Friday, March 1, 2013

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Vees

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Penticton Vees
When: Mar. 1, 7:00 pm
Where: South Okanagan Events Centre, Penticton

The Smokies and Vees will get ever more acquainted with each other, with this weekend's home-and-home set to get underway tonight in Penticton. For Trail, it's rounds two and three of four consecutive meetings with the first-place Vees, and the Smokies enter tonight's game having won two of the previous three encounters.

To a man, the Smokies know exactly what remains at stake in terms of playoff positioning this weekend, but it's up to them to forget all about it come game time. Trail and Salmon Arm remain tied with 50 points each for the fourth and final Interior playoff berth, with the SilverBacks burning one of their two games in hand Sunday at the conclusion of a Coastal swing that begins tonight in Powell River.

The South Okanagan Events Centre is a tough place to win points, and the Smokies will be well-served tonight by playing the same style of game they're used to executing in the friendlier confines of the Cominco Arena. I'm sure head coach Bill Birks was thrilled with the physical tenacity shown by his club in last Saturday's 4-3 overtime win over Penticton, but the Smokies can't get lulled into a game of trading power-play opportunities back and forth tonight if they want to come away with any points. The defence will be tested again this evening, but for me they came away shining after Saturday's effort.

One of the keys to Trail's success last time 'round was the ability for depth players on the roster to chip in with timely goals. Jake Lucchini's opener had to have been a massive confidence boost, and third-period tallies from Braeden Jones and Marley Keca (Jones' goal coming off the carom of the century) only helped the team recover from adversity and set themselves up with a chance to win.

Garrett McMullen enters tonight's game with points in 10 of his last 12 outings. The captain has carried a lot of the load for Trail's new-look top-six, and watch for him to be extra-motivated this weekend with family in town from upstate New York. McMullen also leads the team with 5 game-winning goals, three of which have come in overtime.

And if you like offense, you've come to the right place. The two teams have combined for 37 goals in 4 games (with Penticton holding a 19-18 edge). Let's not forget the last trip to Penticton that saw the Smokies almost rally from a 7-2 deficit with less than ten minutes remaining in the third period, only to fall 7-6 after an offensive-zone penalty in the final minute.

Last Meeting: McMullen's overtime winner last Saturday sealed a 4-3 Smoke Eater triumph at Cominco Arena. The season series is tied 2-2 with the home team winning each game thus far.

Our Opponent: The Vees are sure to be a growly bunch tonight in their final regular-season home game. Penticton has lost three of four games and sits a point behind the Victoria Grizzlies for the overall points lead in the BCHL. Leading scorer Wade Murphy (22-46-68) also leads the Vees in scoring through the season series with 8 points, while Minnesota draftee Louie Nanne is top dog in goals with 6 in the four meetings this season (accented by a hat-trick October 6th). Penticton's blue line is one of the more offensively ambitious in the BCHL too, with 18 year-old Troy Stecher leading the way with 43 points from 49 games played. Both Vees goaltenders, Chad Katunar and Nic Renyard have goals-against averages under 2.25, which makes Trail's ability to score double that in the season series thus far all the more impressive.

In the Press Box: The Smokies are without Bryce Knapp, who is out for the season but working out after shoulder surgery. Penticton forward Jedd Soleway was suspended for last Saturday's encounter at Cominco Arena, but there has been no mention of how long he is out on the BCHL discipline page.

Broadcast Info: Join me for all the action from Penticton on FastHockey pay-per-view, with free audio available at Smokies Ustream. Pregame coverage begins at 6:50 with the play-by-play set for 7:00.

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