Thursday, March 28, 2013

Smokies Spring Camp A Go, OTW Hiatus

About 60 players from BC, Alberta and beyond will be at Cominco Arena this weekend for a two-day Smoke Eaters Spring Camp.

Fans are welcome to attend any of the on-ice sessions Saturday and Sunday (check at the Cominco Arena on Saturday morning for more details) as the Smokies staff check out prospects vying for places on the 2013-14 squad. Last year's spring camp proved to be a key testing ground for the likes of Mitch Foyle and Braeden Jones, don't be surprised to see similar standout performances this weekend.

As for any recap, in short, don't expect one I'm afraid. I'm off to spend the Easter weekend with family happily out of cellphone range. Next week marks the beginning of my work to prepare for the 2013-14 season. In fact, I'm hoping to completely re-tool the blog over the next weeks and months to provide a lot more content and a new look by the time training camp rolls along in August.

Thanks as always for reading, and hope you're enjoying the sunshine!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Ex-Smokie Dyck To Selkirk College

Former Smoke Eaters forward Darnell Dyck is coming back to the West Kootenay. BCIHL champions Selkirk College announced this morning the Chilliwack product has committed to the Saints for the 2013-14 season. Dyck, a four-year BCHL vet with Surrey, Trail and Langley, scored 14 goals and 29 points as a member of the 2009-10 Smokies in his 18 year-old season.

The full release from Selkirk College is available here.

Dyck, a 65-point man in 2011-12 with Langley, will complement a Saints offense very nicely next season and his signing with the Saints should only help augment the profile of the BCIHL as a whole. I can't say enough how good of a job Saints coach Jeff Dubois and his staff did to build hype, and bring success to the Saints this past season and I'm sure they'll be a strong side again this fall.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Smokies Extend Head Coach/GM

More off-ice news this morning, as the Smokies board of directors voted earlier this week to extend the contract of head coach and general manager Bill Birks.

Birks, in his second season as bench boss in Trail, led the Smokies to a 26-28-0-2 overall record, more than doubling the previous year's win total and nearly doubling the point total from 2011-12. Three Smoke Eaters players earned Division I scholarships over the course of the season, with Alaska-Anchorage commit Brent Baltus being named Interior Conference MVP yesterday.

The full release from the team is here.

I'm extremely happy for Bill and his family, who I know absolutely love the community and being a part of the Smoke Eaters family. During his time here, the Smoke Eaters have developed a reputation as one of the hardest-working teams in the BCHL and with all but four players eligible to return in 2013-14, I'd expect that to continue on next fall. I know I'm excited to continue working with him and watching this team continue to grow.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Baltus Named Interior MVP

Smoke Eaters forward Brent Baltus has been awarded the Vern Dye Memorial Trophy the 2013 BCHL Interior Conference MVP. This after a 24-goal, 52-point season that saw the Nanaimo product earn a Division I scholarship and establish himself as one of the most dangerous offensive threats in the BC Hockey League. It's an incredible feat for a player who arrived in Trail as a 19 year-old rookie and progressed from the Smokies' third line to top unit at breakneck speed.

The full release from the team is here.

Baltus is the first Smoke Eater to win a major BCHL award since Justin St. Louis was named Interior Rookie of the Year in 2004. He is the first Smokie to win this particular trophy too. Overall it's only the eighth time Trail's organization has been awarded a major honour since entering the league in 1995. It's been a memorable season, to say the least, and it's terrific to see Baltus and the Smoke Eaters earn some recognition at a league-wide level.

The full list of 2012-13 award winners was made public this morning and is available here.

Way to go "Baltsy," and keep up the good work in Alaska!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Smoke Eaters 4 Vees 2

Marley Keca scored twice as the Smokies closed the 2012-13 season with a 4-2 win over Penticton in front of 1,649 fans Sunday at Cominco Arena.

Keca opened the scoring on another crazy carom, then added a second on a one-timer bullet with 1.4 seconds left in period two to help the Smokies to a 26th victory of the season in the final BCHL game for 20 year-olds Brent Baltus, Garrett McMullen, Tyler Berkholtz and Bennett Hambrook.

The Vees, who scratched ten regulars and dressed only 14 skaters Sunday, held Trail off the scoresheet through the opening frame, but the hosts found their offensive touch with a 3-goal outburst in a 94-second span early in the second period. First, Keca fooled everyone with a left-wing dump-in that bounced off a stanchion and jerked toward a goal vacated by Vees netminder Nic Renyard. It was a goal eerily similar to one scored by Braeden Jones against this same Penticton club just two weekends ago.

Moments later, the Smokies went ahead 2-0 after Luke Sandler juked past a defenseman, then outwaited Renyard with a backhand effort to score his 23rd goal of the season. Jesse Knowler potted his 9th of the campaign on the next shift on a pretty centring feed from Shane Poulsen.

The Vees would score before the end of the middle frame thanks to Jordan Boultbee. The rookie forward was sent in alone on Trail netminder Lyndon Stanwood after a spin-o-rama pass from linemate Ryan Gropp found his stick in the left-wing circle.

Keca's second of the game added an exclamation mark to the Smokies' second-period outburst, though. The 19 year-old hammered a cross-zone pass from forward Riley McDougall into the top corner for his second goal of the game, and third of the season.

Trail took advantage of a tired Vees squad in the third period possession-wise and territorially, outshooting the visitors 18-6. It was Penticton, though, who scored the only goal of the final frame (in the final minute to boot) as AP callup Brett Harris tapped home his first in the BCHL to round out the scoring with 44 seconds left.

Stanwood made 27 saves for the Smokies to collect his 15th win of the season, while Renyard made 43 saves at the other end for the short-handed Vees.

Of the four twenty year-olds, only McMullen failed to record a point Sunday, though not for lack of effort. This Trail squad was motivated, aggressive and physical this afternoon, and were bent on ending a disappointing weekend with aplomb. Sunday's win also sealed the first season-series victory against Penticton since the 2004-05 season. It was a fitting send-off for the graduating Smoke Eaters too: each of them battled through injury and adversity this season and were incredible ambassadors for the Smoke Eater crest throughout their time here.

To "Hammy," "Baltsy," "Berky" and "Mully," all the best in wherever life takes you both on and off the ice, and thank you for keeping us all entertained during your time with the Orange & Black.

Thanks as well to the players & coaches for their commitment, as well as our legion of volunteers, billet families and YOU the fans and parents for being a part of the 18th season of BCHL Smoke Eaters hockey. With all but four skaters eligible to return next year, there's reason to be excited for 2013-14. I know I can't wait to see what happens next, and I hope to see you all back at the Cominco Arena come the second half of August.

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Vees

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Penticton Vees
When: March 10, 3:00 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

Another season of Smoke Eaters hockey draws to a close this afternoon against Penticton. Trail was eliminated from playoff contention after the Salmon Arm SilverBacks clinched the fourth and final playoff berth, and so it will be the ‘Backs that will square off against today’s opponent, Penticton, in the first round of the BCHL playoffs beginning Friday.

This Smoke Eater club battled every night, bringing pride to the club crest and doubling its overall win total from last year. Three Smokies (Brent Baltus, Garrett McMullen and Luke Sandler) cracked the 20-goal mark after no Smoke Eater did so last season, and three members of this group have already secured NCAA Division I scholarships. Trail’s ten extra-time wins this season matches a club record set during the 1997-98 season, though unbelievably the Surrey Eagles’ 11 overtime wins is this season’s top mark.

Today, we bid farewell to four Smoke Eater leaders in Baltus, McMullen, Bennett Hambrook and Tyler Berkholtz as they graduate from the junior “A” ranks.  Baltus and McMullen both spent two seasons with the Orange & Black while Berkholtz and Hambrook both joined the team this year. Please join me in giving them a much-deserved round of applause as they, and your Smoke Eaters, play out the final game of their 2012-13 season this afternoon. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride.

Last Meeting: Brad McClure broke a 4-4 tie here last Saturday with just under 6 minutes remaining to give Penticton a win. Both teams have won three times in the six previous meetings this season.

Our Opponent: The Vees will be the top seed in the Interior conference bracket after clinching the division here last weekend, but losses in four of the last five games mean Penticton will miss out on the overall regular-season crown. Fred Harbinson’s group will be motivated to end the regular season on a positive note after a last-minute loss in Vernon on Friday night. Captain Troy Stecher sealed his future with the University of North Dakota earlier this week, meaning all but six players on the Vees’ active roster are committed to college. Today also marks one last visit to Trail for former Smokie Sam Mellor, who sits on 54 points entering play today after back-to-back 60+ point seasons with the Smoke Eaters in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

In the Press Box: Trail’s Bryce Knapp is out for the remainder of the season. The Vees will see forward Cody DePourcq return from a suspension today, but have no listed injuries.

Broadcast Info: Join me for all the action from Cominco Arena on FastHockey pay-per-view or listen for free on Smokies Ustream. Pre-game coverage begins at 2:50 with the play-by-play set for 3:00.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Baltus Named To BCHL All-Star Team

A day after being named Smoke Eaters co-MVP, some more nice news for forward Brent Baltus. The 20 year-old was named to the BCHL's Interior Conference Second All-Star Team this morning. Baltus leads Trail in scoring with 51 points from 46 games, and is also top dog among the Smokies in goals (24) and short-handed markers (2). 80 of Baltus' 81 career BCHL points have come in a Smoke Eater uniform.

The full release from the team is here.

For a complete listing of this season's BCHL All-Stars, click here.

Great job Brent and congrats on a sensational season so far!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Smokies Hand Out Hardware

Co-MVPs Brent Baltus and Tyler Berkholtz flanked by the Smokies' coaching staff

More than 100 people took in Tuesday's Smoke Eaters awards banquet at the Riverbelle in Trail, an event that saw five multiple award winners as the Smokies recognized their players for the hard work they've put in so far this season.

Brent Baltus and Tyler Berkholtz were named co-winners of the Smokies' Most Valuable Player award, while Quinnipiac commit Scott Davidson earned Rookie of the Year honours. Braden Pears was named Top Defenseman while captain Garrett McMullen won the Ed Shelly Memorial award which recognizes hard work, dedication and pride to the Smoke Eater crest and to the community.

Trail's four overage players, Baltus, Berkholtz, McMullen and defenseman Bennett Hambrook were also presented with their white game jerseys from this past season as a keepsake.
Trail's four twenty year-olds receive their game jerseys Tuesday

Here's a list of the 2012-13 Smoke Eaters award winners:

Top Scorer: Brent Baltus
Scholastic Award: Scott Davidson
Unsung Hero: Luke Sandler
Most Improved Player: Mitch Foyle
Most Inspirational Player: Adam Wheeldon
Top Defenseman: Braden Pears
Most Dedicated Player: Bennett Hambrook
Rookie of the Year: Scott Davidson
Fan Favourite: Adam Wheeldon
Ed Shelly Memorial Award: Garrett McMullen
Most Valuable Player: Brent Baltus/Tyler Berkholtz
Randy Emery’s Warrior of the Year: Tyler Berkholtz

Congrats to each of the players for their hard work and dedication this season, it's been an awful lot of fun watching/traveling/following you guys as this season has progressed. Like every good novel though, it needs an ending, and here's to that ending being as prolonged as possible.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Vees 5 Smoke Eaters 4

Brad McClure's goal with 5:40 left in the third period broke a 4-4 tie, and gave the Vees a win in Trail for the first time this season after another wild third-period rally by the Smoke Eaters.

McClure tallied his team-leading 27th goal of the season after the Smokies scored twice in 66 seconds to complete a three-goal comeback in front of 1,200 fans Saturday at Cominco Arena.

The Smoke Eaters picked up where they left off Friday night in Penticton, scoring the opening goal just shy of the 12-minute mark on a power-play. Valik Chichkin wired home a one-timer from the right point that beat Vees starter Chad Katunar through heavy traffic.

Penticton's Jedd Soleway would reply just over three minutes later, putting the Vees on the board with a well-taken deflection in front of Smoke Eaters netminder Adam Todd. Soleway returned to Penticton's lineup Saturday after serving a two-game suspension.

The Vees would take the lead 2:20 later on a man-advantage situation of their own. Louie Nanne took a Sam Mellor cross-ice pass from left half-wall to right circle, one-timing a low shot that snuck between Todd's toes and the right post. Nanne now has seven goals in six games against the Smokies.

The Nanne goal gave the visitors plenty of momentum that carried over into period two. First, Cody DePourcq slotted home his thirteenth goal of the season 3:10 into the middle frame, then Michael Rebry put home his second in as many games six minutes later to give the Vees a 4-1 lead midway through regulation time.

That wasn't to say the game was at all one-sided, and Trail found some luck and some more power-play production 1:44 from the end of the period when Austin Adduono deflected home a Marley Keca point shot from just outside the crease. Adduono was decked in front of the goal, got up, and tipped the long wrister into the back of the net for his seventh goal of the season.

The Smokies leaned on their veterans to start the third period, and the veterans delivered. First, captain Garrett McMullen snuck home his third goal in as many games 7 minutes into the final frame to cut the deficit to one. Then just over a minute later, leading scorer Brent Baltus put home a second rebound to tie the game at 4-4, sending the home crowd into a frenzy. Baltus picked up the puck with a seemingly open net after Jesse Knowler shot from the right wing but was thwarted by Vees defenseman Bryan Sinz. Luckily for Baltus, the ricochet shot right back onto his stick and the second time he made no mistake, putting home his 24th goal of the season and first since February 5th.

The Baltus goal chased Katunar in favour of fellow Vancouver Island product Nic Renyard, and perhaps it was that move that jolted the Vees back into gear. The teams traded opportunities until McClure found himself wide open in front of the Smoke Eaters bench. After receiving a quick pass, he walked in down the right side, wristing a puck past Todd's right shoulder. The Smokies poured everything they had left at Renyard, but the rookie netminder stood tall, denying the home side a fifth straight victory.

It was another example of this Smoke Eaters club responding to early adversity. It would have been too easy to fold the tent tonight when the score was 4-1, but instead Bill Birks' club kept working, chipping away at the lead until it was gone. The McClure goal was one of precious few coverage gaffes committed by Trail all night, unfortunately tonight, it cost them dearly. McMullen took the team on his shoulders again, first scoring the third-period goal, then acting as a battering ram including a thunderous check on Penticton defenseman Thomas Nitsche in the Vees zone.

The power-play came to play again tonight too, and again its success was the result of pucks being directed on goal. Trail is, unbelievably, 8/21 in six encounters with Penticton including tonight, and both Chichkin and Adduono's goals were near-impossible for Katunar to stop.

The official attendance tonight on the BCHL boxscore was listed at 1,192, but in talking to people in the arena both during and after the game, I'd be shocked if there wasn't closer to 14 or 15-hundred people in the old barn tonight. Cominco Arena was rocking, with Baltus' equalizer generating the most noise I've heard in that rink since Travis St. Denis' playoff hat-trick against Westside two years ago. Kudos to you, the fans, for showing your support and staying supportive tonight when this team needed you the most.

Salmon Arm lost tonight too, meaning the Smokies and SilverBacks are still, for the time being, level on points with 52. The onus is solely on Salmon Arm now, as the SilverBacks will complete their regular-season schedule before the Smokies hit the ice next weekend against these same Vees. Salmon Arm visits Coquitlam Sunday afternoon before away games in Merritt and Prince George next weekend. It's scoreboard-watching at its basest, and you can bet there will be several orange and black eyes following every move the SilverBacks make from here on in.

My Three Stars:
1. Garrett McMullen, Trail
2. Jedd Soleway, Penticton
3. John Siemer, Penticton

Up Next: The Smokies will wait until Sunday, March 10th for their regular-season finale against Penticton. It's a matinee affair at Cominco Arena with the puck drop set for 3:00 PM. We could know by as early as Friday whether or not a playoff berth will be on the line.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Vees

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Penticton Vees
When: March 2, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The Smokies will go another round with the Penticton Vees tonight in search of their fourth win this season against the defending national champs. Valik Chichkin’s goal 1:52 into 3-on-3 overtime sealed a dramatic 3-2 Trail win in Penticton last night, and ensured the Smokies held serve for the final Interior playoff berth as their rivals from Salmon Arm overcame a two-goal third-period deficit to win in Powell River last night.

Trail will need to repeat back-to-back gutsy efforts against a Vees squad laden with offensive flair. To a man, the Smokies were committed to the cause yesterday, blocking shots, playing with a physical edge, and scoring timely goals including two power-play markers off the sticks of 20 year-olds Tyler Berkholtz and Garrett McMullen.

Adam Todd made 31 saves last night, notably a pair of ten-bellers in quick succession off Michael Rebry and John Siemer midway through the second period. The Smokies have also killed 17 of 20 power-plays against Penticton this season, including all four man-advantage opportunities the Vees were granted last night.

If the previous encounters between these two teams are any indication, we’re in for a treat this evening.

Last Meeting: Chichkin’s winner last night in Penticton sealed the third Trail victory in five games this season against the Vees, and their tenth OT triumph this year.

Our Opponent: The Vees are coming off back-to-back OT losses, and three straight defeats overall entering tonight’s game. Penticton’s woes on the scoreboard are not the result of a lack of chances, in both meetings against Trail over the last week the Vees have managed more than 30 shots on goal with no shortage of grade-A chances either. Both goals last night (from Wade Murphy and Rebry) came off quick releases; Murphy leads the team in scoring with 69 points while the ex-Express sniper Siemer has 64. After deferring to Nic Renyard in the meeting here last weekend, I thought goaltender Chad Katunar was strong in last night’s loss. He comes into this evening’s contest having won 25 games. The Vees could all but seal the #1 seed in the Interior with a win tonight, entering play with a five-point cushion on second-place Merritt. Penticton (73 points) also sits a point behind the Victoria Grizzlies for the overall points lead in the BCHL.

In the Press Box: Trail’s Bryce Knapp is out for the remainder of the season. The Vees will see forward Jedd Soleway return to the lineup tonight after serving a two-game suspension.

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 7:20 with the play-by-play set for 7:30.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Smoke Eaters 3 Vees 2 (OT)

The cardiac Smokies struck again, silencing South Okanagan supporters with a 3-2 overtime triumph Friday in Penticton.

Valik Chichkin played OT hero for the third time this season, as Trail nipped the Vees for the second time in 6 days in front of almost 2,600 fans at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

It was another game that could have gone either way, but the Smokies again found their groove in 3-on-3 extra time, collecting their tenth overtime win of the season.

Penticton struck first on a nifty one-timer from Wade Murphy 7:20 into the first. Murphy shot from the slot, while being hit after a crisp Louie Nanne feed from the right-wing wall.

But the Smokies answered back minutes later on a power-play. Penticton native Tyler Berkholtz found a loose puck in front of the net and lifted a back-hand shot over the shoulder of Vees netminder Chad Katunar.

The two teams traded chances in the second period, perhaps none better than a pair of acrobatic saves from Adam Todd off Michael Rebry and John Siemer seconds apart from point-blank range. Trail's Brent Baltus was thwarted at the other end on no fewer than three odd-man rushes.

Trail found themselves with another power-play early in the third, and captain Garrett McMullen made it pay off. The 20 year-old roofed a puck past Katunar for his 20th goal of the season, giving the visitors a 2-1 lead.

But the Vees would answer back after persistent pressure in front of the Trail goal. This time, Rebry converted on a Siemer pass from behind the net, scoring from just outside the blue paint.

The Smokies needed to secure points, and managed to earn a single one through 60 minutes despite being outshot 11-6 in period three.

The Vees then were caught with too many men in 4-on-4 play, but Trail could not capitalize.

It came to 3-on-3 play, and the visitors found their groove yet again. Baltus and Luke Sandler criss-crossed in the high slot with the puck bouncing on to the trailing Chichkin, who wired home his sixth goal of the year sending the Smokies bench into a frenzy.

Trail briefly moved into sole possession of fourth place, but after completion of play Friday find themselves back on level terms with the SilverBacks after Salmon Arm rallied to win 6-5 in Powell River.

My Three Stars:
1. Adam Todd, Trail
2. Michael Rebry, Penticton
3. Tyler Berkholtz, Trail

Up Next: another round with the Vees goes Saturday at Cominco Arena. There's no reason for tomorrow's game not to have the biggest crowd of the season so far.

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 @ 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.