Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Alberni Valley Bulldogs
When: January 26, 7:00 pm
Where: Weyerhaeuser Arena, Port Alberni
Trail will look to keep their feet firmly affixed to the gas pedal tonight in Port Alberni, as they meet the Alberni Valley Bulldogs for the first time this season. Adam Todd and Luke Sandler wrote a lot of the story in Friday's 4-0 victory in Nanaimo, with the lanky goaltender making 35 saves and the Illinois-born forward scoring a pair of goals including a short-handed stunner in the third period. It was the Smokies' third consecutive victory at Frank Crane Arena dating back to the 2009-10 season, but one that now needs to be solely in the rear-view mirror as Trail tries for a second straight victory on this road swing.
Tonight marks a return to the Alberni Valley for several Smokies. Brent Baltus played the majority of his minor hockey in Port Alberni and is a former Bulldogs season-ticket holder, let alone AP. Todd was of course acquired from Alberni Valley earlier this season while Marley Keca played 48 games with the Bulldogs before being picked up by Trail in a six-player blockbuster in October of 2011. But the elder statesman on the Smokies' roster might be the most noteworthy player to make his return to Weyerhaeuser Arena ice tonight: Tyler Berkholtz made 139 regular-season appearances with Alberni Valley, including a 20-goal season in 2010-11. No doubt those four will see plenty of familiar faces, and look to make an impression on their former club (and hometown) tonight.
Last Meeting: These clubs haven't met in almost a full calendar year, with the last encounter being a 6-2 Trail win at Cominco Arena on February 2, 2012. Baltus had a pair of goals including the game-winner. The Bulldogs haven't hosted the Smokies since 2010, a 4-2 Alberni Valley win thanks in large part to a (go figure) Berkholtz hat-trick.
Our Opponent: Alberni Valley comes into tonight's game in the midst of a playoff positioning battle, entering play today level on points with Powell River for the #3 seed in the Island division. These two clubs have each allowed the most goals in their respective divisions, but Alberni Valley has locked things down of late thanks in large part to the play of Jay Deo. That said, the 20 year-old has won only 2 of his last 8 decisions dating back to December 9th. 19 year-old Ryan Lough is top dog offensively (35 points) while 17 year-old sophomore Evan Tironese sits second with 32 that was kick-started by an incredible month of September. Former Smoke Eaters defenseman Eric Walker will meet his former club for the first time tonight. The 19 year-old enjoyed a stint in the WHL with Portland during the holiday break and has put up nine points in 20 Bulldogs appearances since joining the club from WHL Swift Current. Walker played 112 regular-season games with the Smokies during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons.
In the Press Box: Trail's lone scratch is Bryce Knapp. The Bulldogs do not have any listed injuries though Lough and 20 year-old d-man Chase Van Allen did not dress Wednesday in Nanaimo.
Broadcast Info: Watch tonight's game on FAST Hockey pay-per-view, or listen live at Smokies Ustream. Pregame coverage begins at 6:50 with the play-by-play set for 7:00.