Friday, December 14, 2012

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Warriors

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ West Kelowna Warriors
When: Dec. 14, 7:00 pm
Where: Royal LePage Place, West Kelowna

The pre-holiday portion of the Smoke Eaters' 2012-13 schedule closes with a bang as Trail kicks off a four-game in five-night stretch tonight in West Kelowna. The Smokies already lead the league in games played, and will have played an incredible 37 times by Christmas.

Tonight, the task is simple, win in a building that has not been kind at all. In four meetings with the Warriors, Trail has mustered two victories (both on home ice) by a combined score of 6-3. In West Kelowna, it's a much different story. Trail has been outscored 15-2 in two losses, and have not picked up points at Royal Lepage Place since a 3-2 overtime win November 6th, 2011.

There is reason for optimism, and real concern in camp Smoke Eater, though. Captain Garrett McMullen is the reigning BCHL Player of the Week, defenseman Braden Pears earned himself an honourable mention and is enjoying a career year with 19 points on the Smokies' back end, and by hook or by crook, this club has managed to pull off some of the most improbable wins already this season that I've seen in 25+ years of watching and covering hockey. The likely absence of 21-goal man Brent Baltus as he recovers from an upper body injury is reason for concern, although fellow overager Tyler Berkholtz provides a reliable, steady centreman that can allow the speedy McMullen to shift to wing on Trail's top line.

Points are crucial every night, but with a win this evening the Smokies could climb to within one point of the third-place Warriors, who are struggling with injury concerns of their own (see below). Two points tonight would be massive for the psyche of this team.

Last Meeting: The Warriors scored early and often in a 6-0 win October 5th at Royal Lepage Place. Tyler Briggs made 20 saves to collect the shutout.

Our Opponent: West Kelowna remain a mystery. On some nights they're capable of putting up massive numbers, but injuries and a lack of consistency has put the Warriors in a dogfight with Merritt for second place. Despite being only 4 games over the .500 mark, West K have a goal differential of +21, which speaks to the explosiveness of their offence. Marcus Basara (35 points) is top dog in the Warriors' attack, but 18 year-old Seb Lloyd (14-18-32) is enjoying a breakout season in his second year in West Kelowna. Briggs (10-8-1, 2.31, .923) anchors a defense that is one of only five in the BCHL (Penticton, Merritt, Chilliwack and Surrey the others) to concede fewer than 80 goals this season.

In the Press Box: Goaltender Adam Todd, defensemen Braeden Jones and Shane Poulsen, and forwards Baltus and Jesse Knowler are out. Fellow forward Bryce Knapp is questionable. According to Jon Zacks, the Warriors are without forwards David Pope, Brett McKinnon and Ambrose Firkus. Goaltender Steve Myland is with the WHL's Swift Current Broncos.

Broadcast Info: Watch tonight's game on Fast Hockey pay-per-view, or listen live at Smokies Ustream. Pre-game coverage begins at 6:50, with the play-by-play at 7:00.

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