Monday, February 25, 2013

Todd Earns Honourable Mention

Some great news for Smokies netminder Adam Todd Monday, as he became the latest Trail player to earn an honourable mention for BCHL Player of the Week. The 18 year-old was the goaltender of record in the wins over the Centennials and Vees last week, and was named first star in Wednesday's 2-1 victory over Merritt this past Wednesday.

The full release from the team is here.

Todd has been the go-to-guy between the pipes for the better part of a month, as coach Bill Birks has (as he told me pre-game Saturday) been going with the hot hand. And why not. Todd is 8-1 at Cominco Arena, has knocked almost a full goal per game off his GAA in the past 7 weeks, and is a big reason for this club's tenacity in the Interior division playoff race.

From my vantage point too, it almost seems as if the Courtenay product has gotten better since a recent weekend callup to the WHL's Everett Silvertips. Todd didn't play in any of the three games he was dressed for, but surely the experience of getting back to that level (he was a Saskatoon Blade for a stretch of 2011-12) has to have done a lot for his confidence and self-assuredness. (Trail, by the way, is 3-1 since he returned from the Evergreen State).

Way to go "Todder," and keep it up!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Smoke Eaters 4 Vees 3 (OT)

Garrett McMullen's three-on-three overtime goal sealed Trail's third straight win, as the Smokies moved back into a tie for fourth place in the Interior after a 4-3 win over Penticton Saturday.

McMullen strode down the left wing, snapping a wrist shot through Vees netminder Nic Renyard 1:12 into 3-on-3 extra time to send the Cominco Arena faithful into a frenzy after a pedal-to-the-metal third period that produced nail-biting moments on both benches. Five of the game's seven goals were scored in period three, with the teams trading leads three times in the final 20 minutes of regulation time.

The Smokies got on the board first at 8:13 of a fiesty first period thanks to rookie Jake Lucchini. The Trail forward was sprung in alone but after his initial shot was stopped by Renyard, he snuck around the back of the net, wrapping the puck just around the far post for his first goal since mid-December. Trail held the lead through the end of the period despite the teams exchanging six unsuccessful power-plays with plenty of rough stuff after each whistle.

The Vees held the upper hand through most of the scoreless second, coming ever so close to drawing level in the final moments when former Trail forward Sam Mellor found himself in the slot with three opportunities to put the puck on net. His first shot went wide, second struck the crossbar, then his third effort was blocked away by Trail defenseman Braden Pears into the corner. Mellor finished the night with three assists.

The Vees hit the board early in the third on a power-play when Brock Balson found a loose puck just outside the crease, lifting it over Smokies goaltender Adam Todd's outstretched pad into the back of the net. Jordan McCallum re-directed a rebound of his own past Todd minutes later after linemate Ryan Gropp cut hard to the net and forced an effort on goal.

But the Smokies found a way to stay in the game, drawing level on one of the strangest goals scored in the BCHL this season. Braeden Jones' dump-in from the left wing took a crazy carom off a stanchion. Renyard, who was making his way to the corner to collect the puck where it should have gone, was left scrambling back to the crease as the disk bounced off the side glass, through the slot and into the back of the net.

Fellow blueliner Marley Keca put the Smokies ahead again, 3-2, on a power-play goal inside the final five minutes of regulation. The 19 year-old pinched from the left point, firing his first goal in over a calendar year past Renyard after a pretty feed from the right corner by Austin Adduono.

The Vees would force overtime moments later, though. Mellor strode down the left side and fired a hard pass to a waiting Louie Nanne in the slot. The Minnesota Wild draftee made no mistake, beating Todd short-side with 2:56 left on the third-period clock.

The two teams traded chances in 4-on-4 extra time, but once it moved on into 3-on-3 action things opened up in a hurry. John Siemer found himself alone in front of Todd after stripping Adduono of the puck, but the Trail netminder flashed his blocker to re-direct the puck into the corner. That led to Valik Chichkin backhanding a pass cross-ice from the far corner to a streaking McMullen, who then potted his third, and Trail's ninth overtime-winning goal this season.

It was a game that absolutely could have gone either way, but the plucky Smokies found a way to win. Unlike previous meetings with the Vees, Trail was quite good in the faceoff circle, led by 20 year-old Tyler Berkholtz, whose line with Adam Wheeldon and Riley McDougall were matched up with the Vees' top unit of Mellor, Nanne and Wade Murphy all night. Both teams were more than willing to engage in physical play, and the animosity on the ice Saturday wasn't at all indicative of two teams that hadn't faced each other in more than three months. If Trail is to earn the final Interior playoff berth, it won't come without a price. The Smokies bought in, and paid that price tonight.

My Three Stars:
1. Garrett McMullen, Trail
2. Sam Mellor, Penticton
3. Marley Keca, Trail

Up Next: The Smokies and Vees go at it again Friday, March 1st in Penticton. Game time is 7:00.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Vees

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Penticton Vees
When: February 23, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

Just like three nights ago, the Smokies find themselves two points out of the final Interior playoff spot entering tonight’s game against Penticton. Salmon Arm’s 3-2 victory over Vernon Friday means the SilverBacks again have the slimmest of cushions on the final playoff berth, with the Smokies granted an opportunity to strike even again this evening.

It’s the first of four straight games against Penticton for the Smokies, who will be sure to lean on past home successes tonight. Penticton’s lone visit to the Cominco Arena resulted in a 5-2 Trail win that saw the home side score three times in the opening 8:35.

Scott Davidson’s winner Wednesday against Merritt means the 17 year-old has now scored five goals in Trail’s last eight games. He and Mitch Foyle provided all the offense the Smokies needed against the Cents, thanks in part to a 27-save performance from Adam Todd who improved to 7-1 on Cominco ice.

The Smokies have found a new way to prevent power-play goals against: stop taking penalties. Trail has been short-handed only three times in the past two games combined. Forward Luke Sandler’s coincidental roughing minor Wednesday made him the first BCHLer to crack 100 minutes in penalties this season.

Last Meeting: Tonight marks the first meeting between Trail and Penticton since November 21st, when the Smokies nearly clawed back from a five-goal third-period deficit only to lose 7-6.

Our Opponent: The Vees are coming off a third consecutive loss to the Merritt Centennials, 5-2 at the South Okanagan Events Centre last night, and have seen their lead atop the Interior division slip to four points. Wade Murphy and ex-Express John Siemer are both over the 60-point mark (67 and 63, respectively) with former Trail forward Sam Mellor sitting third in team scoring with 51 points. Siemer and steady defenseman Thomas Nitsche are both new arrivals since the last meeting in November; Nitsche is a former captain with Langley and features in a Vees defense already boasting the likes of Troy Stecher and Red Wings draft pick James DeHaas. Rookie goaltender Nic Renyard has played more than half of the 180 minutes of hockey between Trail and Penticton this season, and has allowed only 3 of the 15 Smokies goals scored in the season series thus far.

In the Press Box: Trail’s Bryce Knapp is out for the remainder of the season; the Vees do not have any listed injuries.

Broadcast Info: Watch tonight's game on FAST Hockey pay-per-view, or listen live at Smokies Ustream. Pregame coverage begins at 7:20 with the play-by-play set for 7:30.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Smoke Eaters 2 Centennials 1

Scott Davidson's deflected wrist shot early in the third period stood up as the game-winner, and Adam Todd made 27 saves as the Smokies moved back into a tie for the fourth Interior playoff spot with a 2-1 victory over Merritt Wednesday.

It was a goaltenders' duel, with Todd and Centennials netminder Russell Sanderson shutting down shooters all night in a game that easily could have seen either side score a mitt-full of goals.

Merritt shot out of the gate, outshooting Trail 10-3 through the first half and almost capitalizing twice thanks to a pair of grade "A" opportunities from Payton Schaefer, but it was the Smokies who found the opening goal 4:27 from the end of the first period thanks to Mitch Foyle's seventh goal of the season. Foyle accepted a crisp, cross-ice pass from Marley Keca and snapped a shot over Sanderson's shoulder from the right circle.

The goal gave Trail life, and they could well have been ahead by more than one goal were it not for a post from captain Garrett McMullen and a Sanderson rob-job on Riley McDougall from in close. The Smokies took the 1-0 lead to the break despite being outshot 11-10.

McMullen almost scored again early in a scoreless second on a breakaway, and Sanderson made the save of the night later in the frame after Jesse Knowler was sprung in alone, sliding left to right across his crease and kicking out at the Smokies forward's backhander. Trail outshot the Centennials 14-7.

Davidson's goal came 3:42 into the third period, after he received a healthy carom off the side boards. The 17 year-old fanned on his first effort, but then fired a shot toward the goal that went off Merritt defenseman Richard Sabourin and in.

The Smokies just about made it 3-0 on an Austin Adduono breakaway that was parried away by Sanderson, and moments later the Centennials found the board on a deflection by Silvan Harper. The 20 year-old crashed the net and re-directed Brent Fletcher's right-wing shot past Todd with just over 6 minutes remaining.

But despite a third-period penalty-kill, and strong pressure from Merritt in the dying minutes, Trail held strong, collecting their second successive victory over the Centennials on home ice, and their 23rd win overall. Trail now sits level with Salmon Arm with 48 points in the Interior standings, though the SilverBacks do have two games in hand.

The Smokies showed considerable nerves in the opening half of period one, but the Foyle goal seemed to really settle the club down. Both goaltenders were absolutely terrific and were forced to make numerous top-notch saves, with (from my vantage point at least) the Smokies enjoying a few slightly better chances thanks in large part to the number of breakaways they were able to find. Both teams were disciplined again as well, with only 2 power-plays issued in the entire game.

My Three Stars:
1. Adam Todd, Trail
2. Russell Sanderson, Merritt
3. Mitch Foyle, Trail

Up Next: each of Trail's final four regular-season games are against the Penticton Vees, the first of which comes Saturday night at Cominco Arena. Game time is 7:30.

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Centennials

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Merritt Centennials
When: February 20, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The Smoke Eaters find themselves with the opportunity to move back into a share of fourth place in the Interior division as they prepare for the Merritt Centennials. Trail sits two points back of the Salmon Arm SilverBacks after Friday’s wild overtime win against the Cowichan Valley Capitals that saw Valik Chichkin play extra-time hero after being sprung in alone on goal by Tyler Berkholtz.

The Smokies will surely look back on Merritt’s last visit to Cominco Arena with an eye on a repeat performance. Trail shot out of the gate and played possibly their most physically imposing sixty minutes of the season in a 4-2 win on December 18th, and to a man it’s quite clear the Smokies realize nothing short of that effort will suffice if Trail is to collect another two points tonight.

Trail will need a second straight strong defensive effort too tonight. The Smokies held Cowichan Valley to only 26 shots through 67 minutes on Friday, and after falling behind early Trail shut the door on the Caps, helping Adam Todd improve to 6-1 on home ice this season.

Luke Sandler scored his first two goals of the month Friday, and now sits just one behind Brent Baltus’ team-leading 23. Garrett McMullen also became the third Smokie to crack the 40-point barrier last week, but saw an 8-game point streak snapped Friday night.

Last Meeting: The two teams last met January 5th at the Nicola Valley Arena, with Merritt scoring three times in the third period to win 6-3.

Our Opponent: The Centennials still have their eyes on the Interior division crown, and will burn one of their two games in hand on the Penticton Vees tonight. Merritt sits six points out of first with 8 games left, but are also looking to increase the five-point gap between themselves and third-place West Kelowna. Winger Sebastien Pare (18-23-41) has been on fire of late for the Cents, and for his efforts was named to the Honourable Mention list for BCHL Player of the Week Monday. Leading scorer Regan Soquila (54 points) has set a new personal best with 22 goals, one better than 20 year-old Derek Huisman. Three of Merritt’s four college-committed players (Dylan Chanter, Dane Birks and Kevin Lohan) are defensemen, the other being goaltender Tyler Steel.

In the Press Box: Trail’s Bryce Knapp is out for the remainder of the season; the Centennials do not have any listed injuries.

Broadcast Info: Watch tonight's game on FAST Hockey pay-per-view, or listen live at Smokies Ustream. Pregame coverage begins at 7:20 with the play-by-play set for 7:30.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Smoke Eaters 5 Capitals 4 (OT)

Valik Chichkin tucked a shot home 2:11 into 3-on-3 overtime as the Smokies rallied, again, to win 5-4 in overtime against a plucky Cowichan Valley squad Friday at Cominco Arena.

The Trail defenseman scored his fifth goal of the season, and second overtime winner, sliding the puck past Capitals netminder Patrick Spano to bring the Smokies back to within two points of the final Interior division playoff berth.

The Capitals opened the scoring midway through the first period, when defenseman Jarrett Brown snapped home a shot from the left circle just six seconds into a Cowichan Valley power-play, but Trail responded a handful of minutes later when Scott Davidson fired home his own picture-perfect snapper over Spano's right shoulder.

Cowichan Valley would take a 2-1 lead into the break though, through Garrett Skrbich. The Princeton commit took a cross-crease pass from Mikael Jung and tapped home his sixth goal since joining the Capitals at the January 10th deadline.

Trail would equalize a second time just shy of the five-minute mark in period two on a similar goal to Skrbich's. This time, Tyler Berkholtz spun away from a check in the right corner and fired a pass to Adam Wheeldon at the left post. The Nelson product tapped home his eighth of the season, but again, the level pegging was short-lived.

First, Jamie Waddington ripped home a shot into the top corner from the slot, then moments later, Jung worked his way out of the left-wing corner and outwaited Smokies netminder Adam Todd across the crease for his team-leading 13th goal of the season, giving the Capitals a 4-2 lead, against the run of play, midway through regulation time.

It was up to Trail's former Capital to deliver an offensive punch, and that's just what Luke Sandler did. On a new-look line with Jesse Knowler and Brent Baltus, Sandler found space in the slot, beating Spano with a wrister before the second period was up to draw the score to 4-3.

Trail kept a steady presence throughout the game, but had trouble getting to Spano's rebounds all night, until Knowler and Sandler crashed the net midway through the third period. Off a Baltus shot, Sandler found the puck below the goalline, and quickly maneuvred the disk past the Capital keeper for his second of the game, and 22nd of the season. Trail fired 41 shots through 60 minutes, but could not find a fifth goal in regulation time.

Overtime was much of the same. Trail outshot the Capitals 7-2, and just about found the winner through Chichkin in four-on-four action when he was sprung in alone, but the lanky blueliner fired the puck over the crossbar. He would be more accurate in the 3-on-3 frame, accepting a pass from Berkholtz outside the crease, tapping the puck to his stick with his skate and beating Spano to send the 900-plus fans at Cominco Arena into a frenzy. It was Trail's 8th overtime goal of the season, and 8th victory when trailing after two periods during this campaign.

Trail needed the two points Friday, and remained persistent despite facing adversity. Credit HAS to go to the leaders on this team, including Berkholtz who remained a vocal presence on the Trail bench, and lit a fire under his teammates when his club was down two goals against an opponent that relished the role of playing spoiler. Combined with Salmon Arm's loss in Penticton, the win is a massive result for this club ahead of five tough games against the Centennials and Vees to close out the regular season. The Smokies have been quite lucky in getting favours from other teams in the league, and it was high time to help out their own cause in the standings as the push to the playoffs continues.

My Three Stars:
1. Luke Sandler, Trail
2. Mikael Jung, Cowichan Valley
3. Tyler Berkholtz, Trail

Up Next: the Smokies entertain the Merritt Centennials Wednesday, February 20th at Cominco. A win would draw Trail even on points with Salmon Arm, who are idle until their regular-season home finale next Friday night against the Vernon Vipers.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Capitals

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Cowichan Valley Capitals
When: February 15, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

With six games left in the 2012-13 regular season, the Smoke Eaters find themselves in a “must-win” situation against a club that’s had their number this year. Trail and Cowichan Valley meet for the third time this season, with the Capitals riding a four-game unbeaten run in head-to-head meetings. Trail, though, can’t afford to dwell on the past this evening: with a playoff position still within reach, the focus HAS to be on winning tonight after a pair of games that slipped away over the last set of seven days.

The Smokies have been fortunate enough to receive plenty of help on the out-of-town scoreboard, as the fourth-place Salmon Arm SilverBacks remain just four points up on Trail and take a four-game winless streak into Penticton tonight.

The Smokies should feel unlucky about not picking up points in West Kelowna Tuesday. Adam Todd was very good in his return to the Trail crease (making 33 saves), and Austin Adduono scored his second goal in three games on a pretty backhander in the first period of that 4-2 loss. A similar, hard-working effort tonight could and should lead to more fruitful returns on the scoreboard.

Watch for Luke Sandler to be especially motivated tonight. The 19 year-old was shipped away from the Capitals after just four games and has gone on to score 19 goals in a Smoke Eater uniform, including one in Duncan earlier this season.

Last Meeting: An old-West shootout in Duncan on October 20th saw Cowichan Valley skate away with a 9-5 win.

Our Opponent: The Capitals are the lone BCHL team who have been eliminated from playoff contention, but this team should not be taken lightly after plenty of turnover both on the roster and behind the bench. Aaron Plumb takes over for former Smokies coach Jim Ingram who stepped down last month. 17 year-old Steen Cooper leads the team in scoring with 27 points, while former West Kelowna forward Garrett Skrbich has five tallies since a trade up-Island last month from the Victoria Grizzlies. The Caps also feature a former Smoke Eater within their forward ranks; 18 year-old Kyle Horsman has put up 13 points in the Valley after spending his rookie BCHL season in Trail last year. Cowichan Valley has only one 20 year-old on their roster, former Regina Pat Mikael Jung, who leads the team in goals with 12.

In the Press Box: Trail’s Bryce Knapp is out for the remainder of the season; the Capitals do not have any listed injuries.

Broadcast Info: Watch tonight's game on FAST Hockey pay-per-view, or listen live at Smokies Ustream. Pregame coverage begins at 7:20 with the play-by-play set for 7:30.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Warriors 4 Smoke Eaters 2

Max French pounced on a rebound early in the third period to break a 2-2 tie, and Tyler Briggs made 30 saves to lead the Warriors past the Smokies 4-2 at Royal Lepage Place Tuesday.

French found a loose puck in the low slot and snapped a quick shot past Trail goaltender Adam Todd to inch the Warriors closer to second place, and deny the Smokies a chance to halve the gap between them and fourth place Salmon Arm.

The Smoke Eaters started brightly, going ahead midway through the first period on Austin Adduono's sixth goal of the season. The forward accepted a pass from pointman Bennett Hambrook and outwaited Briggs, backhanding the puck into the open net.

Trail held the lead until early in the second, when Seb Lloyd broke away from the Smoke Eater defence, backhanding a shot through Todd's legs. West Kelowna found the lead later in the period through leading scorer Marcus Basara, and held a 2-1 lead through fourty minutes.

But again, the Smokies would find their third-period moxie on a two-man advantage, when captain Garrett McMullen tipped home Shane Poulsen's point shot in the opening minute. The even pegging would only last until French's go-ahead marker at 3:09, then Brennan Clark tucked home an empty-netter with 16 seconds left to seal the Warrior win.

Both goaltenders were strong, with Todd making numerous important stops on a Warrior offense that came alive in the second period. Briggs saved his best for the third period, including a robbery on Luke Sandler after the Trail winger found himself in the clear in the left circle.

The Warriors also dressed only five defenseman, with 20 year-old Josh Monk registering three assists.

Trail remains four points shy of the final playoff berth held by Salmon Arm. The SilverBacks host Merritt Wednesday.

My Three Stars:
1. Josh Monk, West Kelowna
2. Austin Adduono, Trail
3. Tyler Briggs, West Kelowna

Up Next: 5 of the final half-dozen games of Trail's schedule are at home, beginning Friday against the Cowichan Valley Capitals. Game time is 7:30 at Cominco Arena.

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
Envoyé sans fil par mon terminal mobile BlackBerry sur le réseau de Bell.

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Warriors

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ West Kelowna Warriors
When: February 12, 7:00 pm
Where: Royal Lepage Place, West Kelowna

Another massive two points are on the line for the Smokies, who could move to within two points of fourth-place Salmon Arm with a victory on the road tonight in West Kelowna. After suffering an embarrassing loss on home ice Friday against Alberni Valley, no doubt Trail comes into today's contest motivated to right the ship and inch closer to a playoff berth that, despite the loss, remains very much up for grabs.

The team will again have the services of goaltender Adam Todd tonight. The 18 year-old dressed three times, but did not play for the WHL's Everett Silvertips over the long weekend. Four of Trail's last five wins have come with Todd between the pipes, most recently the 5-3 triumph over the SilverBacks a week ago.

After a slow start away from home, the Smokies have found their groove on away ice. Trail has won 6 of 9 away from Cominco Arena after collecting only one win in their first ten road fixtures. Royal Lepage Place has also brought recent success, with the Smoke Eaters' last visit resulting in a 4-3 overtime victory on December 14th.

And despite some games that have been far from close, the season series between Trail and West Kelowna is even at three wins each. In Trail's three victories, the Smokies have outscored the Warriors 10-6, while in the three defeats, the Smokies have been outscored 21-3.

Trail will need to be much more defensively responsible than they were in Friday's setback to the Bulldogs in order to earn a fourth victory against West Kelowna tonight. Too many times Alberni Valley was allowed unbridled access to the front of the net (especially in the third period) and Trail's defense corps needs to buy in, and be meaner.

The Smokies' power-play has also been a topic of concern, but to me the biggest thing missing is a lack of simplicity. The Smoke Eaters have proven time and time again this season their ability to win pucks and cycle behind the goalline, but seemed unable to gain the offensive zone with enough effectiveness to create those "down-low" chances. It's imperative for this club to find some early success with the man-advantage to gain some confidence like we saw in Langley two weekends ago, especially on the heels of two special-teams performances that generated few results.

Last Meeting: West Kelowna got off the hop early and cruised to a 6-1 victory January 12th at Cominco Arena. The home team has won four of the six meetings between the two sides this season.

Our Opponent: The Warriors have been on fire since the holiday break, and are finally showing the form expected of them when the 2012-13 season began. West Kelowna is 8-1-1 in its last ten games, and are fresh off helping the Smoke Eaters with victories over Salmon Arm and Vernon at the weekend. Marcus Basara (58 points) and Seb Lloyd (55 points) are the top guns within the Warriors' forward corps (Basara alone has five goals in six games against Trail this season), while captain Max French sits third in team scoring with 39 points despite only making 28 appearances in Warrior silks. West Kelowna will be without forward Shawn Hochhausen and defenseman Braxton Bilous due to suspension, while blueliner Brett Zarazun is eligible to return to the lineup after sitting out two games.

In the Press Box: Bryce Knapp is the lone scratch for Trail, while Hochhausen and Bilous will sit out for the Warriors.

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.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Bulldogs 8 Smoke Eaters 1

A frustrating night on the scoreboard for the Smokies, who remain 4 points out of a playoff spot after an 8-1 defeat to the Alberni Valley Bulldogs Friday in Trail.

Manny Gialedakis scored four goals, including the eventual game-winner on a late first-period power-play, while Cranbrook product Brad Rebagliati stopped 29 of 30 shots to earn his second victory of the season against the Smoke Eaters.

Gialedakis got things started early in the first period, converting on a rebound to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead less than four minutes in. But Trail would answer back through captain Garrett McMullen, who banged home a rebound of his own later in the frame to level the score.

Alberni Valley's special teams were a huge difference in Friday's game, and that difference manifested itself late in the opening period, when Gialedakis re-directed Chase Van Allen's one-timer off the left post and past Smokies netminder Lyndon Stanwood.

The Bulldogs added a short-handed goal in the opening minute of the second as Teal Burns rifled home a wrist shot from the right-wing circle on a two-on-one. Hunter Stewart put home a rebound at 10:42 of the second period to extend the lead to 4-1.

Things went from bad to worse for Trail in the third. First, on an opening-minute power-play, Gialedakis completed his hat-trick. Then, as Alberni Valley was on another power-play, a Smoke Eater was adjudged to have closed his hand on the puck in the Trail crease, prompting an automatic penalty shot. Bulldogs coach Kevin Willison allowed defenseman Eric Walker (playing his first game back in Trail after two seasons with the Orange & Black) to take the free breakaway, and Walker obliged, roofing his first goal as a Bulldog over Stanwood's left shoulder.

Gialedakis and Matthew Hansen rounded out the scoring, as the Bulldogs earned their fifth consecutive victory on a deflating night for the Smokies and the 900-plus fans who took in the game at Cominco Arena.

Tonight's first period showed promise (especially the line of Luke Sandler, Jesse Knowler and Austin Adduono who I thought deserved better luck tonight), but in all, the effort wasn't nearly good enough. Trail's power-play was, in a word, abysmal, and as the game wore on, the attention to detail, especially in the defensive zone, wasn't at all indicative of the type of effort required to make the playoffs. Needless to say, this team HAS to be better in West Kelowna on Tuesday, and got let off the hook by the Warriors tonight as well, as they defeated Salmon Arm tonight.

My Three Stars:
1. Manny Gialedakis, Alberni Valley
2. Teal Burns, Alberni Valley
3. Chase Van Allen, Alberni Valley

Up Next: the Smokies visit the West Kelowna Warriors Tuesday night. Adam Todd will be back from his stint with Everett of the Western Hockey League, and the Smokies could either be four, or six points adrift of a post-season berth, as Salmon Arm hosts Victoria Saturday.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Bulldogs

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Alberni Valley Bulldogs
When: February 8, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

After a thrilling home win Tuesday put the Smoke Eaters back to within four points of a playoff berth, the Orange & Black will try for their fourth win in five outings tonight against Alberni Valley. Ironically, the Bulldogs are the team responsible for the lone Smokies setback in the past five games, and come to Trail tonight at the front end of a grueling away swing.

The Smokies found out late Wednesday they will be without the services of goaltender Adam Todd tonight. The 18 year-old signed with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips, and backed up in a 6-0 loss last night. It’s anticipated Todd will return to Trail next week, but in the meantime, the goaltending load falls firmly on Lyndon Stanwood’s shoulders. Stanwood was terrific in his last outing, a 45-save performance in Langley January 27th that could well serve as a statement game.

Brent Baltus also enjoyed a return to his regular form Tuesday, scoring twice including the eventual game-winner late in period two. The two goals were his first since returning from injury last month.

The Trail power-play will again be an area of focus tonight. The Smokies squandered 7 minutes of man-advantage time in the third period of their loss in Port Alberni. Power-play cohesion against a physical, sizeable Bulldog defense could well prove to be a deciding factor in tonight’s game.

Last Meeting: The Smokies just about overcame a 4-1 second-period deficit, falling 5-4 in Port Alberni January 26th. Bulldog defenseman Chase Van Allen tallied the deciding goal.

Our Opponent: The Bulldogs are in a battle of their own, entering play today two points back of Nanaimo for second spot in the Island division and riding a four-game win streak. Sensational seventeen year-old Evan Tironese leads the club in scoring with 40 points, but 29-point man Teal Burns may be one to watch tonight for the ‘Dogs. He scored during the last meeting and also put up a hat-trick against Trail with Cowichan Valley back in October. Tonight also marks a return to Cominco Arena for 19 year-old defenseman Eric Walker. The Castlegar product played two full seasons with the Smoke Eaters from 2009 to 2011 before testing the college and major junior waters. Walker has matched his BCHL career-high of 11 points in only 23 appearances with Alberni Valley.

In the Press Box: Trail’s Bryce Knapp is out for the remainder of the season; Todd remains away on WHL duty as mentioned above. Riley McDougall should draw back in after missing Tuesday's game with an illness.

Broadcast Info: Watch tonight's game on FAST Hockey pay-per-view, or listen live at Smokies Ustream. Pregame coverage begins at 7:20 with the play-by-play set for 7:30.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Smoke Eaters 5 SilverBacks 3

The Smokies' offense exploded in a rough-and-tumble second period, and Adam Todd made 12 saves in the third to lift Trail to a 5-3 home victory over Salmon Arm Tuesday.

Brent Baltus scored his first two goals since early December, one of which stood up as the game-winner as the Smoke Eaters earned two valuable points to move to within 4 of the SilverBacks.

It was Salmon Arm who opened the scoring on a nifty play just past the four-minute mark. Brayden Sherbinin fed a wide-open Steven Iacobellis from the left wing, enabling the Burnaby product to one-touch a shot past an outstretched Todd for his 8th goal of the year. The lead wouldn't last, as just under 10 minutes later the Smokies equalized when Mitch Foyle found a puck on his stick in the slot after Braeden Jones' point shot re-directed to him.

The second period was by far the most physical, and was punctuated by a thunderous check by Adam Wheeldon on SilverBacks defenseman Brendan Kennedy in the Salmon Arm corner six minutes in. Kennedy left the game with what looked to be a lower leg injury and did not return, while Wheeldon then scrapped SilverBacks forward Ryan Schwalbe.

The momentum swung in Trail's favour again just past the midway mark of the second period, as the home side took the lead through an Austin Adduono deflection.

Shane Poulsen put home a seeing-eye wrister just under two minutes later to give the Smokies a 3-1 lead, a goal which nearly sparked fisticuffs in front of SilverBacks netminder Adam Clark as both Tyler Berkholtz and Luke Sandler got mixed up with Salmon Arm's Anthony Croston and Shane Hanna, respectively.

Hanna would bring the visitors back to within one at 17:04, as he charged into a loose puck in the slot, slapping his 11th of the season into the top corner.

But again, Trail would find an answer, as in the dying seconds of the period Baltus collected a hovering puck in the Salmon Arm zone and beat Clark for his first goal on Cominco Arena ice since November 17th. At the same time, captain Garrett McMullen took exception to a high hit from Alex Gillies, and the pair squared off at centre ice as the rest of the Smokies were celebrating the goal. Trail went into the break full of energy and holding a 4-2 lead.

The SilverBacks would get a power-play in the opening minute of the third period, and capitalized early after Sherbinin poked a loose puck through Todd's legs for his second point of the night. The goal seemed to buoy the Salmon Arm attack, who peppered the Trail zone with pressure and shots on or near the goal, but could not find a way to solve Todd.

Baltus deposited an empty-netter in the dying moments to secure the win for Trail after Marley Keca cleared the puck out of the zone into open space down the right wing.

Todd made 31 saves to earn the victory, while Clark stopped 21 of 25 shots directed his way.

It certainly was far from a polished performance, but its one that Trail will take gladly. The home side didn't back down from physical play, and got timely goals through the roster, and big stops when they needed them most. The win is a step in the right direction, but if this team is to be playoff bound, there's still a heck of a lot more work to do between now and March 10th.

My Three Stars:
1. Adam Todd, Trail
2. Brayden Sherbinin, Salmon Arm
3. Brent Baltus, Trail

Up Next: the Smokies return to home ice Friday when the Alberni Valley Bulldogs pay a visit to Cominco Arena. Game time is 7:30 pm.

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. SilverBacks

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Salmon Arm SilverBacks
When: February 5, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The Smokies face a must-win situation on home-ice tonight against a surging SilverBacks squad. Trail plays for the first time in nine days, and what was a two-point gap between the Smoke Eaters and SilverBacks has now grown to six thanks to a pair of Salmon Arm victories this past weekend.

The Smokies have not played since a thrilling 4-3 win in Langley January 27th that saw Lyndon Stanwood earn his 14th victory of the season in his first start since January 12th. The 19 year-old stopped 45 shots including a penalty-shot save on BCHL scoring leader Mario Puskarich late in the third period. Jesse Knowler had a goal and an assist while Braden Pears chipped in with his third game-winning goal of the season.

Trail’s Scott Davidson takes a four-game goal-scoring streak into tonight’s game as well, a streak that began during Salmon Arm's last visit to the Cominco Arena January 19th.

Tonight marks a great chance for the Smokies to rekindle their early-season home form. After shooting out of the gates with 6 wins in their first 8 games at Cominco Arena, Trail has won only twice in its last seven home outings, and host Salmon Arm for the third time in 2013 tonight.

Last Meeting: The SilverBacks’ Alex Gillies scored the tying goal late in the third, then broke Smoke Eater hearts in overtime lifting Salmon Arm to a 4-3 win January 19th. The SilverBacks have won 4 of the six meetings this season.

Our Opponent: Wins over Chilliwack and Vernon at the weekend have put Salmon Arm in a much more comfortable position than a week ago. The SilverBacks don’t score a ton of goals (only Vernon and Cowichan Valley have fewer goals for than Salmon Arm’s 113), but have received sensational goaltending on a nightly basis from the tandem of Adam Clark and Angus Redmond. It was the rookie Redmond, remember, who stoned the Smokies in the home-and-home set January 18th and 19th. Fellow Michigan Tech recruits Shane Hanna (40 points) and Gillies (34) are top dogs offensively; Hanna is the only defenseman in the BCHL to currently lead his team in scoring and tied with Penticton’s Troy Stecher for top defensive scorer in the league.

In the Press Box: Trail’s Bryce Knapp is out for the remainder of the season, as is SilverBacks forward Riley Hunt.

Broadcast Info: Watch tonight's game on FAST Hockey pay-per-view, or listen live at Smokies Ustream. Pregame coverage begins at 7:20 with the play-by-play set for 7:30.