Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Salmon Arm SilverBacks
When: January 18, 7:00 pm
Where: Shaw Centre, Salmon Arm
The biggest home-and-home series of the 2012-13 season begins tonight in the Shuswap, as Trail and Salmon Arm get set to duke it out over the fourth and final Interior playoff berth. With 14 games remaining in the regular season, the Smokies find themselves level on points (37) with the fourth-place SilverBacks trailing only on games played. And after both Trail and Salmon Arm missed the playoffs last season, you can bet both sides will be eager to reverse their fortunes this time around.
Last Friday's 4-1 win over the SilverBacks might have been the Smokies' best effort of the season. 53 shots on goal, aggressive forechecking in the offensive third, and a 31-save performance from Adam Todd all contributed to Trail drawing back on level terms with the 'Backs, but Saturday's 6-1 defeat at the hands of West Kelowna surely undid any feeling of overconfidence in the Smoke Eaters dressing room. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see Todd make a return to the crease tonight; he remains undefeated as a Smoke Eater with a 5-0 record to his name since joining the team from Alberni Valley.
Watch for Mitch Foyle to have an extra jump in his step tonight too. The 16 year-old's four-point weekend earned him an honourable mention for BCHL Player of the Week. Seven of Foyle's nine points this season have come on home ice.
Trail's power-play also needs to be a source of inspiration. The Smoke Eaters have struggled most of the year on the man-advantage, and are 0/21 in four meetings with Salmon Arm this season.
Last Meeting: Trail scored three times in the second period en route to a 4-1 win January 11th at Cominco Arena. The season series is even at 2-2, with both sides winning once at home and once away.
Our Opponent: The SilverBacks will be without leading scorer Shane Hanna tonight as he serves the second of a two-game suspension for a checking-to-the-head major assessed Friday in Trail, but are expected to welcome back forward Alex Gillies this evening. Hanna's absence means a much more prominent role on the offensive side of the puck for 20 year-old Brayden Sherbinin, who had arguably the SilverBacks best chance last Friday on a first-period power-play and logged a lot of minutes on the back end. Gillies should draw in with top-line forwards Brandon Mistal and Steven Iacobellis, who were both the difference in Salmon Arm's two wins over Trail this season in late November.
In the Press Box: Trail's Brent Baltus is questionable. Forward Bryce Knapp is out for the season and has returned home to Ontario after a frustrating time dealing with a shoulder injury. All the best to "Knapper" and hope to see you back at 100% in the late summer. For the SilverBacks, defenseman Hanna is out due to the aforementioned suspension.
Broadcast Info: Watch tonight's game on FAST Hockey pay-per-view, or listen live on Smokies Ustream. Pre-game coverage begins at 6:50 with the play-by-play set for 7:00.