Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Vernon Vipers
When: Dec. 6, 7:00 pm
Where: Wesbild Centre, Vernon
It seems like we've only just gotten home from the coast, but the Smokies are back on the road today for a crucial Interior matchup in Vernon. Sunday's 6-3 win in Chilliwack has ebbed the stream of panic that flowed freely after a rough night in Coquitlam Saturday, as Trail goes in search of its second consecutive win at Wesbild Centre against a Vipers squad that has done some tinkering over the last week.
Luke Sandler broke out of a mini-slump Sunday with a hat-trick including a stellar solo effort on a breakaway early in the third period. In the absence of captain Garrett McMullen, the Smokies needed someone to step up and take charge offensively and Sandler did just that, upping his goal total to 11 on the season while sniper Brent Baltus quietly became the first player in the BCHL to hit 20 on the year.
Even though last weekend's flu bug is surely a thing of the past, injuries remain a very real concern for this club and I'd expect affiliates to draw in both tonight and tomorrow. I thought Matt Carr (Fernie KIJHL) in particular was terrific last weekend and has been every time Trail has come calling. The 18 year-old keeps his game simple and steady, and plays with enough of a physical edge to be able to adjust quickly to the increase in pace brought on by junior "A" forwards.
No question Trail will need to put in a full 60-minute effort tonight against a Vernon club that can explode offensively. The Vipers have put up a 7 and a 9 against the Smoke Eaters this season and will be just as interested in securing the fourth seed in the Interior as tonight's visitors will be in taking it away. It sounds cliche, but a good start by this club is crucial. The Smokies have surrendered 100 goals on the road this season, 34 of those coming in the first period compared to only 14 goals for. We've seen several times this season (including Sunday) that this club has the ability to come back from early deficits, but playing "catch-up" won't work every night.
Last Meeting: The Vipers started early and scored often in a 9-2 romp at Cominco Arena on November 3rd. Both teams have won twice in the seven-game season series with one game each in Trail and Vernon to follow tonight's contest.
Our Opponent: The Vipers have made several changes since these two clubs last met, most recently a trade with Penticton that sees power forward Jedd Soleway head south in exchange for Michigan commit (and last year's KIJHL rookie of the year) Dexter Dancs. Forwards Landon Robin and Mitch Van Teeling have moved on, while former UMass forward Andrew Tegeler also arrived in Vernon this week. This comes on the heels of the departure of highly touted recruit Kevin Guiltinan to Prince George two weeks ago. The Vipers' top line is one of the best in the league, no question, with 17-goal man Adam Tambellini leading the charge. The shutdown pairing of Ryan Renz and Brett Corkey is physical and limits opposing forwards' space; watch for them to draw against the Smokies' top line tonight.
In the Press Box: Trail are without defensemen Braeden Jones and Shane Poulsen, goaltender Adam Todd and forward Bryce Knapp. Fellow forward Jesse Knowler is a question mark. Trail product Craig Martin is out of the lineup for the Vipers as he nurses a broken ankle.
Broadcast Info: Watch tonight's game on FAST Hockey pay-per-view, or listen live at Smokies Ustream. Pregame coverage begins at 6:50 with the puck drop from Vernon set for 7:00.