Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Nanaimo Clippers
When: January 25, 7:00 pm
Where: Frank Crane Arena, Nanaimo
Good morning from Nanaimo, where the Smoke Eaters go in search of valuable points on their final multi-game road trip of the season. Trail visits the Clippers tonight, the Alberni Valley Bulldogs tomorrow and then wind down January with a Sunday matinee in Langley against the Rivermen.
The standings are no secret; Trail needs points and help from Mainland division clubs if they're to surpass Salmon Arm for that coveted fourth seed in the Interior (the SilverBacks begin a three-game Coastal swing themselves tonight in Langley), and with Salmon Arm holding four games in hand, Trail definitely needs to approach each game this weekend with playoff-like urgency. The Smokies have, though, won four of their last six games away from Cominco Arena in what appears to be a marked reversal from early-season forays away from home.
Tonight also marks the first, and last, opportunity for Smokies leading scorer Brent Baltus to play in front of family and friends in Nanaimo as a member of the Smoke Eaters. Baltus collected a pair of assists in his first two games back from injury last weekend.
Another Vancouver Islander, Courtenay's Adam Todd, could also figure prominently between the pipes. The lanky 18 year-old has started four of the Smokies' last five games.
Last Meeting: Tonight marks the second and final "all orange-and-black affair," with the Clippers winning 4-1 at Cominco Arena on December 16th. I thought Trail matched up quite well with Nanaimo quite well the last time these two teams met. The turning point may have been a 5-minute Smoke Eaters power-play that netted only a short-handed goal against, and the Clippers used that goal (from Greg Fraser) to spark a three-goal second period.
Our Opponent: Nanaimo is one of the hottest teams in the BCHL, with eight wins in the ten-game stretch dating back to the 16th of December. They defeated Alberni Valley 3-1 on home ice Wednesday to move 6 points clear of the third-place Bulldogs, but still stand 12 points behind Island division-leading Victoria. The Western Canada Cup hosts beefed up at the trade deadline, snagging Castlegar's Aaron Hadley in a deal with the Vernon Vipers and overage defenseman Brock Maschmeyer from the AJHL's Fort McMurray Oil Barons. Fourth-year Clipper Kyle Kramer is top dog offensively with 42 points, with ex-Prince George Cougar Fraser a point behind. Nanaimo has two 19 year-old goaltenders in Jayson Argue and ex-Capital Derek Dun, both of whom have held the Smoke Eaters to one goal in starts against Trail this year (Dun with Cowichan Valley at the BCHL Showcase).
In the Press Box: Trail is without forward Bryce Knapp, who is out for the season with an upper-body injury. Clippers forward Brendan Forbes is recovering from an injury suffered in mid-December and isn't expected to dress.
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.