Friday, March 30, 2012

Spring Camp Starts Today

19 days after the end of the BCHL regular season, a handful of Smokies and about 70 prospects are back on the ice beginning today for the start of spring camp.

It's the first opportunity for Trail's coaching staff to get a look at new players for next year ahead of the busy summer recruiting season, and one last chance for fans in Trail to get a glimpse of their BCHL team (in some form) before the Cominco Arena ice gets taken out for the summer.

I chatted with Trail head coach/GM Bill Birks yesterday about the weekend ahead, listen to that conversation here.

Here's a rundown of the weekend's events:

10:00 - Check-in
11:15-12:30 - White vs. Blue
12:45-2:00 - Yellow vs. Red
6:30- 7:45 - White vs. Yellow
8:00-9:15 - Red vs. Blue

8:30-9:30 - White practice
9:45-10:45 - Blue practice
11:00-12:00 - Yellow practice
12:15-1:15 - Red practice
1:45-2:30 - Goalie session
4:00-5:15 - White vs. Red
5:30-6:45 - Yellow vs. Blue

8:30-10:00 - 3 vs. 4
11:00-12:30 - 1 vs. 2

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Alumni Update; Spring Camp This Weekend

Lots to talk about, a bit late on one of the items but it's definitely deserving of a mention.

Congrats to Smokies alum Cullen Bradshaw, who earlier this month was part of the NCAA Division III national champion St. Norbert College hockey club. The Green Knights won their second straight national crown with a 4-1 victory March 17th over Oswego State. Bradshaw just completed his freshman year after playing his 20 year-old season in Trail. He finished second on the Green Knights in scoring with 30 points.

Congrats as well to Smokies alum Kiefer Smiley, who yesterday was named to the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) All-Rookie Team. Smiley put up a 19-10-2 record with the Mississippi Surge in 2011-12 with a 2.48 GAA and .907 save percentage. The 21 year-old put up 36 wins in two seasons with the Smokies in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Former Smokies blueliner Danny DeKeyser tweeted yesterday he'll be staying another year at Western Michigan University, after months of speculation about whether he'd jump to the NHL. DeKeyser spent the 2008-09 season in Trail as a 17 year-old.

Spring Camp Update: This weekend's Smokies spring camp is full to the brim and ready to roll beginning Friday morning at Cominco Arena. It'll be your first chance to check out the newcomers for your 2012-13 Smokies with action set to go all weekend. The March 11th season-finale in Chilliwack seems like ages ago, hope to see a nice turnout this weekend before the ice gets taken out for the summer.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Nitehawks Win Kootenay Conference

A 6-2 win tonight in Fruitvale helped the Beaver Valley Nitehawks punch their ticket to the 2012 KIJHL finals.

Dallas Calvin scored twice, including a late first-period goal that stood up as the eventual game-winner, to help the 'Hawks past Fernie to the league championship series against the Kelowna Chiefs.

Calvin put up five goals over the five games against the Ghostriders.

After 16 year-old Craig Martin and Ghostrider forward (and ex-Nelson Leaf) Connor McLaughlin exchanged first period tallies (the McLaughlin goal on a short-handed breakaway), BV defenseman Derek Lashuk split the "D" and banked a shot in off the left goal-post to give the Nitehawks a lead they would not relinquish.

Two goals from Calvin and Justin Niminiken in a 50-second frame late in period two broke the game wide open, before Josh Peters rounded out the scoring in the third.

Brendan Burge had the other Fernie goal off a rush from the left wing in the second period.

BV goaltender Zach Perehudoff made 28 saves to improve to 8-1 in the 2012 post-season.

Ironically enough, it was Lashuk's younger brother Brent who tucked home the OT winner tonight for the Chiefs in their Okanagan Conference Championship clincher. Kelowna fired 81 shots at the Sicamous goal, winning the game 4-3 and the series 4-1.

The finals schedule should be made public over the next day or so, check the Nitehawks blog (link to the right) as I'll be out of town this weekend and may not get a posting in. Beaver Valley will have home-ice advantage.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Nitehawks Are Neil Murdoch Champs

Justin Niminiken tucked home a backhander at 17:52 of the third period to break a 3-3 deadlock to put Beaver Valley through to Round Three of the KIJHL playoffs for the first time in four years.

The 20 year-old saw an opening low on Castlegar Rebels goaltender Jordan Gluck to score his fifth goal of the post-season (and unarguably the most important goal for the Nitehawks in these playoffs so far), and send the Nitehawk supporters at a jam-packed Beaver Valley Arena into a frenzy.

Ryan Edwards also scored twice for Beaver Valley, including a late empty-net marker, while Castlegar, who staked themselves to a 2-0 first-period lead for the second time in as many games, got a pair from overager Tyler Robinson.

Beaver Valley goaltender Mike Vlanich was named the first star, and for good reason. The 19 year-old made two humongous saves in the first period (one in the opening 15 seconds), then slid right to left midway through period three to halt a Rebels 3-on-1.

Hats off to the Castlegar Rebels, whose ability to battle back in Games 5 and 6 made this series (and this game) one for the ages. Head coach Steve Junker had a much younger squad than the one that went to the league final a year ago, but got the most out of his players each and every night.

The Rebels will graduate three players as well who deserve recognition. Anthony Delong and Robinson both spent three years in Castlegar silks (Delong's time of course interjected by a season in the BCHL with Williams Lake); both were clutch performers and hard workers at both ends of the ice. Scott Morisseau leaves the KIJHL with a whopping 297 career regular season points with the Rebels, Nitehawks and Ghostriders. The two-time KIJHL scoring champ will leave a lasting legacy on this team and this league.

Beaver Valley moves on to face the Fernie Ghostriders in the Kootenay Conference championship, set to get underway Saturday in Fruitvale. The tentative schedule is as follows:

Sat. Mar. 17: Fernie @ Beaver Valley, 7:30 PM
Sun. Mar. 18: Fernie @ Beaver Valley, 7:30 PM
Tue. Mar. 20: Beaver Valley @ Fernie, 6:30 PM
Wed. Mar. 21: Beaver Valley @ Fernie, 6:30 PM
Fri. Mar. 23: Fernie @ Beaver Valley, 7:30 PM*
Sat. Mar. 24: Beaver Valley @ Fernie, 6:30 PM*
Mon. Mar. 26: Fernie @ Beaver Valley, 7:00 PM*

* - if necessary, please note all times are PACIFIC.

Smokies Wrap Up Season With Banquet

Graduating 20 year-olds Clayton McEwan (left) and Erik Cooper pose with their awards (Randy Emery photo)

A nice-sized crowd of parents, players, volunteers and fans at the Riverbelle last night to send off this year's edition of the Smokies at the annual year-end banquet.

Along with the meal came the annual awards ceremony -- 3 Smoke Eaters (Erik Cooper, Clayton McEwan and Lyndon Stanwood) were honoured multiple times, while Cooper and McEwan were also given mementoes in commemoration of their graduation from junior hockey.

All in all, it was a nice send-off for a group that's been through tribulations over the course of the 2011-12 season, and I can genuinely say there was a real sense of optimism in the room last night in anticipation of what lies ahead come 2012-13. The Smokies' spring camp (set for Mar. 30-Apr. 1 at Cominco Arena) will be the first step in working toward a playoff berth next year.

Here are the award winners as selected by the Smokies' coaching staff, and fans:

Most Improved: Brent Baltus
Top Scorer: Erik Cooper
Most Dedicated: Lyndon Stanwood
Most Inspirational: Clayton McEwan
Fan Favourite: Lyndon Stanwood
Ed Shelly Memorial Award: Adam Wheeldon
Top Rookie: Garrett McMullen
Top Defenseman: Clayton McEwan
Most Valuable Player: Erik Cooper

Personally, I can't wait until the start of next season. Head coach Bill Birks mentioned it at last night's event, and I agree with him in that this club has built a solid, hard-working core that will have a season of BCHL experience under their belts come next fall. To a man, this is an honest, dignified group the community can be proud of; I know personally even after tough defeats each and every time I needed a player or a coach for comments they were available every time, and if it weren't for a rash of injuries the second half might well have had the sustained momentum we saw through January and the early part of February.

Thanks to all of the players, coaches, executive and volunteers for all of your hard work over the course of the season, and to the fans for staying loyal to this team as it continues to build for the future.

Programming Note: Expect to see slightly more attention paid to the KIJHL playoffs on this blog over the next few weeks; any and all Smokies news will of course be here too. Following the conclusion of the playoffs I'll be taking some time to a) take a break and b) overhaul the blog in advance of the 2012-13 season. Thanks for reading as always!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chiefs 5 Smoke Eaters 2

Chilliwack scored 4 unanswered goals to snatch victory from the Smokies Sunday in the final game of the regular season.

Jaret Babych scored a pair of second-period markers and was named the game's #1 star.

Chilliwack started early with a power-play marker from Spencer Graboski, who deflected home a Tyler Miller point shot with his shinpad.

Trail equalized later in the opening frame though, as Tanner Clarkson unleashed a wrist shot from the top of the left circle over the shoulder of Chilliwack netminder Bryton Udy.

Trail took a 2-1 lead early in the second when Riley McDougall banged home a rebound shortly after Erik Cooper struck iron.

But 17 seconds after Trail took the lead, the Chiefs answered back courtesy of Babych. His line with Garrett Forster and Jeremy Gossard was buzzing all night.

Derek Huisman converted a corner feed minutes after Babych's tying goal to give the Chiefs the lead, then Babych would add his second to give the home team a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes.

Malcolm Gould scored the only goal of the third period on a wraparound, tucking a puck underneath Trail goaltender Lyndon Stanwood for his team-leading 36th goal of the season.

Despite the scoreline, Trail generated chances, hit posts, and both goaltenders made several good saves in a game that seemed far from meaningless despite its lack of effect on the Interior Conference standings.

Tonight also marked the BCHL finales for Cooper and captain Clayton McEwan. Both 20 year-olds logged 172 regular-season games in the league, and both will be remembered as tenacious competitors who wore the Smokie crest with pride and represented the team and the community well. I'm sure the fans in Trail will remember both guys as not only hard-working players, but quality individuals off the ice too.

Up Next: the team will hold its awards banquet Wednesday evening with Spring Camp set for the end of the month at Cominco Arena.

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.

Smokies/Chiefs Lineups

Here are the line combinations for tonight's season-finale in Chilliwack.

Smoke Eaters:
12 - McMullen, 16 - Tiechko, 21 - Cooper
14 - McDougall, 25 - Clarkson, 24 - Schell (AP)
9 - Baltus, 19 - Foyle (AP), 18 - House
17 - Horsman, 20 - Potskin (AP), 22 - Wheeldon

6 - Coish, 4 - Poulsen
8 - Egli, 2 - Birks (AP)
3 - McEwan, 5 - Johnson

33 - Stanwood
35 - D'Andrea

12 - Bondra, 9 - Huisman, 14 - Gould
15 - Hansen, 28 - Forster, 17 - Spring
27 - Sitterley, 18 - Graboski, 23 - Hills
11 - Gossard, 20 - Tibbet, 24 - Babych

8 - Hutchinson, 5 - Thompson
4 - Laurent, 3 - Miller
7 - White, 19 - Perron-Fontaine

35 - Udy
1 - Gillam

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Chiefs

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Chilliwack Chiefs
When: Mar. 11, 5:00 PM
Where: Prospera Centre, Chilliwack

The long season comes to a close tonight in the Fraser Valley, as Trail faces the team against whom they collected their last victory. The Smokies defeated the Chiefs February 4th in Trail on the strength of James D'Andrea's first career BCHL victory.

Tonight's game marks a different occasion, as the Smoke Eaters will try to end a frustrating season against a Chilliwack club against whom they've matched up quite well. Aside from a pair of three goal defeats in December, every game with Chilliwack has been close though the Smokies have come away with only one win in the season series.

Tonight also marks the final junior game for a pair of Smoke Eaters. Erik Cooper and Clayton McEwan have been strong leaders for a group finding their feet in the BCHL this season, and no doubt there will be plenty of motivation to find a 'W' for the two graduating Smokies in Chilliwack tonight.

Last Meeting: Connor Tiechko registered a hat-trick against his hometown team at Cominco Arena, D'Andrea made 38 saves and the Smokies collected a 5-3 win February 4th. Trail holds a 1-5-0-1 record in the season series, with a 0-2-0-1 record at Prospera Centre in 2011-12.

Our Opponent: The Chiefs come into tonight's game knowing it will have no bearing on their final position in the Interior Conference standings. That said, this club will want their confidence to be sky-high ahead of a first-round playoff matchup against the Vees that gets underway Friday in Penticton. Chilliwack defeated Westside 5-2 last night on home ice thanks in part to a hat-trick from Malcolm Gould, who has been a Smokie-killer this season. His line with Derek Huisman and David Bondra has done the bulk of the damage across the seven-game season set thus far. The Chiefs are also expecting a large crowd on their fan appreciation night at Prospera Centre, but a quick start from Trail could do well to neutralize any advantage that might give the home side.

In the Press Box: No changes from Friday or Saturday for Trail: Marley Keca, Luke Bertolucci, Adam Fares and Brandon Long remain out, with APs Dane Birks, Mitch Foyle, Tre Potskin and Colton Schell in the lineup in their place. Chilliwack did not have faceoff specialist Kody Dhaliwal in the lineup for last night's win over Westside.

Broadcast Info: Join me for the final time this season on Ustream, pregame at 4:55 with the opening faceoff set for 5:00. Marc Fitzgerald has your PPV call, available here.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Centennials 5 Smoke Eaters 2

Merritt jumped out early for the second straight night, and finished off their regular season with a 5-2 home victory over the Smokies at Nicola Valley Arena.

Payton Schaefer scored his second goal in as many games to open things 2:38 in, taking a Brendan Lamont centring pass for only his sixth goal of the season.

The Cents went up 2-0 on a Brayden Low marker before Brent Baltus put the Smokies on the board on a mid-period power-play. The Nanaimo product whipped home a wrister from the right side for his 15th of the year.

Merritt increased their lead in the opening minute of period two. Reece Willcox jumped in from the left point, carried the puck across the left-wing circle and tucked a shot under James D'Andrea.

Merritt's Evan Stack added his team-leading 32nd of the season later in the frame to give the home side a 4-1 second intermission lead.

Merritt AP Scott Patterson put home his second in as many games to give Merritt a 5-1 lead early in the third, before Kyle Horsman fired home Trail's second goal to round out the scoring.

The Sechelt native gathered a loose puck at the Merritt line, juked around a defenseman and wired home a hot wrister, crossbar and in past Cents 'tender Lino Chimienti.

Trail's PK was a bright spot tonight, parrying the Cents on all five of their power-play opportunities. Erik Cooper was dangerous again as well, and struck iron in the first and third periods.

Up Next: the season finale goes tomorrow evening in Chilliwack. Faceoff is at 5:00.

KIJHL Tonight: Beaver Valley is within one game of the Kootenay Conference championship series after a 5-2 victory in Castlegar Saturday. Smokies AP Craig Martin scored twice. Game 5 of that series goes Monday night in Fruitvale.

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.

Smokies/Centennials Lineups

Here are the line combinations for tonight's game in Merritt.

Smoke Eaters:
12 - McMullen, 16 - Tiechko, 21 - Cooper
14 - McDougall, 25 - Clarkson, 24 - Schell (AP)
9 - Baltus, 19 - Foyle (AP), 18 - House
17 - Horsman, 20 - Potskin (AP), 22 - Wheeldon

6 - Coish, 4 - Poulsen
8 - Egli, 2 - Birks (AP)
3 - McEwan, 5 - Johnson

33 - Stanwood
35 - D'Andrea

12 - Soquila, 19 - Brears, 9 - Stack
8 - Harper, 22 - Low, 15 - Reichert
11 - Shinkaruk, 14 - Bruce, 16 - Maktaak
27 - Patterson (AP), 18 - Schaefer, 17 - Lamont

3 - Willcox, 25 - Pfeil
24 - Sabourin, 6 - Mancuso
2 - Marshall, 10 - Fletcher

31 - Chimienti
35 - Steel

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Centennials

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

A quick blurb before the drive down to Trail to catch the bus.

The Smokies get a crack at redemption tonight in Merritt after a game last night that, for the first 45 minutes was controlled by the Centennials. Trail managed to beat Tyler Steel twice (courtesy Connor Tiechko and Garrett McMullen) in the third period but in the end dropped their fourth consecutive contest against Merritt, this time by a score of 6-2.

To win tonight, the Smoke Eaters need to find a way to generate more sustained pressure in the offensive zone, particularly in the tight confines of the Nicola Valley Arena. Trail was also short-handed six times last night, and while the Cents managed only one power-play goal (a second-period marker from Regan Soquila), the Smokies would do well to avoid any extra time in the box tonight.

Our Opponent: Knowing the hard-working nature of Luke Pierce's club, I highly doubt the Centennials will take a night off knowing second place is in the bag. It's the last chance for this Merritt club to make an impression in front of their home fans ahead of a first-round series against either Prince George or Chilliwack. I was impressed with blueliner Billy Marshall last night. Not only is the ex-Princeton Posse rearguard big, and mobile (12 goals on the season), but had the blue-line to blue-line pass down to a fine art last night in Trail, something the Smokies defense will have to be mindful of this evening. I'd also expect the Smokies to get one last look at Lino Chimienti between the pipes tonight, after Steel stopped 34 of 36 shots last night.

In the Press Box: Smokies should have the exact same lineup as last night, with APs Mitch Foyle, Tre Potskin, Colton Schell and Dane Birks drawing in to replace Marley Keca, Luke Bertolucci, Adam Fares and Brandon Long. Merritt were without D-men Tyler Martin and Dylan Chanter last night, but will get forward Brent Fletcher back from suspension this evening.

Broadcast Info: Alex Grebenyuk has your pay-per-view call tonight, available here. Join me for the broadcast on Ustream, with pre-game set for 7:25, puck drop at 7:30.

Stick-Tap: To longtime Surrey Eagles voice Colin Tiggelaar, who announced last night he is stepping away from the broadcast booth after eight seasons with Surrey. All the best Colin!

KIJHL Tonight: With one game under their belt, Castlegar will try again to use home ice advantage to its advantage in Game 4 against Beaver Valley (7:30, Complex). The 'Hawks maintain a 2-1 series lead with Game 5 now set for Monday night in Fruitvale.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Centennials 6 Smoke Eaters 2

Merritt's Silvan Harper and Trail's Joren Johnson collide at centre-ice in the first period (Randy Emery photo)

A physical home finale for the Smokies went Merritt's way Friday, as the Centennials clinched home-ice advantage in Round One of the BCHL playoffs with a 6-2 victory at Cominco Arena.

Merritt got things going early, when a Brandon Bruce shot from the left circle was deflected through the legs of Trail netminder Lyndon Stanwood by Jakob Reichert. The 6-5 forward was a physical presence all night, and got his club off to a great start with his fourteenth goal of the season.

The Centennials would add to their lead before period's end, as Payton Schaefer wired home a rebound from the slot. Merritt outshot Trail 18-8 during the opening frame.

The second period went similarly to the first. An odd pileup in front of the Smokie net allowed Regan Soquila to give the Cents a 3-0 lead, before a pretty act of patience from Merritt captain Evan Stack on a breakaway extended the lead to four before fourty minutes were through.

Silvan Harper gave Merritt a 5-0 lead four minutes into period three (for Harper, his fifth goal against Trail out of eleven overall), before the Smokies found a way to solve Merritt 'tender Tyler Steel.

A crisp cross-ice pass from Mitchell Foyle sent Connor Tiechko in alone down the left-wing side, the Chilliwack product slipped a snapshot underneath Steel's pads to break a six-period goalless drought for Trail. The Smokies got a weird bounce of their own minutes later when Garrett McMullen's wrister rebounded off Steel, off Merritt defenseman Richard Sabourin into the back of the net to cut the lead to 5-2.

The Cents added one more for good measure though. A quick feed from Brendan Lamont from the right circle to the left-hand post set up Scotty Patterson's first BCHL goal. The AP from the Osoyoos Coyotes made the score 6-2 with a handful of seconds left on the clock.

Despite what has been a long and frustrating season, nearly 1,000 fans turned up at the Cominco Arena Friday to send their team off. And while tonight's (and by extension this season's) results have been difficult to absorb, I caught more than a few excited whispers among tonight's spectators about what this group might be able to accomplish come next fall.

Up Next: The Smokies hop on the bus for one last trip that sees a return engagement with the Centennials Saturday night in Merritt. Both games (Saturday in Merritt and Sunday in Chilliwack) will be broadcast on the Smokies Ustream channel.

KIJHL Tonight: Castlegar answered back on home ice in Game Three of the KIJHL Neil Murdoch division final, beating Beaver Valley 3-2 at the Complex to cut the Nitehawks' series lead to 2-1. More than 700 fans packed the Complex to see Scott Morisseau win the game for Castlegar late in the third period. Brenden Heinrich scored twice for the Rebels while Justin Niminiken and Scott Davidson replied for the Nitehawks. Game 4 is Saturday in Castlegar.

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, 24 - Schell (AP)
9 - Baltus, 19 - Foyle (AP), 18 - House
17 - Horsman, 20 - Potskin (AP), 22 - Wheeldon

6 - Coish, 4 - Poulsen
8 - Egli, 2 - Birks (AP)
3 - McEwan, 5 - Johnson

33 - Stanwood
35 - D'Andrea

12 - Soquila, 19 - Brears, 9 - Stack
8 - Harper, 22 - Low, 15 - Reichert
11 - Shinkaruk, 14 - Bruce, 16 - Maktaak
27 - Patterson (AP), 18 - Schaefer, 17 - Lamont

3 - Willcox, 25 - Pfeil
24 - Sabourin, 6 - Mancuso
2 - Marshall

35 - Steel
31 - Chimienti

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Centennials

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Merritt Centennials
When: Mar. 9, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The Smokies close out the home portion of the 2011-12 schedule tonight, hosting a Merritt Centennials club focused on locking down home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The absence of key contributors has affected the Smokies' run of late; Tuesday night's 10-0 defeat in Penticton was the club's 12 consecutive loss, though for the first time in nearly three weeks the team iced a full complement of skaters with APs Dane Birks, Tre Potskin, Colton Schell and Mitch Foyle all dressing.

Tonight's game serves as an opportunity to give fans in Trail one last reason to cheer, and a chance as well to provide some optimism for the 2012-13 season. It's been a long year, and a season of change for the orange and black, but a continually-developing core brings a lot of promise into the off-season.

It's also the final home game for overagers Clayton McEwan and Erik Cooper tonight. The two 20 year-olds are both character guys, and leaders in the dressing room and on the ice, and quality individuals too. I'm sure they'd love nothing more than to rattle off a victory in their Cominco Arena finale.

Last Meeting: Trail raced out to a 3-0 first period lead on a natural hat-trick by Garrett McMullen when these two sides last met February 29th in Trail, but the Centennials took advantage of tired legs, scoring three times in the third period and adding an OT winner to collect a 4-3 victory. In six meetings this season the Smokies have a 2-2-1-1 record against Merritt.

Our Opponent: The home-and-home set brings added importance to the Cents, who sit two points up on Prince George for second place in the Interior Conference, each with two games left to play (the Spruce Kings host Penticton for a pair of games tonight and tomorrow). Merritt is red-hot too. OT hero from last week Brandon Bruce has 7 goals in his last 8 games; no fewer than ELEVEN Merritt players are on a point-per-game, or near point-per-game clip over the last eight contests. For a team that typically doesn't score a lot of goals, the sudden wave of offense has to come as a pleasant surprise for head coach Luke Pierce. Tyler Steel, who rebounded very well after allowing three early goals last Wednesday, is likely to get the start between the pipes tonight. He has played each of the three previous contests at Cominco Arena between these two sides this season.

In the Press Box: Trail's Marley Keca, Luke Bertolucci, Adam Fares and Brandon Long remain out, while D Joren Johnson returned to the lineup Tuesday in Penticton. Merritt forward Brent Fletcher serves the second of his two-game suspension this evening. Centennials play-caller Alex Grebenyuk writes on his blog D-men Tyler Martin and Dylan Chanter are also expected out tonight.

Broadcast Info: Join me for all the pay-per-view action here. Pre-game at 7:25, faceoff at 7:30.

KIJHL Tonight: The Neil Murdoch division final shifts to Castlegar for a must-win Game Three for the Rebels (7:30, Complex), who trail Beaver Valley 2-0 after a devastating loss Wednesday night. Leading 4-3 late in the third period, Castlegar was assessed a delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass, allowing Tyler Collins to tuck home an equalizer with 38 seconds left in the game. Ryan Edwards scored the OT winner to give the 'Hawks a 5-4 win. Beaver Valley head coach Terry Jones told me yesterday his club struggled with discipline in Game Two, and will be hard-pressed to get an early start in a hostile environment, despite the fact there will surely be a large complement of Nitehawks fans in Castlegar tonight.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Vees 10 Smoke Eaters 0

Joey Benik had five points, and the Vees scored six times in the third period to earn their 41st consecutive victory of the regular season, 10-0 over the Smokies tonight in Penticton.

The home side jumped out of the gate with a goal five minutes in from Ryan Reilly, but the score remained 1-0 until the early stages of the second when defenseman brother Mike tallied a short-hander two minutes in. The Vees would extend their lead to 4-0 after 40 minutes thanks in part to former Smokie Travis St. Denis, who scored his 98th career BCHL goal.

The half-dozen goals from Penticton in the third period put things well out of reach in the end, and propelled the home side to their new North American record of 41 straight victories.

Chad Katunar made 18 saves for the shutout, while Lyndon Stanwood and James D'Andrea split duties in the Trail net.

Up Next: The Smokies play their final home game of the season Friday against Merritt, before ending the year with away games against the Centennials and Chiefs this weekend.

KIJHL Tonight: Round (Game) One goes to Beaver Valley. The Nitehawks scored three times in the third period to break a 1-1 tie and defeat the Castlegar Rebels 4-1 in the Neil Murdoch final opener. More than 400 fans took the game in, as 16 year-old phenom Craig Martin tallied twice to give the 'Hawks the win. Game 2 goes Wednesday night, again in Fruitvale.

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Vees

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Penticton Vees
When: Mar. 6, 7:00 PM
Where: South Okanagan Events Centre, Penticton

Trail gets another crack at ending the vaunted Vees streak tonight in the South Okanagan, but will again be short-staffed thanks to a rash of injuries.

The Smokies are coming off solid efforts in two of three home games last week, despite having only 13 skaters in the lineup Trail scrounged their way to two overtime points and held third-period leads in both games.

With only four games left in the regular season, tonight's game can be, like October's victory over Penticton, a real jewel in what has otherwise been a season of growth, learning and frustration.

The Vees should get their first look at Lyndon Stanwood tonight. The 18 year-old was tagged with both OT losses last week and has been the goaltender of record in 7 of Trail's 11 victories this season.

Garrett McMullen has been red-hot for Trail. The Rochester product scored a natural hat-trick Wednesday night against Merritt, then put up two goals against Prince George Saturday. McMullen came within a crossbar of registering his second HT of the week and has showed plenty of chemistry with Erik Cooper and Connor Tiechko since mid-January.

Tonight also marks the final meeting for Vees forward Travis St. Denis against his former, and hometown team. The 19 year-old is off to university next season after leaving a lasting impression on Smokies and Vees fans over his four seasons in the BCHL. Look for a big night out of him.

Last Meeting: Trail came ever-so-close to ending Penticton's win streak (currently sitting at 40 games), when the two sides met February 23rd in Penticton. Tied 1-1 well into the third, the Vees counted 2 goals in under a minute en route to a 4-2 victory. Trail has a 1-5 record in six meetings with Penticton this season.

Our Opponent: If the win streak wasn't captivating Penticton's players, one might suggest the final week of the season could be an opportunity to rest key cogs in the lineup in advance of the playoffs. A win tonight, though, would set a new North American record for consecutive victories for the Vees, having already set a BCHL record last month. No question the Vees can light the lamp; 9 of the league's top 14 scorers wear white, blue and black including Minnesotans Joey Benik & Mario Lucia and former Grizzly Wade Murphy, who sit 2-3-4 with a combined 265 points. Penticton has plenty of speed to burn both up front and on the back end, prompting Trail's coaching staff to reinforce the need to keep things simple up and down the ice (particularly in light of the staff shortages for the orange and black). Don't be surprised to see Chad Katunar between the pipes tonight for Penticton after Mike Garteig missed the weekend with a knock.

In the Press Box: Trail are again without D Marley Keca, and forwards Luke Bertolucci, Adam Fares and Brandon Long. D Joren Johnson has missed the last six games but told me he's close to coming back. Penticton F Connor Reilly is out for the season, while D Kyle Beaulieu and G Garteig have both been MIA in recent games with injuries.

Broadcast Info: Tonight marks the final game of the season with no Trail broadcast. Consequently, Fraser Rodgers has your call tonight both on pay-per-view and free audio, available here.

KIJHL Tonight: Round Two begins tonight in Fruitvale, as the Nitehawks and Rebels tangle for Neil Murdoch supremacy for the second consecutive year. Castlegar won last year's series in five games, but head into the 2012 edition as the number two seed. BV took care of Spokane in five games in Round One, while the Rebels dispatched Nelson in as many games. Both teams are deep, with a combined 25 players having scored goals in the first round. The Rebels collected the W in 5 of the 8 regular-season meetings with BV, despite finishing nine points behind the Nitehawks through the 52-game schedule. Games One and Two go tonight and tomorrow at the Beaver Valley Arena, faceoff both nights is at 7.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Spruce Kings 4 Smoke Eaters 3 (OT)

Brent Baltus (centre) celebrates his second-period goal (Randy Emery photo)

Myles Fitzgerald converted on a breakaway in 3-on-3 overtime to give the Spruce Kings a 4-3 extra-time win over a short-handed Smokies squad that showed plenty of heart, and plenty of poise Saturday at Cominco Arena.

The Spruce Kings forward was sprung free by his brother Leo and converted 1:15 into the second overtime period to bring Prince George into a second-place tie with Merritt with 70 points each.

Despite again missing five injured regulars (for statistics' sake, the season-total man-games lost by this Smoke Eaters club now stands at 253), Trail battled, and worked hard enough to earn a point against a big, talented Spruce Kings club that needed a third-period equalizer from Gerry Fitzgerald to force overtime.

Trail's Garrett McMullen opened the scoring 13 minutes into the first period, deflecting a Brandon Egli point shot through Spruce Kings netminder Kirk Thompson on a Trail power-play.

The Rochester native upped his week's goal tally to five early in period two tapping home an Erik Cooper rebound, before Jarryd Ten Vaanholt snapped home a power-play marker of his own to bring Prince George back to within one minutes later.

Brent Baltus redirected an Adam Wheeldon shot through Thompson's legs to restore the two-goal advantage at 3-1, before one of the prettiest goals of the season at Cominco Arena put PG back on the board.

On a short-handed rush, Spruce Kings forward Michael Colantone sped down the right wing, turned across the circle dangling the puck past a Trail defender, only to outwait Smokies goaltender Lyndon Stanwood to put home his 29th tally of the season.

For the second time this week, Trail took a lead into period three, and for the second time this week, the visiting team forced overtime, thanks to Gerry Fitzgerald's rebound off the left post.

Four-on-four OT solved nothing, and the game remained level until Myles Fitzgerald's winner.

It was another gutsy effort from the orange and black, and a polar opposite to last night's 6-1 loss. Tonight, Trail changed well, were rarely caught for extended periods in their own zone, and made smart, simple plays to create chances and conserve energy. Shane Poulsen is beginning to emerge as a real stud on Trail's blue line; the 17 year-old played at least 30 minutes tonight in all situations, and showed plenty of poise in his own zone as well as collecting an assist in the offensive end. McMullen's effort both tonight and Wednesday against Merritt makes a potential BCHL Player of the Week case. He was unlucky not to register his second hat-trick of the week, hitting the crossbar shortly after tucking his second goal past Thompson in the second period.

Up Next: Trail makes one final visit to Penticton Tuesday night. Please note there will be no Trail broadcast, though each of the final three games next weekend will be covered. The Smokies gave the Vees a real run for their money last time out February 23rd, a similar effort to tonight's game could produce a very similar type of game.

Local Hockey Today: Two third-period goals helped the Thompson Blazers to a 5-3 victory over the major midget Kootenay Ice this afternoon in Trail. Kootenay closes out their season tomorrow (later this?) morning at 9:45 at Cominco Arena against the same Blazers club.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Smokies/Spruce Kings Lineups

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

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

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

33 - Stanwood
35 - D'Andrea

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

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

1 - Thompson
35 - Swabb

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Spruce Kings

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Prince George Spruce Kings
When: Mar. 3, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

Trail looks to bounce back after a deflating 5-goal second period in last night's 6-1 loss to the Spruce Kings.

Faced again with only 13 healthy skaters, and 1 AP callup, the Smokies put together a solid first period only to allow goals on back-to-back-to-back power-plays, as PG clinched a playoff spot and moved to within two points of second place Merritt.

Lyndon Stanwood, who came on in relief of James D'Andrea midway through period two last night, is expected to go between the pipes, while Spruce Kings goaltender Kirk Thompson will make his first appearance against Trail this season as PG goes for the season series sweep.

The Smokies could well have reinforcements on the way given Creston Valley's elimination from the KIJHL post-season last night, and with Castlegar and Beaver Valley not set to start their second-round series until Tuesday it's not inconceivable a Rebel, Nitehawk or two could make their way to Cominco ice tonight.

Our Opponent: I can't imagine PG will be letting their foot off the gas pedal tonight at all after having clinched post-season contention yesterday. Tonight is Prince George's game in hand on the second-place Centennials, and two points would draw the two teams level on 70 points. Merritt has a much less arduous schedule the rest of the way too, with Salmon Arm and Trail (twice) on their plate compared to a visit to Vernon and a double-dip at home against the Vees next weekend for the S'Kings. Trail again had their quality offensive chances limited last night (after the first period at least) by a very large, if not overly physical defense corps, though Ty Swabb's first BCHL shutout bid was foiled by Trail's Brent Baltus late in the third period.

In The Press Box: Trail again is minus Adam Fares, Marley Keca, Joren Johnson, Luke Bertolucci and Brandon Long. Of those five, Johnson is the closest to returning to action. PG will again be without D Cody Bardock, who will have missed all four games of the season series in Trail as he continues to rehab from an injury.

Broadcast Info: Pay-per-view and audio options are both available here, pregame at 7:25 with the opening faceoff at 7:30.

Local Hockey Today: The major midget Kootenay Ice finish off their season in Trail this weekend with a pair against the Thompson Blazers. The opener of that two-pack goes this afternoon at 4:00 at Cominco. Selkirk College also wind down the 2011-12 season tonight at Eastern Washington.

KIJHL Note: Castlegar and Beaver Valley have announced the dates for their second-round playoff series, with the 'Hawks holding down home-ice advantage. Here's a look at what will happen where. (Also note despite holding the league's best regular-season record the Nitehawks are left without a weekend home date).

Game 1: Tuesday, 03/06 @ Beaver Valley
Game 2: Wednesday, 03/07 @ Beaver Valley
Game 3: Friday, 03/09 @ Castlegar
Game 4: Saturday, 03/10 @ Castlegar
Game 5: Monday, 03/12 @ Beaver Valley*
Game 6: Tuesday, 03/13 @ Castlegar*
Game 7: Thursday, 03/15 @ Beaver Valley*
* - if necessary

Friday, March 2, 2012

Spruce Kings 6 Smoke Eaters 1

Trail's Shane Poulsen pins a Spruce King Friday at Cominco Arena (Randy Emery photo)

Tired legs and three straight unsuccessful penalty kills hampered the Smokies tonight in a 6-1 loss against Prince George.

The Spruce Kings scored five times in the second period to break what was a tense, close game wide open, clinching a berth in the BCHL post-season in the process.

The two teams played to a scoreless saw-off after twenty minutes, with the best chance for either side being an Erik Cooper rebound that forced Prince George goaltender Ty Swabb to lean back and flash the leather in desperation.

Prince George started period two with a bang, as Gerry Fitzgerald fired a shot from just outside the crease past Trail starter James D'Andrea less than two minutes into the frame.

The Spruce Kings took advantage of three consecutive power-play goals from Chase Golightly, Jujhar Khaira and Michael Colantone (D'Andrea was replaced by Lyndon Stanwood following Khaira's tally), before Myles Fitzgerald tapped home a loose puck to round out a fruitful second period for the visitors.

Zack Rassell converted a Golightly centring pass early in the third to extend Prince George's lead to 6-0. The scoreline held until the final two minutes of the game when Brent Baltus broke Swabb's shut-out bid on a Trail power-play.

The Smokies were again short-staffed, with only fourteen skaters in the lineup (the same thirteen as Wednesday plus affiliate call-up Mitch Foyle). Creston Valley's elimination from the KIJHL playoffs brings about hope there could be more warm bodies for Saturday's return engagement with PG, given that three Thunder Cats (Dane Birks, Jesse Collins and Tre Potskin) are signed to AP cards.

Up Next: Trail concludes the weekend with another matchup with Prince George Saturday (7:30, Cominco Arena). The Spruce Kings remain the only team in the Interior Conference against whom Trail has yet to secure a point this season.

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, 18 - House
9 - Baltus, 24 - Foyle,
17 - Horsman, 22 - Wheeldon

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

35 - D'Andrea
33 - Stanwood

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

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: Mar. 2, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The final two meetings of the year between Trail and Prince George kick off tonight at Cominco Arena with the Smokies still searching for their first points of the season set. Short-staffed Trail is coming off a tough 4-3 overtime loss two nights ago against Merritt, a game in which they held a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes only to see a depleted roster run out of energy by game's end.

Despite the injuries (see more below), Trail will try to use this weekend as a springboard to a strong finish. A February that started with such promise ended with a nine-game skid and no doubt everyone in orange and black will be anxious to put more points on the board over the final half-dozen games. Not only that, the games ahead will continue to serve as an audition for the potential returnees, and no better way to leave a lasting impression on the coaching staff than to help the team to a strong finish.

Last Meeting: PG took a weekend sweep from Trail three weeks ago with 4-1 and 4-2 wins, the back end being helped along by a three-goal first period, including two from Gerry Fitzgerald. The Spruce Kings lead the seven-game season series 5-0.

Our Opponent: PG is relatively healthy, but maybe a bit road weary as they embark on their second straight three-in-three away weekend. That said, the Spruce Kings are still very much in the hunt for second place in the Interior Conference, trailing Merritt by four points with two games in hand (the Cents lost at home to Penticton last night after their overtime win against the Smokies Wednesday). Despite a vibrant top line that includes league scoring leader Paul DeJersey, my difference-makers from three weekends ago were easily the Fitzgerald triplets, who made life miserable for Trail's D and chipped in four of the eight Prince George goals over the two-game set.

In the Press Box: For Trail, Adam Fares, Marley Keca and Brandon Long are all out for the rest of the season, while Luke Bertolucci and Joren Johnson will likely both miss out with knocks. PG defenseman Cody Bardock is close to returning (per S'Kings guru Ron Gallo) but isn't expected to play.

Broadcast Info: Catch the pay-per-view and requisite free audio here, pre-game at 7:25, faceoff at 7:30.

KIJHL Update: Both local series wrapped up last night with Beaver Valley disposing of Spokane 7-2 (to win their series in five games), while the Castlegar Rebels secured a 4-1 series triumph over Nelson with a 4-2 home win last night. Scott Morisseau and Stuart Walton each had 10 points for Castlegar, and for the second straight year the younger Walton brother eliminated the older sibling (Leafs goaltender Andrew) from post-season contention. Castlegar and Beaver Valley now meet for the Neil Murdoch division crown for the second consecutive year, with the series tentatively set to begin Tuesday in Fruitvale.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Centennials 4 Smoke Eaters 3 (OT)

Garrett McMullen celebrates one of his three first-period goals (Randy Emery photo)

Brandon Bruce completed a Centennial comeback with a one-timer from the high slot as Merritt overcame a three-goal third-period deficit to win 4-3 at Cominco Arena Wednesday.

Bruce, a Cranbrook product, fired a pass from Richard Sabourin low on Smokies goaltender Lyndon Stanwood 1:37 into extra time.

Trail started with a bang, as Garrett McMullen smacked home a natural hat-trick in the opening frame, scoring once off his skate, and twice more with low slapshots that ricocheted to him off Merritt sticks and body parts. The Rochester native was flying all night, and played a significant physical presence too, throwing checks and creating space for linemates Connor Tiechko (who had two assists) and Erik Cooper (who originally was credited with the opening goal).

The second half of the game started to swing more in the visitors' favour, though. Merritt enjoyed a 17-5 shot advantage in the middle frame and could well have hit the scoreboard sooner were it not for efficient goaltending from Stanwood.

The Cents did score before the two minute mark of period three, as Brendan Lamont whizzed home a low shot that snuck through Stanwood's pads. Jakob Reichert and Chad Brears tapped home rebounds in a 38-second span later in the period to bring the score level.

Trail's lack of healthy bodies played an ever-increasing role as the game went on. For the third straight game, the Smokies dressed only thirteen skaters (the ongoing KIJHL playoffs preventing many AP callups from being released to the club), and as a result the game swung more and more in Merritt's favor as time progressed.

Up Next: Trail play twice more on home ice this weekend against the Prince George Spruce Kings, Friday and Saturday. As a follow-up to tonight's $4 ticket night the Smokies are offering four tickets for $30 for both home games. Even though tonight's game didn't end up the way Trail fans would have hoped, it's hard to argue about the entertainment value afforded by what amounts to a $7.50 ticket.