end, and the 106-game BCHL vet will make an immediate impact with the club with whom he made his Junior "A" debut as an AP. He is expected to join the team in Penticton tomorrow night and could well dress from what I've been told.

Perhaps even more important than his on-ice presence, is what the Silverbacks are saying about Hambrook off the ice. Read more here.

Welcome (back) to Trail Bennett!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Smokies' Baltus Commits To Alaska-Anchorage

Baltus closes in to score on the Vees' Chad Katunar Saturday (Randy Emery photo)

Trail's leading scorer has himself an NCAA Division I commitment, after Brent Baltus verbally agreed to join Alaska-Anchorage.

The 20 year-old Baltus, who has already surpassed a BCHL career-high with 16 goals in the Smokies' first 25 games this season, will suit up for the Seawolves in the fall of 2013.

The official release from the team is available here.

To me, Baltus' commitment is a perfect indication of the value of hard work and dedication., Baltus missed out on training camp last season, joining the Smoke Eaters during the pre-season as a 19 year-old rookie in a primarily checking role, growing more confident offensively as the 2011-12 season wore on (the highlight might well have been a Coastal swing in late January where he tallied goals in three straight games). He won the team's Most Improved Player award at the end-of-year banquet after a 14-goal, 30-point season.

As training camp began this year, it was evident Baltus had put in a ton of work over the summer. He was bigger, stronger and faster on the ice, and looked poised to grab a spot in Trail's top-six. The regular season has seen no slowdown, as his line with captain Garrett McMullen and rookie Scott Davidson has been dangerous just about every night, wearing down opposing teams deep in the offensive zone with persistent cycling and strong puck possession along the low boards.

Off the ice, the Seawolves are getting a bright, polite young man with a strong upbringing. As with many of his teammates, I quite often bump into Baltus' parents in concourses and parking lots in Trail and around the league, all the more impressive considering the 10-or-so hour trip to our neck of the woods from their Nanaimo home.

Congrats "Baltsy," and keep up the great work!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Smoke Eaters 5 Vees 2

Connor Collett puts home a first-period rebound that stood up as Saturday's game-winner (Randy Emery photo)

The Smokies scored 3 times inside the first nine minutes, and Adam Todd made 36 saves in a 5-2 home win over the Penticton Vees Saturday.

A night after the Smokies outgunned Prince George 8-7 in overtime, Trail put together a much more consistent defensive effort, jumping on Penticton early and earning a gutsy two points against the first-place team in the Interior division.

Trail opened the scoring on an early power-play. Valik Chichkin's point shot took a deflection off the stick of Ryan Edwards, beating a screened Vees goaltender Chad Katunar. It was Edwards' first BCHL goal, and a marker that set the tone for the first period.

Trail added to their lead just over two minutes later. A shot bounced off a Penticton shinpad and found Brent Baltus in the slot. The Smokies' leading scorer caressed the puck, then wristed it short-side on Katunar for his 16th goal of the season.

Connor Collett would add a third at the 8:35 mark. After Shane Poulsen's point shot was stopped, the Calgarian thrust himself upon the rebound, beating the Penticton netminder for his second tally in as many games.

The Vees would up their game in period two, but not before the Smoke Eaters added to their lead. Luke Sandler joined the party as the recipient of a nifty cross-ice feed from Braden Pears, snapping the puck through Katunar's legs for his 8th goal of the year, which in turn prompted Vees coach Fred Harbinson to turn to backup netminder Nic Renyard.

Trail's fourth goal came shortly after Penticton captain Troy Stecher struck iron on a glorious chance on a Vees power-play. The puck bounced off Todd to Stecher in the right circle. His quick release struck the near post as Todd scrambled across his crease in an attempt to parry the rebound.

Penticton did find the scoreboard in period two, as Brad McClure touched home a deflection of his own for his 14th of the year, cutting Trail's lead to 4-1.

Penticton would decrease the deficit early in the third, when James DeHaas sprung on a rebound and put a puck on goal that rolled up Todd's arm and bounced in. Both teams enjoyed several chances, including an Austin Adduono cross-bar from point-blank range, before Edwards scored his second of the night into the open net in the final minute.

The Smokies had only five defensemen in the lineup, but forced the issue against Penticton's high-powered offense from the get-go. Sam Mellor and Wade Murphy in particular had little time in high-percentage areas thanks to persistent, aggressive back-checking from forwards and strong active sticks from the defense, while Tyler Berkholtz, Chichkin and Poulsen combined for (unofficially) 14 blocked shots.

After backstopping Friday's comeback win, Todd was calm, cool and collected in goal. The 18 year-old showed terrific rebound control and a strong glove hand. The Vees backup Renyard put in a second straight strong performance in relief of Katunar, making key saves on the likes of Berkholtz and Scott Davidson which prevented the Smoke Eaters from putting the game out of reach.

With the victory, the Smokies equal their win total from the 2011-12 season, and move to within three points of the second-place Centennials and Warriors ahead of a key midweek rematch against the Vees.

My Three Stars:
1. Adam Todd, Trail
2. Ryan Edwards, Trail
3. Garrett McMullen, Trail

Up Next: The Smokies visit Penticton Wednesday night at 7:00 to complete the home-and-home series. Of note, this fixture was rescheduled from the original date of February 1st.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Vees

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Penticton Vees
When: November 17, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The Smoke Eaters will welcome back a familiar face as they begin a home-and-home series with Penticton tonight at Cominco Arena. Sam Mellor makes his return to Trail after a season in the college ranks. The East Kootenay kid scored 130 points over two seasons in orange and black, and has put up 24 points with the Vees in his 20 year-old season.

The Smoke Eaters though, will be happy to forget about the past, both historic and recent. Last night’s 8-7 overtime thriller against Prince George brought about the right result, as Valik Chichkin played hero in double OT, but many a fingernail was chewed clean off in a game that had offense and excitement aplenty.

Brent Baltus
moved back into the top 5 in BCHL scoring with a four-point effort last night, while Garrett McMullen, Connor Collett and Tyler Berkholtz all enjoyed three-point nights. Backup goaltender Adam Todd earned his second win as a Smokie, coming on in relief of Lyndon Stanwood after a first period that saw Trail and PG combine for 8 goals, 7 of which came in the final 5 and a half minutes.

Trail enters play tonight in fourth in the Interior division, a win tonight could move the Smokies to within three points of the division’s second seed.

Last Meeting: Penticton got a hat-trick out of Louie Nanne en route to a 7-2 victory October 6th. These two teams will also meet on Wednesday in Penticton. These two teams will meet again Wednesday in the South Okanagan.

Our Opponent: The Vees have overcome a recent four-game slide with back-to-back 3-2 wins this week against Merritt and Salmon Arm, and have re-tooled their roster both with returnees from Team Canada West and additions through the trade wire. Defensemen Troy Stecher and James DeHaas (a Red Wings draftee) along with forward Wade Murphy are all back from Nova Scotia, while smooth-skating defenseman Sean Flanagan and forward Brock Balson both joined the Vees in the last ten days from the Silverbacks. Murphy leads the club in scoring with 28 points, while Mellor's game-winner Wednesday against Merritt snapped a 12-game goalless drought. Chad Katunar, recently committed to Notre Dame, has taken over the number one gig between the pipes after backing up Mike Garteig last year. Some would say Katunar had his coming-out party during the playoffs last season when Garteig was sidelined with a long-term injury. Current backup Nic Renyard was the goaltender of record during the only prior meeting between Trail and Penticton this season.

In the Press Box: Defenseman Braeden Jones and forward Bryce Knapp remain on the long-term injury list. Marley Keca is doubtful. Penticton are without sniper Michael Rebry, who is out week-to-week.

Broadcast Info: Watch tonight's game on FAST Hockey pay-per-view, or listen live at Smokies Pre-game coverage begins at 7:20 with all the action set to get underway at 7:30.

Smoke Eaters 8 Spruce Kings 7 (OT)

The Smokies celebrate Djordje Leposavic's third-period equalizer (Randy Emery photo)

If you like offense, Friday was your night plain and simple.

Valik Chichkin converted a Connor Collett 2-on-1 feed in 3-on-3 overtime as the Smoke Eaters rallied for a wild 8-7 win over Prince George. In a Friday fixture that saw frantic, even manic play for much of the night, it almost made sense that a defenseman ended things on a night when defense was at the very bottom of the menu.

Prince George took the lead 6 and a half minutes into the game, as Jeremiah Luedtke slithered a shot from the right side through an off-kilter Lyndon Stanwood. It was a goal that came against the run of play, as the Smokies enjoyed strong spells of possession in the offensive zone right off the opening faceoff.

Trail would tie things up with 5:29 left to play in the first. Brent Baltus whipped a hard pass from the left corner to the bottom of the right-wing circle to captain Garrett McMullen, who one-timed the puck past Spruce Kings starter Kirk Thompson for his eighth goal of the season.

The two teams would combine for six more goals in the first period alone. Prince George took the lead on a Coltyn Hansen wrist shot before Baltus found the back of the net after deflecting a Shane Poulsen point shot. Less than a minute later, Shayne Morrissey scored the first of his two first-period goals on a laser beam from the right circle that found the top corner of Stanwood's net. Prince George would extend the lead to 4-2 when Tyson Witala backhanded past Stanwood after collecting the puck off Cominco Arena's lively end boards.

But just ten seconds after the Spruce Kings found a two-goal lead, Trail answered back. McMullen converted on a one-timer short-side on Thompson to draw the Smokies back to within one. Morrissey though, restored Prince George's two-goal advantage with 0.9 seconds left on the first-period clock on a seeing-eye slapper from the blueline that fooled a dejected Stanwood, who made way for Adam Todd to start period two.

The second brought just as many chances, but no goals, as the Smokies again found themselves forced into a third period comeback.

This time, Trail was extremely efficient, at least to start. Austin Adduono cut PG's lead to 5-4 in the opening minute, before Connor Collett banged home a rebound at 1:14 to put the Smoke Eaters back on level terms.

But it didn't last long. First Witala on a two-man breakaway, then a Brad Ryan slapper on a rare power-play that saw Todd completely screened, and the Spruce Kings found themselves ahead 7-5 with less than 10 minutes left in regulation.

Again, the Smokies found an answer. 30 seconds after Ryan's goal, Tyler Berkholtz put home a shot that looked to carom off a Prince George defenseman for his first goal since October 2nd. Trail would find yet another equalizer off the stick of Djordje Leposavic with 4:45 left to play, as he pinched in from the right point, collected a pass from Baltus on his backhand, and shoveled the puck past Thompson for his second goal of the season.

The teams traded chances until Chichkin's winner. With two Spruce Kings caught behind the play, Collett raced down the right wing, then feathered a pass across the slot to Chichkin who put the puck between Thompson's outstretched legs for his second goal in as many games.

Trail fired a season-high 51 shots at the opposing goal and looked threatening at all times, outshooting their opponents for only the 7th time in 24 outings. Todd was terrific in relief of Stanwood, earning his second victory as a Smoke Eater. Once again, the top line of Baltus, McMullen and Scott Davidson continues to click too, combining for 8 points while Berkholtz and Collett also enjoyed three-point nights. It's also worth noting that Trail played the game with only five defensemen, with both Braeden Jones and Marley Keca sidelined.

My Three Stars:
1. Brent Baltus, Trail
2. Tyson Witala, Prince George
3. Garrett McMullen, Trail

Up Next: The Smokies will gather their emotions and prepare for the Penticton Vees, who make their first visit of the season to Cominco Arena Saturday. Game time is 7:30.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Spruce Kings

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Prince George Spruce Kings
When: November 16, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The Smokies play host to a former division rival Friday with the lone visit of the Spruce Kings to Cominco Arena, with an eye on earning a season series sweep against Prince George.

After a come-from-behind overtime victory in Vernon last Friday night, Trail was undone by a defensive gaffe in the third period of Saturday’s 3-1 loss in Merritt.

The Smokies’ strength has been their play on home ice, and with three of the next four games slated for Cominco Arena, it’s an opportunity for Trail to climb back into playoff contention as the race with the Vipers and rebuilding Silverbacks continues.

Success will come from the goal-crease out. Lyndon Stanwood was outstanding last weekend, and enters tonight’s contest with a .926 save percentage in 8 appearances on home ice. The Smokies will get a boost up front in the form of forward Luke Sandler (7-6-13 in 21 games); he missed the last two contests after being assessed a two-game suspension for a checking-from-behind major.

Last Meeting: Garrett McMullen completed a comeback, scoring the overtime winner in a 4-3 Trail victory September 14th at the Coliseum. The Smokies overcame a 3-1 third-period deficit to win.

Our Opponent: The Spruce Kings have lost three straight games entering tonight’s contest, most recently a 7-3 defeat at the hands of the Victoria Grizzlies last weekend. It was Prince George’s first regulation home loss of the season. Watch for the Spruce Kings’ blueline to generate offense tonight, with both Mitch Eden and Bradley Ryan sitting in the top four in club scoring. Forwards Coltyn Hansen and Cam Lawson, acquired in the off-season trade that saw the pesky Fitzgerald triplets head to Victoria, have combined for 35 points. 20 year-old Kirk Thompson has played the lion’s share of the minutes in goal, winning 10 games thus far. His last outing against Trail was a 4-0 shutout win during pre-season play August 29th in Chase.

In the Press Box: Defenseman Braeden Jones and forward Bryce Knapp remain on the long-term injury list. Marley Keca is questionable after missing last Saturday’s game in Merritt. The Spruce Kings remain without blueliner David London, who has yet to play this season.

Broadcast Info: Watch tonight's game on FAST Hockey pay-per-view, or listen live at Smokies Ustream. The show starts at 7:20.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Centennials 3 Smoke Eaters 1

Brandon Bruce scored on a short-handed breakaway midway through the third period to lift the Centennials to a 3-1 win over Trail in Merritt.

It was a game that started brightly for the Smokies, who went ahead 1-0 10:09 into the game. While on a powerplay, defenseman Valik Chichkin fired a wrist shot from the point past Cents starter Tyler Steel. It was Chichkin's second BCHL goal and first as a Smoke Eater.

The lead remained static until the late stages of the second, when on a powerplay of their own, Cents playmaker Regan Soquila wristed his third goal past Trail goaltender Lyndon Stanwood from the left circle.

The two sides traded chances, and post hits, until Bruce put the hosts up for good, taking advantage of a turnover at the Trail line, breaking in and snapping the puck five-hole for his fifth goal of the year.

Brendan Lamont would add an empty-netter in the dying embers of the third.

Stanwood, for his part, made 42 saves, 19 alone in the second period. Neither team had much room to move the puck through the middle of the ice, and in the end it was Merritt's ability to take advantage of one of the Smokies' few miscues to earn the two points, and close to within a game of first-place Penticton.

My Three Stars:
1. Regan Soquila, Merritt
2. Lyndon Stanwood, Trail
3. Tyler Steel, Merritt

Up Next: The Smokies return home for two games next weekend, beginning Friday against Prince George. Faceoff is at 7:30 at Cominco Arena.

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Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Centennials

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Merritt Centennials
When: November 10, 7:30 PM
Where: Nicola Valley Arena, Merritt

The Smoke Eaters go in search of a fifth win in six games tonight in Merritt against a Centennials club coming off an impressive victory of their own.

Braden Pears was last night's overtime hero for Trail, tapping home a rebound to lift the Smokies to a dramatic 2-1 win here in Vernon. It was a game the Smokies never led, but Trail was very strong in all areas of the ice, outhitting, outworking and outhustling the Vipers to earn their second win in the four-game season series.

Tonight brings a different animal. The tight confines at the Nicola Valley Arena call for a grinding, physical style of play more bent on puck movement and possession than individual speed and finesse. To me, that suits the Smokies just fine. Their play in the low half of the offensive zone and along the walls was excellent last night, watch for that to be a key factor in determining a winner this evening.

One thing that has surprised me to this point in the season is Trail's ability to battle back during the late stages of games. Yesterday's victory was the fourth time the Smokies have won despite trailing after 40 minutes, with three of those triumphs coming in overtime. In fact, Trail's last two wins have both seen early goals against and third-period comebacks.

What more can I say about Brent Baltus? The 20 year-old matched his 2011-12 goal total (14) with his third-period equalizer last night. He's a perfect example of what hard work and commitment can lead to, and seems to be relishing his role as a leader and go-to player on this team.

Omitted from last night's three stars, but worthy of recognition as well is Lyndon Stanwood, who after surrendering an early goal shut the door on the Vipers, making 24 saves to record his eighth win of the season. A second-period rob-job on a Michael Roberts breakaway may have been his highlight of the night.

All that considered, and with the euphoria of a win in a building that traditionally has not brought Trail much success, the focus now has to go to the task at hand. The Smokies will need to match the commitment level and intensity of what's sure to be a hard-working Merritt club that has won all three meetings between the two sides this season.

Last Meeting: Merritt skated out of the Cominco Arena with a 3-1 victory on October 14th, despite (from my vantage point) Trail carrying the play for most of the game. The Smokies' last victory over the Cents came in late November of 2011 on a Marley Keca game-winner.

Our Opponent: I'm sure the Centennials raised some eyebrows with a 3-2 win in Penticton last night. Brandon Bruce had the game-winner late in the second period as Merritt improved to 11-5-1-1 and moved to within four points of the first-place Vees. Perhaps less surprising is how the Centennials have been winning games: Merritt averages a shade more than 3 goals per game, but have been positively stingy in a defensive zone anchored by Canada West invitee goaltender Tyler Steel. Playmaker Regan Soquila leads the Cents in scoring (2-17-19), while former Millionaire and Chief Derek Huisman is top dog in goals with 7. 

In the Press Box: Trail remains without the injured Braeden Jones and Bryce Knapp, while Luke Sandler will serve the second of a two-game suspension tonight. Matt Carr (Fernie Ghostriders) will fill in on the blueline. Merritt will be without defenseman Dane Birks, who is taking part in the CJHL Top Prospects game in the Maritimes.

Broadcast Info: Watch tonight's game from Merritt on FAST Hockey pay-per-view, or listen live at Smokies Ustream. Pre-game is set for 7:20 with the opening faceoff slated for 7:30 tonight.

Smoke Eaters 2 Vipers 1 (OT)

Braden Pears played overtime hero, firing home a rebound 28 seconds into 3-on-3 extra time to lift the Smokies to a 2-1 win in Vernon Friday.

Pears converted his second goal as a Smoke Eater after Jesse Knowler fired a low shot from the left wing off the pad of Vipers goaltender Austin Smith, giving Trail its fourth win in five games and first triumph at the Wesbild Centre since 2008.

Vernon got things going early, after TJ Dumonceaux snuck down the right wing, then cut across the crease with a backhand effort, beating Trail goaltender Lyndon Stanwood for his fifth goal of the season.

Both teams traded chances through the first and second periods, with the Smokies holding a slight edge in shots on goal, until early in the third period when Trail struck back.

Garrett McMullen found himself in possession of the puck in the low slot, but rather than shooting, he fired a pass to linemate Brent Baltus who then wristed a shot past a committed Smith for his 14th goal of the season; the goal equalled Baltus' output for the entire 2011-12 season.

Stanwood stopped 24 of 25 shots to collect his 8th win of the season in goal, including a breakaway save off Michael Roberts early in the second period. Vernon's best chance of the latter half of the game came in the late stages of period three, when Adam Tambellini struck iron after dangling around a Smokies defenseman for a chance from the left wing.

It was a solid away win for Trail, who despite falling behind early stuck to a plan of hard work and pressure in the low areas of the offensive zone. The line of McMullen, Baltus and Scott Davidson created chances while a new-look second unit of Tyler Berkholtz, Austin Adduono and Connor Collett also forced the issue in the offensive zone.

Defensively, the Smokies were strong too after an early hiccup which led to Vernon's only goal. Valik Chichkin continues to impress with a good active stick, while Marley Keca put out one of his best efforts of the season, jumping in offensively when needed while also remaining committed defensively.

My Three Stars:
1. Brent Baltus, Trail
2. Braden Pears, Trail
3. TJ Dumonceaux, Vernon

Up Next: The Smokies go for a third straight away win when they visit Merritt Saturday. Puck drop is set for 7:30.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Vipers

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Vernon Vipers
When: Nov. 9, 7:00 pm
Where: Wesbild Centre, Vernon

Greetings from the Smokies bus as we rumble on toward the North Okanagan for a rematch with the Vernon Vipers. It's already the fourth meeting of the season between these two clubs with Vernon holding a 2-1 season series edge.

Tonight's game marks the beginning of an 11-game stretch that will see Trail play on the road 8 times. And with only two wins away from home to date, it's imperative that this club pick up where they left off in their last away fixture, a 5-2 win in Salmon Arm two Saturdays ago.

Both teams will be minus regulars tonight (more on the Vipers scratches below). Power forward Luke Sandler will miss both weekend games after being assessed a 2-game suspension for a checking from behind major in last Saturday's home loss to Vernon. He will be replaced by Jesse Knowler, who makes his return to the lineup tonight after missing the last six games with an upper-body injury.

Last Meeting: Vernon won 9-2 on the strength of a 4-point night from captain Brett Corkey November 3rd in Trail. Neither team has played since that game.

Our Opponent: The Vipers, already without forwards Aaron Hadley (World Jr. A Challenge), Colton Sparrow and Brendan Persley (injured), are minus BCHL Player of the Week Adam Tambellini this weekend. He's off to Nova Scotia to compete in the CJHL Top Prospects game along with 6 other BCHLers (EDIT: Tambellini did not make the trip East and is IN the lineup tonight). Vernon though, is on a roll having won their last three games. Trail will need to work for quality chances against the likes of Corkey and Ryan Renz, both of whom were strong in last weekend's game. Watch out for Jedd Soleway tonight too, the forward has 8 career goals against the Smokies, 4 this season.

In the Press Box: Trail is without forwards Sandler, Bryce Knapp and blueliner Braeden Jones. AP defenseman Matthew Carr has been recalled from Fernie of the KIJHL. In addition to the already-mentioned injuries, the Vipers could be without D Michael Statchuk, who left Saturday's game in the second period and did not return.

Broadcast Info: Tonight's game is available on FAST Hockey, with an audio feed also at Smokies Ustream.

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
Envoyé sans fil par mon terminal mobile BlackBerry sur le réseau de Bell.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"Movember" Progress, Audio Catchup

Garrett McMullen and Tyler Berkholtz show off their 'staches after practice Tuesday

Movember is well and truly underway, with Smokies players, coaches and staff sacrificing their upper lips for a month in the interest of raising funds and awareness for men's cancer and male mental health. Check the blog each week through November for more photos!

For more on Movember, visit the BCHL page here. Smokies assistant Brent Heaven has also started a team here.

Audio Catchup: Some tape with players from the past two weeks is now available:

For Lyndon Stanwood and Djordje Leposavic from the last weekend in October, click here and here.

I chatted with Brent Baltus about his Player of the Week honourable mention before Friday's game here.

Conversations prior to Saturday's game against Vernon with Luke Sandler and Connor Collett can be heard here and here.

And yesterday I chatted with the two newest Smokies. Interviews with Valik Chichkin and Adam Todd are available here and here.

Shameless Self-Promotion: Check tomorrow's edition of the Trail Times for the latest Off the Wahl column. I'm happy to partner with the Times for a weekly bit for the Thursday paper, that I'm told will run until the end of the season.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Vipers 9 Smoke Eaters 2

The Vipers scored early and often in a 9-2 rout of the Smokies Saturday at Cominco Arena.

Vernon captain Brett Corkey opened proceedings at the 16-second mark, wristing a shot from the left point past a screened Lyndon Stanwood, before a Jedd Soleway bank job and Mitch McAllister rebound gave the visitors a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Vernon would blow the game wide open during a 5-minute stretch early in the second period. Soleway wristed a puck over Stanwood's shoulder on an early power-play, then Trail product Craig Martin won a one-on-one battle to score his first goal against the team with whom he was an affiliate last season to up Vernon's lead to 5-0.

Michael Roberts would add a sixth Viper goal before the six-minute mark of the second period, chasing Stanwood. Backup Adam Todd was put under pressure right away though, as Adam Tambellini chipped home a hard point pass from Kevin Guiltinan at the 7:19 mark to put Vernon ahead of the shell-shocked Smokies squad 7-0.

Trail found the scoresheet at the last gasp of period two on a pretty passing play. Djordje Leposavic whipped a hard pass from the top of the left-wing circle to the right post, finding Mitch Foyle who redirected the puck into the top corner for his first goal at home this season.

The Vipers kept on the pressure in period three, adding to their lead on a one-timer from Pearce Eviston and a sneaky wrister from the left side by Logan Mick before the Smokies rounded out proceedings on a late Adam Wheeldon power-play goal.

Danny Todosychuk made 41 saves between the pipes for Vernon, while Stanwood was tagged with the loss. Trail also lost forward Luke Sandler in the second period after he incurred a checking from behind major after a heavy collision in the offensive zone with Vipers defenseman Michael Statchuk, who left the game and did not return.

In all, it was a night to forget for Trail. Another horrific defensive start and an inability to click at the offensive end translated into a wide-margin loss to another Interior foe sorely in need of winning points. Credit Vernon for capitalizing on their opportunities and, despite surrendering more than 40 shots, doing a good job of altering pucks or checking Smoke Eater forwards in high-percentage areas of Trail's offensive zone.

My Three Stars:
1. Brett Corkey, Vernon
2. Jedd Soleway, Vernon
3. Ryan Renz, Vernon

Up Next: Another date with the Vipers is on the cards as the Smokies begin a two-game trip next Friday in Vernon. We'll be in Merritt next Saturday night for a matchup with the Centennials.

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Vipers

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Vernon Vipers
When: November 3, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

Trail can increase their lead over the Vipers to four points with a win tonight, and after last night’s dramatic victory over Chilliwack, the feeling has to be that anything is possible.

The Smokies fell behind 3-0 early to the Chiefs Friday, only to rally for a 5-4 thriller at Cominco Arena. Brent Baltus added two points to up his team-leading total to 21; that sum puts him tied for 5th in the BCHL in scoring entering play tonight.

Adam Todd endured a rough start to collect his first win in goal as a Smokie, and Austin Adduono also scored his first in a Trail uniform after leading the Superior International Junior Hockey League in scoring two seasons ago as a 17 year-old rookie.

No question, the confidence and emotions are at a peak entering tonight’s game, but the ever-tightening Interior division standings mean those emotions must also be tempered. Tonight’s game is a “four-pointer” to be sure, with both teams hungry for points as November kicks into high gear.

Last Meeting: The Smokies scored twice in the first period en route to a 3-0 home win September 29th. Lyndon Stanwood recorded his first BCHL shutout, and Scott Davidson scored his first BCHL goal late in the first period.

Our Opponent: The Vipers kept the gap between themselves and Trail at two points last night thanks to a T.J. Dumonceaux overtime winner at home against Nanaimo. Vernon, though, has struggled away from Wesbild Centre, winning only once. The loss of Castlegar’s Aaron Hadley to the World Junior ‘A’ Challenge should be dampened by the return of linemate (and cousin) Adam Tambellini from selection camp; the 18 year-old scored twice last night. The Viper goaltender of record from the last meeting, Joe Young, is no longer with the club after Vernon re-signed Danny Todosychuk, who had been with the KIJHL’s Golden Rockets.

In the Press Box: Defenseman Braeden Jones and forward Bryce Knapp remain on the long-term injury list. Jesse Knowler has also missed Trail’s last five games. Vernon’s lone listed injury is to forward Colton Sparrow, though Brendan Persley is out too.

Broadcast Info: watch tonight's game on FASTHockey pay-per-view, or listen live at Smokies Ustream. Pregame activities begin at 7:20 with the opening faceoff set for 7:30.

Smoke Eaters 5 Chiefs 4

Garrett McMullen broke a 4-4 tie 7:26 into the third period as the Smokies erased an early 3-goal deficit to nip the Chilliwack Chiefs 5-4 at Cominco Arena Friday.

The Chiefs came out of the gate flying thanks to a Josh Hansen wrister just over a minute in, then at the 2:12 mark Mitch Skapski banged his first BCHL goal past Trail starter Adam Todd to give the visitors a 2-0 lead very early.

Hansen converted an Austin Plevy feed from the side of the net for his second of the game at the midway mark of the opening period to extend the Chiefs' lead as a shellshocked Smokies squad struggled initially to contain a Chilliwack top line that had combined for 60 points entering play Friday.

But the Smokies caught two breaks, one at the end of the first, and one very early in the second, to get back in the game.

First, Jake Lucchini snuck a long-range wrister through Chilliwack goaltender Josh Halpenny to get Trail on the board before the end of the first period. It was the rookie's second goal in three games.

Then, Austin Adduono appeared to fire home his first as a Smoke Eater from the side of the goal 26 seconds into period two. Referee Ward Pateman initially waved the play off, but after consultation with his linesmen concluded that a goal had been scored, cutting the Chiefs' lead to 3-2.

The Chiefs would answer back shortly thereafter, as Skapski redirected a Mathieu Tibbet slap pass past Todd for his second of the game, restoring Chilliwack's two-goal lead, but Trail again would have an answer, this time from leading scorer Brent Baltus, who tapped home a Scott Davidson shot that rebounded off the end boards for his 13th goal of the season.

The third period would see Trail complete the comeback. Just after the five-minute mark, forward Luke Sandler fired a low wrist shot home on a 2-on-1 rush for his fifth goal in the past six games, then just over two minutes later, McMullen found his time to shine.

After Baltus snuck past Chiefs captain David Thompson down the left wing, Davidson whipped a quick pass from behind the net into the low slot, where Trail's captain was standing in wait. McMullen lifted the puck over Halpenny's shoulder into the net, giving Trail a lead they would not relinquish.

The Chiefs had chances to equalize, including on a late power-play after Todd covered the puck behind the net, incurring a delay of game minor. Trail's defense did not buckle, though, limiting the visitors' time in high-percentage scoring areas and shutting down the top line of Hansen, Plevy and Luke Esposito after their early success.

Todd recovered admirably after a tough start to collect his first win as a Smoke Eater, making 28 saves. Davidson and McMullen both proved their worth at the defensive end too, recording key blocked shots during crunch time in the third period.

It was far from a complete game from the Smokies, but the comeback and the two points is a testament to the commitment level in the Trail dressing room. Last year's team may well have worked as hard, but would have had trouble clawing back offensively. The offensive punch has shown its ability to stay consistent, too, over the past half-dozen games. For this team to continue on their current path, that will need to continue.

My Three Stars:
1. Garrett McMullen, Trail
2. Josh Hansen, Chilliwack
3. Luke Sandler, Trail

Up Next: Vernon pays a visit to Cominco Arena Saturday in another four-pointer. This one is huge, and this group of players would love nothing more than a large, boisterous crowd in their effort to take a second straight game from the Vipers (recent home form would also suggest that anyone who does show up will get their money's worth). Gametime is 7:30.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Chiefs

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Chilliwack Chiefs
When: November 2, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The Smokies try for a third straight win tonight against another tough, out-of-division opponent as the Chilliwack Chiefs pay their only visit of 2012-13. Trail swept last weekend with a 4-1 win at home against Victoria before a three-point night from Brent Baltus propelled them to a 5-2 victory in Salmon Arm last Saturday.

Both Baltus and Lyndon Stanwood caught the attention of the BCHL office for their strong play last week, earning honourable mentions for the league’s Player of the Week award. Baltus sits in a tie (with Chilliwack’s Josh Hansen, coincidentally), for second in the BCHL in goal-scoring, while 30 of Stanwood’s 72 saves over the weekend came in either third period.

Smokies fans will also get their first look at new defenseman Valik Chichkin tonight. The Burnaby rearguard made his debut Saturday in Salmon Arm, and brings size, and a season of BCHL experience (with Langley) to an ever-improving defensive core. Trail’s strong play in their own zone is paying dividends for Stanwood, too, who is seeing many of the shots directed his way and controlling rebounds well too.

Both home fixtures this weekend for Trail are big games. With Vernon and Salmon Arm still breathing down the Smokies’ necks (and with games in hand as well), points are a hot commodity for the Black and Orange. Chilliwack will provide a grinding, physical test this evening.

Last Meeting: The Smokies closed the 2011-12 season with a 5-2 loss March 11th in Chilliwack. The last meeting at Cominco Arena was a 5-3 Trail win on the strength of a Connor Tiechko hat-trick.

Our Opponent: The Chiefs begin an Interior sojourn tonight sitting two points behind Prince George for the Mainland division lead, and have had plenty of time to reflect upon a 5-1 loss in Vernon last Saturday. Hansen, Luke Esposito, and Austin Plevy each have 19 or more points, no other Chief has more than 8, though big rearguard David Thompson (2-6-8) does provide some punch from the back end, especially on the power-play. Mitch Gillam is a treat to watch in goal, and holds a stingy 2.46 GAA entering tonight’s game.

In the Press Box: Defenseman Braeden Jones and forward Bryce Knapp remain on the long-term injury list. Chilliwack does not have any listed injuries.

Broadcast Info: catch tonight's game on FASTHockey pay-per-view, or listen live on Smokies Ustream. Pre-game begins at 7:20 with the faceoff set for 7:30.