Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Smokies/Centennials Lineups

Here are the line combinations for tonight's game between Trail and Merritt.

Smoke Eaters:
12 - McMullen, 16 - Tiechko, 21 - Cooper
14 - McDougall, 25 - Clarkson, 18 - House
9 - Baltus, 22 - Wheeldon, 17 - Horsman

6 - Coish, 3 - McEwan
8 - Egli, 4 - Poulsen

33 - Stanwood
35 - D'Andrea

12 - Soquila, 19 - Brears, 9 - Stack
8 - Harper, 10 - Fletcher, 15 - Reichert
11 - Shinkaruk, 14 - Bruce, 16 - Maktaak
6 - Mancuso, 22 - Low, 17 - Lamont

3 - Willcox, 25 - Pfeil
24 - Sabourin, 7 - Chanter
2 - Marshall, 4 - Martin

35 - Steel
31 - Chimienti

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Centennials

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Merritt Centennials
When: Feb. 29, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

A rested Trail lineup will get the benefit of home ice for their second matchup with Merritt in less than a week. The Smokies had only 13 healthy skaters Friday night at the Nicola Valley Arena in a 7-2 loss, but have matched up against the second-place Centennials much better on home ice than in the cramped confines in Merritt (Trail holds a 1-2 record away in the season series compared to 1-0-1 at home).

One hopes the time off since Saturday's 5-4 loss at Westside has given Trail's aching bodies a chance to heal ahead of a busy week of home games. The end of the season is well in sight and tonight marks the start of a final push for a Trail roster looking to make one last impression before the summer.

I chatted to Smokies forward Erik Cooper following Saturday's game, hear that conversation here.

Leap Year Madness: All tickets tonight will be only FOUR dollars. Hope to see you at Cominco tonight for one of the last home games of the season.

Last Meeting: Silvan Harper and Chad Brears each scored twice against 13-skater Trail as the Cents won 7-2 in Merritt last Friday night. The season series is even at 2-2-1, with Trail having collected 3 of 4 points in the two prior meetings at Cominco Arena.

Our Opponent: The Cents came ever so close to ending Penticton's streak in their last game before Trail product Travis St. Denis potted a winner in the final minute of overtime. The six-game losing streak from earlier this year though, has created a neck-and-neck battle for second place in the Interior Conference, with the Cents leading Prince George by 2 points (68-66) entering play tonight. Harper has been a Smokie-killer with 4 of his ten goals coming against Trail this season, while leading scorer Regan Soquila can make a case for being one of the best players in the league without a college commitment. Merritt is a big, physical team with a surprisingly mobile defence corps (D Brandon Pfeil sits fourth on the team in scoring with 34 points), and given the Merritt connection on the Smokies bench its no surprise to see these teams play such a similar style.

Broadcast Info: Join me for all the action on pay-per-view beginning at 7:25 here; Alex Grebenyuk has your away audio call on Q101 Merritt.

KIJHL Update: Both Castlegar and Beaver Valley are on the brink of the second round, albeit in different circumstances. The Rebels outgunned the Nelson Leafs 7-6 in OT on a Scott Morisseau tip-in; nine goals were scored in the first period alone. Spokane, meanwhile avoided a sweep at the hands of the Nitehawks with a 3-2 win on the strength of a Dylan Tappe winner. Both BV and Castlegar return to home ice tomorrow holding 3-1 series leads.

Saints Snag Sniper: Selkirk College have announced the commitment of former Express, Centennial and Millionaire Thomas Hardy for the 2012-13 season. The Surrey product led the PIJHL in scoring (33-40-73) with Aldergrove. In a release Hardy says he's "excited to go back to the small-town feeling [he] had throughout his years of junior hockey." Selkirk wraps up their season Saturday at Eastern Washington.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Warriors 5 Smoke Eaters 4

A valiant effort from a short-staffed Smoke Eaters team fell just short in West Kelowna tonight.

Erik Cooper and Shane Poulsen each had three points but the Warriors skated to victory on a bouncing dump-in from Dustin Cave with seven minutes remaining in the third period.

Westside opened the scoring midway through period one when Brennan Clark converted a centring feed from Devon Hascarl.

The Warriors extended their advantage 7 seconds into period two, as Shawn Hochhausen broke in and snapped a wrister past Trail goaltender Lyndon Stanwood.

The Smokies got a lucky bounce minutes later, after a Garrett McMullen dump-in was bobbled by Warriors goaltender James Leonard only for Cooper to fire home the first of his two goals on the rebound.

After the home team went up 3-1, the Smokies got an offensive spark from Poulsen and Adam Wheeldon, who replied in quick succession. Wheeldon's goal was a tip-in off a Poulsen point-shot, to boot.

The Warriors took a 4-3 advantage into the final frame before Cooper snapped home a wrist shot on a Trail power-play three minutes into period three.

Cave's goal, his first of the BCHL season, stood up as the game-winner as Leonard collected only his second win, both against Trail.

Despite the loss, the Smokies battled hard and were full marks for at least a point. Cooper was dangerous on every shift, while Poulsen played arguably his best game in a Trail uniform. Stanwood was strong, as usual, between the pipes too keeping the Smokies close with several huge stops.

Up Next: Trail returns home to face Merritt Wednesday night in the first of three games at Cominco Arena next week.

Local Hockey Tonight: Beaver Valley shook off a plucky Spokane Braves side in game two of their first-round playoff series. Max Flanagan scored the winner for BV in overtime after Ryan Edwards tied the game in the final minute of the third period. Nelson earned an away split after a 2-1 away win in Castlegar. In major midget play, Kootenay fell 5-2 to the Valley West Hawks.

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Warriors

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Westside Warriors
When: Feb. 25, 7:00 PM
Where: Royal Lepage Place, West Kelowna

Expect another short Trail bench tonight as the Smokies close out the season series with Westside in the Okanagan.

Trail dressed only 13 skaters in a 7-2 loss at Merritt last night, but could have only 12 tonight in West Kelowna barring AP callups (which is unlikely thanks to the KIJHL playoffs). Needless to say, plenty of icetime will be up for grabs tonight as the Smokies try to snap a seven-game skid under what could accurately be termed pretty harsh circumstances.

Last Meeting: A 4-1 victory for the Warriors last Thursday night in Trail. The Smokies have a 2-4 record so far this season against Westside.

Our Opponent: The Warriors might be a touch depleted themselves. Brett McKinnon made his return to the lineup against Prince George but the Warriors had only 15 regular skaters. That said, Westside still possesses a potent attack with the likes of Connor Dempsey and Marcus Basara to lean on. Shawn Hochhausen was the hero last Thursday, scoring twice in the aforementioned 4-1 Warrior win. Dwayne Rodrigue made 38 saves last night in the 4-1 loss to the Spruce Kings, the Quebec product has gotten the lion's share of the work in goal.

In the Press Box: Trail are without defensemen Joren Johnson and Marley Keca. Forwards Luke Bertolucci, Riley McDougall, Adam Fares and Brandon Long will all miss out too. The Warriors are minus blueliner Matthew Berry-Lamontagna and forwards David Pope and Seb Lloyd. Fellow forward Garrett Skrbich also did not dress last night.

Broadcast Info: At this moment, a Smokies away broadcast is listed as "questionable" thanks to the big dump of snow received last night. Check my Twitter account closer to puck drop for confirmation. Failing that, Jon Zacks has you covered on the PPV and home audio side, both avail. here.

Local Hockey Tonight: Beaver Valley will try for a two-game advantage tonight when they host Spokane in KIJHL playoff action (7:30, Beaver Valley Arena). The 'Hawks won 6-3 last night. The Nelson Leafs meanwhile go for a split in Castlegar (7:30, Complex). Despite outshooting the Rebels 31-27 in last night's Game 1, the Leafs fell 5-1. The major midget Kootenay Ice are back at home tonight hosting the Valley West Hawks (4:00, Castlegar Complex). The two sides will play a second game tomorrow morning at 9:30.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Centennials 7 Smoke Eaters 2

A very brief wrap on this one since my evening was spent working the Rebels/Leafs KIJHL game.

Trail dressed only 13 skaters in a 7-2 setback at the Nicola Valley Arena in Merritt after last night's close call in Penticton.

Joren Johnson, Marley Keca, Luke Bertolucci and Riley McDougall all missed out as the Cents jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead and never looked back, handing the Smokies their seventh consecutive defeat.

Silvan Harper and Chad Brears each scored twice, while Jakob Reichert chipped in with three points.

Garrett McMullen and Clayton McEwan (his second goal in as many games) replied for the Smokies, while Connor Tiechko chipped in with two assists.

Lyndon Stanwood made 44 saves for Trail, who were outshot 51-25.

Of note, Taylor House fought Merritt's Ross Mancuso in the first period; the two were teammates last year with Osoyoos in the KIJHL.

Up Next: Trail wraps up the road swing in Westside tomorrow, before returning home to host Merritt on Wednesday. Any possible Trail broadcast tomorrow night will be a "gameday decision" given the hefty dump of snow that graced (and continues to grace) the West Kootenay today.

KIJHL Tonight: Both local home sides held serve in their respective Game Ones. Castlegar's Scott Morisseau scored three times, twice in the first period as the Rebels won a physical opener over Nelson 5-1. Smokies AP Stuart Walton chipped in with three assists while Jordan Gluck made 30 saves, including several key stops in the latter half of period two. Beaver Valley fell behind early, but rode three power-play goals en route to a 6-3 victory over Spokane. The line of Chris Derochie, Ryan Edwards and Craig Martin combined for 8 points. Both series resume tomorrow in Castlegar and Fruitvale.

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

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Vees 4 Smoke Eaters 2

A gutsy effort by the Smokies in Penticton tonight fell just short in a 4-2 setback to the Vees.

Trail opened the scoring on a power-play goal from Kyle Horsman (his first tally since opening night against the Westside Warriors) before Penticton's Steven Fogarty tied things up on a short-handed marker late in the opening period.

The score stayed static until midway through the third, when Vees leading scorer Connor Reilly and fellow Minnesotan Joey Benik put pucks home in a 46-second stretch.

Smokies captain Clayton McEwan brought Trail back to within one later in the frame, but with 2 and a half minutes left in the third period the Vees received insurance courtesy of former Victoria Grizzlie Wade Murphy.

Trail goaltender James D'Andrea made 39 saves and was named the game's first star. Even though the shot disparity was wide (43-19 by game's end), the game hung in the balance until the final few minutes of the third period. Even though the end result might be disappointing, the scoreline is surely an indication this team is capable of skating with anyone in the BCHL.

Up Next: Trail pays a visit to Merritt Friday. Four of Trail's last nine games of the season are against the Centennials (2 in each barn).

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Vees

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Penticton Vees
When: Feb. 23, 7:00 PM
Where: South Okanagan Events Centre, Penticton

Penticton might well be the Valley of Death for BCHL opposition this season, but the Smokies have their heads held high as they kick off a three-game swing tonight against the top-ranked Vees. After a nasty flu bug made its way through the dressing room, the club is ready to get back to work after a pair of disappointing results over the weekend that stretched the current winless skid to five games.

Speaking of streaks, no doubt the Smokies have their eye on ending Penticton's league-record 34-gamer. The Vees haven't lost since an overtime setback against Merritt in early November, and have already clinched first place in the BCHL's Interior Conference.

But the Vees are beatable, as evidenced by Trail's 4-3 win October 19th at the Cominco Arena. No doubt the Smokies will try to hearken back on the little things (physicality, shots from everywhere, persistent forecheck) that made them successful in that game, tonight.

Special teams will no doubt be a factor tonight as well, specifically the Smokies' need to stay out of the penalty box. Penticton leads the BCHL in both power-play percentage (~32%) and PK percentage (~85%), but Trail's man-advantage stats have also improved dramatically over the last two months, to the point the Smokies possess the league's 7th best power-play.

Last Meeting: The Vees posted an 8-5 win in Trail November 20th in a game that saw a wild third-period rally by Trail to close a 6-1 deficit to 6-4. Two goals in 10 seconds following the mid-period timeout cemented Penticton's fourth win over the Smokies this year.

Our Opponent: With 7 of the league's top ten scorers on their roster, no doubt the Vees pack an offensive punch, especially on home ice. Overager Connor Reilly leads the attack with 84 points, but fellow Minnesotan, and St. Cloud commit Joey Benik has been on fire of late, with 10 points in his last five games including a hat-trick February 11th vs. Westside. The Vees' inner circle has indicated backup goaltender Chad Katunar will see more action as the regular season winds down, don't be surprised to see the 6'4" former Creston Valley Thunder Cat between the pipes tonight.

In the Press Box: Trail is without forwards Adam Fares and Riley McDougall, while defensemen Joren Johnson, Marley Keca and rookie forward Luke Bertolucci are all likely to return. The Vees dressed a full lineup (save D Kyle Beaulieu) for their 4-1 win in Salmon Arm Saturday.

Broadcast Info: There will be no Trail broadcast for tonight's game or for tomorrow's fixture in Merritt. Fraser Rodgers has your PPV and audio call tonight at 7, both available here.

Stick Tap: To Smokies president Tom Gawryletz, assistant coach Barry Zanier, and all of the recipients of Trail's Community Sport Hero awards, presented last night at the Best Western Terra Nova, for their dedication and volunteerism toward local sports in the Greater Trail area. Keep up the great work!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Silverbacks 6 Smoke Eaters 4

Salmon Arm's Jeff Kennedy collides with Smokies goaltender Lyndon Stanwood during the third period (Randy Emery photo)

The Silverbacks raced out to a 4-0 lead, then held on to a surging, short-handed Trail squad to win 6-4 at Cominco Arena Friday.

The 'Backs scored twice in a fifteen second span before the game was a minute and a half old, as
Stefan Nicholishen and Alex Gillies (the latter on a two-on-oh rush) both beat Smokies starting netminder James D'Andrea from in close. Myles McCauley converted a one-timer ten minutes later, followed up by an great individual effort by Garrett Hendrickson to give the visitors a 4-0 lead heading into the break.

Trail woke up in the second period though, scoring twice in an 8-second span 2 minutes in. Brandon Long's slapper from the right point took a deflection off the leg of SA defenceman Mike Berry, then Erik Cooper tucked home a Garrett McMullen centring feed through the legs of 'Backs goaltender Adam Clark.

Just two minutes later, Jeff Kennedy was the recipient of a patented Cominco bounce in the Trail zone. He spun, shot, and roofed a wrister over the left shoulder of Lyndon Stanwood, who came on in relief of D'Andrea at the beginning of period two. Long would poke home a second goal amidst a goalmouth scramble to round out the second period scoring.

Both teams traded chances through the third before Long completed his hat-trick late in the frame to draw Trail to within one. The Calgarian circled the Silverbacks' zone on a Trail power-play only to outwait Clark and wrist home his 8th goal of the season. The aforementioned Kennedy would deposit an empty-netter in the dying seconds to secure Salmon Arm's win.

Not the prettiest of games to say the least, and something you might expect given the fact Trail had only fourteen skaters tonight (and four defensemen). The Silverbacks rolled 9 and 6 for a total of fifteen, and tired legs and mental mistakes were well apparent, especially given the frantic nature of the first fourty minutes.

That said, Trail were game for a four-goal comeback attempt tonight, especially after the two goals in quick succession early in the second period. A Stanwood save off a McCauley breakaway later in the frame only furthered the Smokies' resolve. Long, who coming into play tonight had scored four of his five goals away from home, seemed especially confident after potting his first of the night, and was my second star.

Up Next: The Smokies begin a three-game trip Thursday night in Penticton, that also includes stops in Merritt and West Kelowna. Saturday's game (next week of course) against the Warriors will be available on Smokies Ustream.

Stick-Tap: to the Kootenay Savings Community Foundation, for generously donating $25,000 to the Smokies toward the purchase of the team's new bus. That plus the $40,000 received last summer from the Columbia Basin Trust have (and will go) miles toward keeping Trail's travel costs much lower than if the team was reliant on charters. Thank you KSCU!

KIJHL Tonight: A pair of lopsided scores from Friday, as both Nelson and Castlegar's regular-season home send-offs proved worthwhile for home fans. The Leafs rode a four-point night from Matthew Naka in a 7-2 win over Beaver Valley (Smokies AP Craig Martin was ejected in the second period for fighting fellow Trail product Andy Miller). Castlegar trounced thirteen-skater Spokane 12-2 thanks to a seven-point effort from Scott Morisseau. The playoffs begin next Friday in Fruitvale and Castlegar.

Smokies/Silverbacks Lineups

Here are the line combinations for tonight's game between Trail and Salmon Arm.

Smoke Eaters:
12 - McMullen, 16 - Tiechko, 17 - Horsman
14 - McDougall, 25 - Clarkson, 23 - Long
9 - Baltus, 22 - Wheeldon, 18 - House

6 - Coish, 21 - Cooper
4 - Poulsen, 3 - McEwan
8 - Egli

33 - Stanwood
35 - D'Andrea

14 - Nicholishen, 91 - Muller, 83 - Stephens
10 - J. Kennedy, 9 - Zulinick, 89 - McCauley
20 - Gillies, 15 - Barden, 94 - Hendrickson

7 - Hambrook, 5 - B. Kennedy
11 - Flanagan, 4 - Berry
12 - Hanna, 8 - Friedel

29 - Williams
41 - Clark

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Silverbacks

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Salmon Arm Silverbacks
When: Feb. 17, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The Smokies get right back to work tonight against Salmon Arm, a night after a three-goal outburst from Westside stopped Trail in its tracks at Cominco Arena.

Trail was short-handed right from the get-go, with three APs in the lineup including 15 year-old Mitch Foyle and only four regular defensemen, but last night's game hung in the balance until the Smokies found themselves in penalty trouble. Despite many minutes in the sin bin, Westside were 1/8 on the power-play which to me points to just how much Trail's penalty kill has improved.

Another group of shifty forwards come to town tonight with an eye on further securing their foothold on seventh place in the Interior. Like last night's opponents, the Silverbacks are not playoff-bound, but games between these two sides have been chippy all season long despite both teams' relative lack of success in the standings.

Last Meeting: A see-saw affair at the Shaw Centre ended when Erik Cooper was assessed a penalty-shot in three-on-three overtime. Cooper snapped a wrister past Adam Clark to give Trail a 5-4 win. The Smokies hold a 2-4-0-1 record in the season series, but all of their five points against Salmon Arm have come in the last three meetings.

Our Opponent: The Silverbacks have struggled immensely since the trade deadline, winning only one of their last ten games, but are finally starting to get healthy after a lean month of January. Salmon Arm have allowed six or more goals in six of their last eight games, including 10-1 and 8-2 setbacks against Penticton and Prince George over the weekend. Swiss forward Devin Muller has owned the Smokies this season, averaging more than two points-per-game in the season series, and while overage goaltender Kurt Williams has drawn the lion's share of Salmon Arm's starts this season, it's been Adam Clark between the pipes for the 'Backs in each of their last three encounters with Trail. Salmon Arm's defense is quick and mobile, watch for the emergence of 17 year-old Shane Hanna, who was teammates with Taylor House in the KIJHL last year; they won a title together in Osoyoos.

In the Press Box: For Trail, D Joren Johnson and F Adam Fares are out. Blueliner Marley Keca and rookie forward Luke Bertolucci both missed last night's game and are questionable for tonight. The Silverbacks were without D Taylor Love in their last outing Sunday against Prince George.

Broadcast Info: Join me for all the action on pay-per-view from Cominco, pre-game at 7:25 with the opening faceoff shortly after 7:30. Your audio/video link is available here.

KIJHL Tonight: Three of our four local teams are in action tonight with a clash between Nelson and Beaver Valley slated for the Queen City tonight (7:00, NDCC). The Leafs started AP Cam McPherson in goal last night, he 12 saves in a 4-1 victory at Grand Forks. Castlegar close out the home portion of their regular-season schedule tonight against Spokane (7:30, Complex). Forwards Arthur Andrews and Stuart Walton both dressed for Trail last night.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Warriors 4 Smoke Eaters 1

Trail's Taylor House and Westside's David Pope fight in the third period (Randy Emery photo)

Three goals in the third period paced Westside to a 4-1 victory over the Smokies at Cominco Arena Thursday.

Shawn Hochhausen led the attack for the Warriors with two goals, including the game-opener late in the first period. The former Nelson Leaf cut to the front of the net from the right-wing corner and lifted a backhand over Trail's Lyndon Stanwood in close proximity.

Hochhausen's goal held up until the dying moments of period two, when Trail's Erik Cooper unloaded a wrister from the point on a Smokies power-play through heavy traffic to level the score.

Tempers started to flare late in the second period, but swelled to a boil in period three.

After Reid Simmonds tapped home off a clever individual effort from Max French to give the visitors the lead, the Warrior forward drew a major penalty on Cooper off a play in the Trail zone. Facing the boards, Simmonds was thrust into the wall after a Cooper cross-check, only to return to action once play resumed. Cooper was assessed a cross-checking major and a game misconduct by referee Eric Dasti, a penalty which for all intents and purposes quashed any chance at a Trail rally. Hochhausen scored on the extended penalty, and for his efforts Simmonds was sent hurtling into the net minutes later by Taylor House to spark a skirmish that ended with House besting Westside's David Pope in a swift, decisive bout in the Trail zone.

Connor Dempsey added some insurance late in the third, outwaiting a sliding Stanwood to score his 22nd of the year on a backhand.

Stanwood, despite allowing four goals, was for my money the best Smoke Eater tonight. He made several saves through the first 40 minutes to keep the game close, including a breakaway stop off Dempsey early in the first after Trail had stormed out of the gate with several offensive chances.

For a team that arrived in Trail 55 minutes before game time, the Warriors had plenty of jump. Goaltender James Leonard, making his first start since November, made 26 saves, though like Ty Swabb of Prince George last weekend he wasn't relied upon to keep his team in the game.

All in all a disappointing result which could have an impact on future Smokies games if Cooper is assessed any supplemental discipline. For my money, (and admittedly keeping my opinion as neutral as possible), I don't think the hit was worthy of a major penalty, particularly given that Simmonds was not hurt on the play. That said, the Warrior forward was in a vulnerable position, but I would also argue that Cooper wasn't acting with the intent of taking advantage of that vulnerability in the least.

Up Next: Trail goes right back to work Friday against Salmon Arm. Faceoff is at 7:30 at Cominco Arena.

KIJHL Tonight: The Nelson Leafs spoiled Grand Forks' home finale with a 4-1 win at the Grand Forks Arena. Scorers were not available at time of writing.

Smokies/Warriors Lineups

The line combinations for tonight's game between Trail and Westside.

Smoke Eaters:
12 - McMullen, 16 - Tiechko, 20 - Andrews (AP)
14 - McDougall, 25 - Clarkson, 23 - Long
9 - Baltus, 19 - Walton (AP), 18 - House
17 - Horsman, 24 - Foyle (AP), 22 - Wheeldon

6 - Coish, 21 - Cooper
8 - Egli, 4 - Poulsen
3 - McEwan

33 - Stanwood
35 - D'Andrea

25 - French, 16 - Hochhausen, 23 - Simmonds
9 - Pope, 14 - Dempsey, 10 -Basara
11 - Lloyd, 19 - Morrison, 18 - Blanleil
26 - Hascarl, 24 - Skrbich, 20 - Clark

28 - Monk, 5 - Betker
21 - MacIntosh, 7 - Berry-Lamontagna
22 - Cave, 27 - Toneff

33 - Leonard
30 - Rodrigue

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Warriors

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Westside Warriors
When: Feb. 16, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The Smokies play a rare Thursday home game (albeit the second this month) against a familiar, yet unfamiliar opponent in Westside. It's the seventh meeting of the season between the two teams, but the Smokies and Warriors haven't locked horns since a 3-1 Trail victory on home ice November 26th.

Since then, both teams have made significant changes, and while both Trail and Westside are on the outside of this year's playoff picture, both sides have plenty of talent to ice strong squads in 2012-13.

Trail has been idle since a pair of disappointing home losses to Prince George over the weekend. For me, the difference in the game was the Spruce Kings' ability to generate quality chances whereas Trail's attack was (especially in Friday's 4-1 loss) kept to the perimeter.

I chatted with head coach Bill Birks yesterday, take a listen here.

I also talked to former Smoke Eater Ben Matthews following Saturday's game, that tape is available here.

Last Meeting: As mentioned, it's been awhile, but the November 26th victory at Cominco also served as Lyndon Stanwood's first 'W' in Trail silks. Westside have won four of the six previous meetings, with one of Trail's wins coming in overtime.

Our Opponent: Like Trail, the Warriors are carrying only two 20 year-olds the rest of the way, and one will make his return tonight. Per The General's Report, Peter MacIntosh will be back in the lineup for Westside this evening, and with the likes of Izaak Berglund and Michael King gone, the New Brunswick product's role as leader and mentor becomes all the more important. Connor Dempsey and ex-Viper Marcus Basara lead the Warrior attack while fellow forward Max French is also enjoying a 20-goal season. Dwayne Rodrigue has started Westside's last 30 games in goal, a stretch dating back to November 23rd.

In the Press Box: Trail d-men Joren Johnson and Brandon Egli are both out, while forward Adam Fares will miss the rest of the season. Westside will be minus forward Brett McKinnon, an ex-Nelson Leaf.

Broadcast Info: Join me for the pay-per-view beginning at 7:25 here. Jon Zacks has your Westside feed here.

Movin' On Up: Congrats to former Nelson Leafs goaltender Billy Faust on securing a commitment to the University of Vermont. Faust spent two years with the Leafs, winning a KIJHL title in 2009.

Local Hockey Tonight: Grand Forks play their home finale this evening in search of home victory number one of the season against the Nelson Leafs (7:30, Grand Forks Arena). The Border Bruins were edged 6-5 in OT by Spokane Tuesday and have a new face behind the bench in assistant Nick Deschenes. The Morinville, AB native was a teammate of head coach Matt Zamec at Yale, and played in the AHL with the Philadelphia Phantoms as part of a nine-year career. I chatted with Zamec yesterday, hear his thoughts here. The Leafs move on to face Beaver Valley in a season-ending home and home set beginning tomorrow in Nelson. I spoke with Nitehawks coach Terry Jones about his club's first regular-season KIJHL title in 8 years earlier this week, listen here.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Spruce Kings 4 Smoke Eaters 2

Lyndon Stanwood stretches out to make a save as Gerry Fitzgerald looks on (Randy Emery photo)

Three goals in the first period helped Prince George to a second consecutive victory over the Smokies at Cominco Arena Saturday, and again, it was the Fitzgerald triplets who did the most damage.

Trail jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on a power-play four minutes in. Brent Baltus tapped home a rebound after Erik Cooper launched a point shot. Again for Baltus, a goal from within five feet of the goal-mouth, as the 19 year-old has made a habit of being right on the doorstep, especially on the power-play.

The Spruce Kings stormed back as part of a nineteen-shot first period. Gerry Fitzgerald converted the first of his two goals less than five minutes after Baltus had given Trail the lead, then brother Myles put Prince George ahead on a rocket from the slot.

Myles was the recipient of (yes another) Cominco bounce, as a clearing attempt smacked off a stanchion and landed at the forward's feet. Gerry would add a third Prince George goal before the period was up.

After a scoreless second, the momentum appeared to be shifting in Trail's favour as Riley McDougall fired home a short-handed goal 21 seconds into the third off a turnover in the Spruce Kings zone.

The teams traded chances until, at the 7:43 mark Jujhar Khaira appeared to haul down Cooper behind the goalline, steal the puck and wrist home a much-needed insurance marker from the right-wing circle. A frustrating moment to be sure from a Trail standpoint (as indicated by many of the 746 in attendance following the goal), and undeniably a turning point, but a moot point now, close to four hours after the final whistle.

Ty Swabb stopped 24 of 26 shots for Prince George while Lyndon Stanwood made 36 saves for the Smokies, not including (by my count) 4 or 5 hit posts by Prince George.

Trail played with only four defenseman, as both Joren Johnson and Brandon Egli were out injured, while AP Bryce Perpelitz (who skated well Friday) was unavailable for selection.

Up Next: The Smokies continue a homestand Thursday night against the Westside Warriors, who just about completed an improbable five-goal comeback in Penticton tonight.

Local Hockey Tonight: Castlegar rebounded strongly from Friday's lopsided home loss to the Nelson Leafs with a 7-3 thumping of their own at the NDCC. Smokies AP Stuart Walton had three goals for the Rebels, while former Trail d-man J.J. Beitel tallied for the Leafs. Beaver Valley defeated Golden 6-1 in Fruitvale. The major midget Kootenay Ice were doubled 6-3 by the Vancouver Northwest Giants in Trail (the two teams go at it again at 9:45 Sunday morning at Cominco). Former Nitehawks Layne Stopanski and Kris Davis both scored in Okanagan College's 5-2 victory over Selkirk College. Jordan Wood had both Saints goals. Selkirk faces Eastern Washington Sunday afternoon in Castlegar (1:30, Complex).

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Smokies/Spruce Kings Lineups

Here are the line combinations for tonight's game between Trail and Prince George.

Smoke Eaters:
12 - McMullen, 16 - Tiechko, 21 - Cooper
14 - McDougall, 25 - Clarkson, 23 - Longs
9 - Baltus, 11 - Bertolucci, 18 - House
17 - Horsman, 22 - Wheeldon

6 - Coish, 4 - Poulsen
7 - Keca, 3 - McEwan

33 - Stanwood
35 - D'Andrea

Spruce Kings:
16 - Khaira, 26 - Colantone, 8 - DeJersey
9 - L. Fitzgerald, 21 - G. Fitzgerald, 19 - M. Fitzgerald
12 - Ten Vaanholt, 22 - Witala, 14 - Chore
18 - Landrey, 17 - Rassell, 15 - Betz

10 - Woodley, 2 - Matthews
6 - Esau, 27 - Golightly
5 - Pacheco, 3 - Charleson

35 - Swabb
1 - Thompson

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Spruce Kings

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Prince George Spruce Kings
When: Feb. 11, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

Trail go for a split tonight against a Prince George Spruce Kings team looking to furthe close the gap between themselves and second-place Merritt. The Spruce Kings enter play tonight three points behind the idle Centennials (with two games in hand), while the Smokies play one of their three games in hand on seventh-place Salmon Arm this evening (trailing the reeling Silverbacks by ten points).

For Trail to earn a weekend saw-off, the quality offensive-zone possession must improve. The Smokies enjoyed good spells of puck-cycling in period one, but failed to generate many top-notch chances after the Spruce Kings earned a 2-1 lead early in the second.

Despite being short on "D" last night though, I thought Trail did well to limit Prince George's quality chances. James D'Andrea looked much more confident between the pipes yesterday, and each of the Spruce Kings' 3 goals (barring the Jujhar Khaira empty-netter) were the result of defensive-zone turnovers or favourable bounces off the notorious Cominco Arena boards and glass.

Last Meeting: See my previous post for a better look at Prince George's 4-1 win last night. The Spruce Kings lead the season series 4-0.

Our Opponent: The Spruce Kings showed last night they don't necessarily need to rely on their top line to survive. The Fitzgerald triplets were constant threats in the offensive zone (with Gerry Fitzgerald smacking home the winner early in period two), while former Canmore Eagle Zack Rassell also slotted home his third in the BCHL. That said, the top line is good, though I thought Trail did a decent job of shutting down Paul DeJersey (in terms of shooting chances) last night. The combination of DeJersey, Khaira and Michael Colantone have put up 33 points in four meetings against the Smokies this season. I'd imagine we could see Kirk Thompson between the pipes tonight for Prince George after Ty Swabb stopped 28 of 29 shots last night.

In the Press Box: Trail is without defensemen Brandon Egli and Joren Johnson, forward Adam Fares is also out. Prince George were without blueliner Cody Bardock last night.

Broadcast Info: Pay-per-view/free audio are both available here beginning at 7:25. I understand there were some technical issues last night with the audio portion of the broadcast, but things were sorted by the third period. My apologies for any inconvenience, as far as I could tell in our booth levels were registering and I'd imagine we'll be as right as rain tonight.

Local Hockey Tonight: Plenty of other action today as well, notably Castlegar visiting Nelson in the KIJHL (7:00, NDCC Arena). The Rebels were thumped 6-2 at the Complex last night thanks to two goals from Patrick Martens. Beaver Valley, who have clinched the KIJHL's number-one seed heading into the post-season, host the Golden Rockets tonight (7:30, BV Arena). The 'Hawks last earned the KIJHL's version of the Presidents' Trophy in 2004, a year in which they also won the league title. The major midgets are in action in Trail at time of writing against the Vancouver NW Giants, the two teams will also face off tomorrow morning at 9:45 (Cominco Arena). Selkirk College are homestanding as well, with games in Castlegar tonight against Okanagan College (7:30, Complex), and tomorrow afternoon against Eastern Washington (1:30, Complex).

Friday, February 10, 2012

Spruce Kings 4 Smoke Eaters 1

An early second-period goal from Gerry Fitzgerald proved the winner as Prince George won the opener of a two-game weekend set over the Smokies, 4-1 at Cominco Arena.

After forcing a turnover in the Trail zone, Myles Fitzgerald set up his brother in the slot for his ninth goal of the season, a sharp wrister past Smokies goaltender James D'Andrea; the goal broke a 1-1 tie just 47 seconds into the second period.

Prince George withstood some early pressure from the Smokies and opened the scoring six minutes into the first period. A hefty bounce off the end boards landed at Zack Rassell's feet, he outwaited D'Andrea to backhand home his 3rd goal in the BCHL this season.

Trail replied after a Tanner Clarkson wrister snuck through Spruce Kings goaltender Ty Swabb.

Fitzgerald's goal held up until Jujhar Khaira benefitted from another lively bounce midway through the third period. He collected a ricochet from the end glass and snapped home a power-play marker to extend PG's lead. The 17 year-old would add an empty-netter to round out the scoring.

To me, the difference was Trail's inability to penetrate a big, if not overly physical, Prince George blue line. The Spruce Kings kept Trail to the perimeter (much like one game in particular the two sides played earlier this year up north, an 8-0 PG win on October 14th), and while Swabb played well, I wouldn't have considered him overly tested. D'Andrea put out another good performance between the pipes for Trail, and PG benefitted with some unexpected open space on each of the three shots that beat the Smokies netminder.

Khaira and Smokies captain Clayton McEwan had it in for each other all night, including a first-period fight (that I might add was over about as quickly as it started thanks to some speedy linesmen). Watch that battle as the weekend continues.

Up Next: the two sides go at it again Saturday night at Cominco as Trail continues a four-game homestand.

KIJHL Tonight: Two goals from Patrick Martens paced the Nelson Leafs to a 6-2 win in Castlegar to open up a home-and-home series that serves as a preview for round one of the post season. It's the first time in the last five meetings between the two teams that the home side has failed to secure two points.

Smokies/Spruce Kings Lineups

Your line combinations for tonight's game between Trail and Prince George.

Smoke Eaters:
12 - McMullen, 16 - Tiechko, 21 - Cooper
14 - McDougall, 25 - Clarkson, 23 - Long
9 - Baltus, 11 - Bertolucci, 18 - House
17 - Horsman, 22 - Wheeldon

6 - Coish, 4 - Poulsen
2 - Perpelitz (AP), 7 - Keca
3 - McEwan

35 - D'Andrea
33 - Stanwood

Spruce Kings:
16 - Khaira, 26 - Colantone, 8 - DeJersey
9 - L. Fitzgerald, 21 - G. Fitzgerald, 19 - M. Fitzgerald
12 - Ten Vaanholt, 22 - Witala, 14 - Chore
18 - Landrey, 17 - Rassell, 15 - Betz

10 - Woodley, 2 - Matthews
6 - Esau, 27 - Golightly
5 - Pacheco, 3 - Charleson

35 - Swabb
1 - Thompson

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.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Vipers 3 Smoke Eaters 1

Castlegar's Aaron Hadley scored the winner late in the first period as Vernon defeated Trail 3-1 tonight, bringing an end to the Smokies' undefeated start to the month of February.

The Vipers got going 5:49 into the opening frame on Turner Lawson's first career BCHL goal. Hadley extended the lead before period end.

Clayton McEwan brought Trail back to within one eight minutes into the second period on the power-play. It was the captain's second goal of the season and first since December 3rd.

Vernon added insurance in the third period courtesy Brendan Persley, who sniped his seventh goal since joining the Vipers from WHL Victoria earlier this season.

Lyndon Stanwood made 31 saves for the Smokies in defeat.

Up Next: The Smokies receive their first visit of this season from the Prince George Spruce Kings, who arrive in Trail for a pair of games beginning Friday.

KIJHL Tonight: The Castlegar Rebels secured home-ice advantage in round one of the playoffs after a 3-0 home ice win over Grand Forks. Smokies tryout Peter Mingus scored the game-winner before the five-minute mark of the first period, but goaltender Dylan Quinn was sensational in goal for the Bruins, making 48 saves. Castlegar were without five regulars including Stuart Walton and Anthony Delong.

Stick-Tap: To Trail's Travis St. Denis and the Penticton Vees, who set a new BCHL record tonight with their 30th consecutive victory. The Smokies will face the Vees twice more this season, both games taking place in Penticton.

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Vipers

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Vernon Vipers
When: Feb. 7, 7:00 PM
Where: Wesbild Centre, Vernon

Yes, there is more than one game in the BCHL, even though understandably centre-stage is on the Prospera Centre in Chilliwack.

The final meeting of the season between Trail and Vernon goes tonight in the North Okanagan with both teams riding mini-streaks through the first week of February. The Smokies have won two straight games following victories at home over Alberni Valley and Chilliwack, while the Vipers are 2-0 to start the new month as well.

Trail's victory over the Chiefs Saturday showed this team has grown mentally since Christmas. Were it a fixture from earlier in the season, the Smokies might not have recovered from two early goals against, and a 19-shot Chilliwack barrage in the third period might have posed trouble too. But the ability to come back, and more importantly come away with two points speaks volumes about how much this team has learned over the past few months. The momentum might well be at an all-time high, and were it not for a pair of comebacks against in the Lower Mainland, we could just as easily be talking about a 5 or 6 game win streak for the Orange & Black.

Plenty of audio to pass along from last weekend too:

For Brent Baltus' thoughts on beating the Bulldogs Thursday, click here.

For Connor Tiechko's take on his hat-trick against Chilliwack, click here.

James D'Andrea discusses his first BCHL victory here.

Last Meeting: It all hung in the balance until the bitter end on January 20th in Vernon. Moments after Baltus tied the game with less than two minutes remaining in the third period, Adam Tambellini won it for the Vipers from the left faceoff circle. Vernon added an empty-netter to win 5-3. Trail holds a 0-5-0-1 record this season against the Vipers.

Our Opponent: Vernon will be scoreboard-watching just like the rest of the BCHL with a keen eye on proceedings in Chilliwack tonight. A Viper win, combined with a Penticton victory over the Chiefs in regulation (which I've heard might set some kind of record), would draw the Vipers into a tie for the fourth and final playoff position in the Interior Conference. Michael Zalewski and Tambellini have been Smokie-killers this season, combining for 25 points over six games. The Vipers could, though, still be without Californian sparkplug Darren Nowick, who also has 10 points in the season series. The Vipers have not lost at home to Trail since October of 2008.

In the Press Box: Smokies are again without D Shane Poulsen and F Adam Fares. Forward Adam Wheeldon could be back by the weekend. Vernon's Nowick, along with defensemen Max Mowat, Geoff Crisfield and Luke Juha all missed Saturday's win over Alberni Valley.

Broadcast Info: Todd Miller has your exclusive broadcast coverage tonight. Pay-per-view and free audio feeds are available here. Our next Smokies away broadcast won't be until February 25th at Westside.

KIJHL Tonight: The Castlegar Rebels can confirm home-ice advantage in their first round playoff series against Nelson tonight, as they host Grand Forks (7:30, Complex). Border Bruins goaltender Dylan Quinn has made 65+ saves in each of his last two starts.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Smoke Eaters 5 Chiefs 3

Connor Tiechko played the hat-trick hero against his hometown team, and James D'Andrea collected his first BCHL victory in a 5-3, come-from-behind Smokies win against Chilliwack.

It wasn't the start the Smokies were hoping for, as Anderson White and Josh Hansen put the Chiefs ahead by the time the game was 3 1/2 minutes old, but Trail improved as the game progressed, and Tiechko had a night to remember as the Smokies won their third straight home game.

White opened the night's events with a backhander from the right circle at 1:01, then a scramble in front of D'Andrea wound up with the puck in the back of the net courtesy Hansen at 3:21 to give Chilliwack a dream start.

Tiechko, though, would be sprung free and clear later in the period, beating Chiefs goaltender Bryton Udy low along the ice to lift Trail to within one before the break.

With the Chiefs on an early second-period two-man disadvantage, Tiechko knocked home his second of the game from the edge of the crease on a nifty cross-ice feed from Garrett McMullen. Riley McDougall gave Trail the lead on another power-play later in the period, snapping a sharp wrister into the top right corner after completing a give-and-go from the right side with AP callup Colton Schell.

D'Andrea made the save of the game moments later. With a delayed penalty being called against Trail, Chiefs forward Kit Sitterley found himself alone in front of the net with oodles of time to beat a prone Smokies 'tender. Crossing from right to left, Sitterley tried to outwait D'Andrea, who would have none of it, coming across his crease left to right to stonewall the Chilliwack forward. A classy gesture after the whistle as well that I think deserves attention, as Sitterley went as far as to tap D'Andrea on the pads following the save to offer his congratulations.

The score remained the same well into the third period despite torrid pressure from the Chiefs, until a blocked shot at the Trail line turned into Tiechko's second breakaway of the night. Again, the Smokies forward made no mistake, putting a low shot past Udy for his hat-trick goal.

Derek Huisman would draw the Chiefs back to within one in the dying minutes with Udy on the bench, but seconds later, Brent Baltus restored the two-goal lead firing home a rebound of his own for his fifth goal in four games.

D'Andrea wound up with 38 saves on the night for his first Trail victory since joining the club in late October. With the defeat, Chilliwack (fourth in the Interior Conference) now holds only a two-point advantage on fifth-place Vernon. No doubt Chiefs fans will be urging the Smokies on Tuesday when Trail visits Wesbild Centre.

A gutsy win for the Smokies, no doubt, and a huge emotional lift to collect their first victory over the Chiefs in seven tries this season. Tonight also saw a much more committed effort by the Smoke Eaters in their own zone, with the likes of Tanner Clarkson, Brandon Long and Joren Johnson each enjoying strong defensive games tonight. Luke Bertolucci also won several key faceoffs, a category in which the Chiefs have held a definite edge in the season series.

Up Next: Despite 4 of the next 5 games for Trail being scheduled for Cominco, the Smokies are off to Vernon Tuesday for one last meeting this season with the Vipers. The Spruce Kings are in town for two big games next weekend.

Video Killed...: let's hope not, for now at least. A heads-up that Shaw TV was at the rink tonight, where we shot a short feature on Erik Cooper which I'd imagine will air on the Kootenay affiliate in the next week or so. We've done a few of these quick hits over the course of the season, once it's posted online I'll include a link in a future blog post.

KIJHL Tonight: Congrats to the Beaver Valley Nitehawks! They clinched the Neil Murdoch regular season crown tonight for the first time in 6 years, despite a 4-3 OT loss in Castlegar this evening (Scott Morisseau with the winner). The playoff matchups in the division could be finalized as early as tomorrow when Nelson hosts Spokane, but it appears as though the 'Hawks will face the Braves, while the Rebels will tangle with the Leafs.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Smokies/Chiefs Lineups

The line combinations for tonight's game between Trail and Chilliwack.

Smoke Eaters:
12 - McMullen, 16 - Tiechko, 21 - Cooper
14 - McDougall, 25 - Clarkson, 23 - Long
9 - Baltus, 11 - Bertolucci, 18 - House
17 - Horsman, 24 - Schell (AP), 22 - Wheeldon

6 - Coish, 5 - Johnson
8 - Egli, 7 - Keca
2 - Birks (AP), 3 - McEwan

35 - D'Andrea
33 - Stanwood

12 - Bondra, 9 - Huisman, 14 - Gould
15 - Hansen, 16 - Dhaliwal, 17 - Spring
27 - Sitterley, 18 - Graboski, 23 - Hills
28 - Forster, 24 - Babych

5 - Thompson, 8 - Hutchinson
7 - White, 19 - Perron-Fontaine
4 - Laurent

35 - Udy
1 - Gillam

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Chiefs

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Chilliwack Chiefs
When: Feb. 4, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

After a tough loss seven days ago, the Smokies get another crack at the Chilliwack Chiefs on their home turf (ice) tonight. Trail raced out to a 3-0 lead seven days ago at Prospera Centre only to see the Chiefs score four unanswered goals to win 4-3.

The Smokies are coming off their largest margin of victory this season, 6-2 over the Alberni Valley Bulldogs Thursday night. 19 year-old forward Brent Baltus is on fire, having scored 4 times in the last three games; he put home a pair including the game-winner against old friend Matt Larose two nights ago.

Trail might well be at a season-high, confidence-wise. Tonight, they face a short-benched Chiefs side in search of their third straight home-ice win, and a 2-0 start to February.

Last Meeting: It's been touched on above, but Shay Laurent's third-period slapper proved the difference Jan. 28 at Prospera. Tonight marks the seventh of eight meetings between Chilliwack and Trail this season, with the Smokies holding an 0-5-0-1 record in the season series.

Our Opponent: The Chiefs come into play tonight needing two points to widen the gap between themselves and fifth-place Vernon. Chilliwack has dropped to fourth in the Interior after last night's 5-1 setback in Penticton and Prince George's victory on home-ice, but trail the Spruce Kings (who again host Salmon Arm tonight) by only a point. Chilliwack's top line of Derek Huisman, Malcolm Gould and David Bondra have been positively deadly against Trail, combining for 19 points in the six-game season series (one might argue Bondra's penalty shot last Saturday night was a turning point as well). David Thompson has scored 5 of his 22 points against Trail and leads all blueliners in scoring through six meetings. I wouldn't be surprised to see Mitch Gillam go in net tonight. He's played 4 of the 6 games, and partner-in-crime Bryton Udy got the start last night.

In the Press Box: The Smokies are without defenseman Shane Poulsen as well as forwards Adam Fares and Adam Wheeldon. Both Poulsen and Wheeldon could return next weekend while Fares is out for the year. Chilliwack dressed only 16 skaters last night and were without captain Tyler Miller as well as forwards Jeremy Gossard and Mathieu Tibbet. All three were absent last Saturday too.

Broadcast Info: Join me for the pay-per-view tonight beginning at 7:25, by clicking here. Marc Fitzgerald has your away audio here.

Local Hockey Tonight: One game of KIJHL significance could see Beaver Valley clinch their first division title in six years at Castlegar (7:30, Castlegar Complex). The 'Hawks need one point, or a dropped point by the Rebels. The major midget Kootenay Ice will look to keep their red-hot 2012 going this weekend in the Lower Mainland against the Vancouver NE Chiefs, while Selkirk College complete a weekend trip tonight at Simon Fraser. The Saints scored 4 times on the power-play but dropped a 6-5 decision to Trinity Western in Langley last night.

Movin' On Up: I mentioned this one on Twitter last week, but neglected to touch on it here. Former Smoke Eater Josh Roberts (EJHL Apple Core) has committed to Army. The Southport, CT product appeared to be rounding into form with Trail before suffering a nasty injury in a collision on the end boards in Westside in early November. Way to go Josh!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Smoke Eaters 6 Bulldogs 2

Trail callup Craig Martin tucks home the fourth Smokies goal in the third period (Randy Emery photo)

The Smokies set a new season high with six goals for, and three third-period tallies paced Trail to a second straight victory on home ice Thursday against Alberni Valley.

It was the Bulldogs who opened the scoring, as ex-Smoke Eater Daniel DelBianco snuck in from the point 4:54 into the first period to score only his third BCHL goal in his first game against his former team.

Trail answered back quickly, though. Erik Cooper received a generous bounce off the end boards and tucked a puck past an out-of-position Matt Larose 4:59 later, before Connor Tiechko put home a Joren Johnson point blast that squibbed through the Bulldog netminder's legs later in the opening frame.

The Bulldogs tied the game 5:28 into the second on a Cooper-esque end board bounce that was tapped home by Ryan Lough, but then a mid-period penalty to Alberni Valley served as the prequel to the eventual game-winner.

Marley Keca's one-timer landed on the stick of former Port Alberni resident Brent Baltus, who put home his third goal in as many games to put Trail in front before the second intermission.

The Bulldogs came storming out of the gate in the third period, similar to their first-period start, but Smokies goaltender Lyndon Stanwood made a number of saves (and received help from the crossbar on one occasion) to keep the Trail lead at 3-2.

A defensive zone turnover by Alberni Valley 5 minutes into the third precipitated a break for AP callup Craig Martin. The 16 year-old coolly outwaited Larose (after receiving a nifty pass from Riley McDougall) to deposit his fifth BCHL goal of the season.

Baltus would add his second minutes later after fishing a loose puck out of the top of the crease, before Tanner Clarkson wired home a wrister from the right circle later in the period to round out the scoring.

The game was not without physicality. The Bulldogs' Turner Popoff took exception to being thrust to the ground by Cooper in the first period after attempting to throw a check. The two exchanged blows before the Smokies' leading scorer was brought to the ice.

Then in the third period, Bulldogs defenseman DelBianco engaged Smokies rearguard Brandon Egli in front of the Trail goal. DelBianco was forced to the locker room after Egli landed a couple of blows late in the tilt.

Alberni Valley's Justin Morello also left the game in the second period and did not return.

Up Next: The Smokies are back on home ice in search of a better result against the Chilliwack Chiefs Saturday night. Trail led 3-0 a week ago at Prospera Centre only to fall 4-3 on a Shay Laurent winner.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Smokies/Bulldogs Lineups

Here are tonight's line combinations:

Smoke Eaters:
12 - McMullen, 16 - Tiechko, 21 - Cooper
14 - McDougall, 25 - Clarkson, 23 - Long
9 - Baltus, 11 - Bertolucci, 20 - Martin (AP)
17 - Horsman, 18 - House, 24 - Heinrich (AP)

6 - Coish, 5 - Johnson
8 - Egli, 7 - Keca
2 - Birks (AP), 3 -McEwan

33 - Stanwood
35 - D'Andrea

17 - Morello, 15 - Tironese, 24 - Mitchell
20 - Strand, 9 - Lough, 18 - Stewart
27 - Y. Kalashnikov, 21 - A. Kalashnikov, 14 - Crisanti (AP)
23 - Dorais, 11 - Evans (AP)

28 - Tupper, 2 - Sabo
6 - Van Allen, 3 - DelBianco
25 - Popoff, 26 - Hyland
22 - Halls

30 - Larose
1 - Fenkell

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Bulldogs

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Alberni Valley Bulldogs
When: Feb. 2, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The Smokies welcome back two old friends to Trail tonight in the only meeting of the season against Alberni Valley.

Goaltender Matt Larose and defenseman Daniel DelBianco were both shipped westward in mid-October in a deal that saw the Smokies acquire the since-departed Tanner Hicks, Marley Keca and Taylor House.

But more importantly, tonight's game serves as a chance for Trail to rid the memories of two tough weekend losses in Chilliwack and Langley; games that saw the Smokies enjoy second-period leads only to fall away from home.

I chatted about the weekend and tonight's game with Smoke Eaters assistant coach Bob Dever, who suggests Trail's recent play (in the big picture) is emblematic of a noticeable improvement over the pre-holiday portion of the schedule. Have a listen by clicking here.

Our Opponent: The Bulldogs, like Trail, are looking to the future as well. AV shipped leading scorer Dylan Nowakowski to Alberta at the Jan. 10 deadline, and the team now features only three overage players (leading scorer Josh Mitchell, d-man Walker Hyland and forward Trent Dorais). The 'Dogs hung in tough over the weekend with a pair of one-goal defeats at Powell River, but remain three points behind Langley for seventh in the Coastal Conference (albeit with two games in hand). There are a few Kootenay connections in addition to former Smokies DelBianco and Larose. Forward Tryg Strand once plied his trade with the major midget Kootenay Ice, while brothers Artsiom and Yan Kalashnikov were offensive sparkplugs with the Grand Forks Border Bruins last season.

In the Press Box: For Trail, Shane Poulsen is nearing a return to the lineup, while Adam Fares has missed the last five games. Alberni Valley have called up forward Austin Evans from the KIJHL's Fernie Ghostriders.

Broadcast Info: Join me for all the action on pay-per-view (and free audio) here, beginning at 7:20. Evan Hammond has your away feed covered on The Peak.

Local Hockey Tonight: One game on the KIJHL docket tonight in Grand Forks as the Border Bruins and Leafs open a home-and-home set (7:30, Grand Forks Arena). Nelson, of course, split a weekend set with Castlegar while the Border Bruins' last action was a 7-6 OT loss to Kelowna last Friday night.