The Vees welcome the Trail Smoke Eaters tonight to the SOEC, the first meeting between the two in nearly three months. The Vees and Smokies haven’t met since the weekend of September 13th & 14th in Trail. The Vees rolled over the Smoke Eaters in that two-game set, outscoring the hosts 12-1 (5-1 / 7-0).
The Vees are rolling, playing some of their best hockey of the season. They’re riding a four-game win streak, which matches a season high, set in, yes, Trail back on September 14th. In their last game on Saturday, the Vees rolled over the Surrey Eagles 7-1, that after sweeping a mid-week home-and-home series with Merritt.
Trail is in a rut, as they’ve lost seven straight and eight of their last 10. They were at home last night but were upended 5-3 by the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. The Smokies last win so happens to be against Salmon Arm, back on November 16th. Lots of turnover with the Smokies organization since they last played the Vees. 11 players have since been traded or have been taken off a Jr. ‘A’ card and eight new ones have arrived. Head Coach Bill Birks was let go and Nick Deschenes was brought in as the new Head Coach from Grand Forks of the KIJHL . It’s a team under a rebuild I suppose, with eleven 18-year-olds, two 17-year-olds and just three 20-year-olds on the roster.
After tonight, these two don’t meet again until January 11th, the Vees last visit to Cominco Arena this season. After that, it’s three more match ups at the SOEC on January 25th, February 5th and February 21st.
- Vees have won four in a row. First place in the Interior and with games in hand. It’s the last place Smoke Eaters coming into town and they’ve lost sevens straight. Easy win right?
- Admiral Ackbar is right, this is a “trap game,” as all the numbers appear to slant in the Vees favour. But games aren’t played on paper and the coaching staff will be telling the players to not look past tonight. Trail will be a scrappy opponent, one that will want to use tonight’s game as a measuring stick. Once you take a game for granted, you’re in trouble.
- Trail may have had lost seven straight coming into tonight but they’ve played in eight one-goal games in their last nine; if you look past empty-net goals and such. They’ve been a tough opponent and one that won’t be rolling over for the Vees. Penticton will need to have their energy at the level it has been in the last two weeks. That’s been a big key to their success during this winning streak. Playing with pace and playing with energy is a good formula for winning. It may be harder to get dialed in for a game like tonight rather than a game versus Merritt, Vernon or West Kelowna. But it’s another Wednesday night promotion, which should yield a good-sized and focal crowd. Just because the Smokies are at the bottom of the Division, doesn’t mean the Vees should ease off the gas.
- No two players are feeling it more than Brett Beauvais and Brad McClure, as each are riding six-game point streaks. Beauvais has scored in five straight and has five goals and 13 points in six. McClure is red-hot, as he has nine goals and 14 points in his last six. McClure has scored twice in back-to-back games and has seven two-goal games this season.
- Someone who is quietly going about putting a nice run together is Ben Dalpe. Though he might not get the attention Beauvais or McClure have been getting, Dalpe has also strung together a six-game point streak. Dalpe has three goals and eight points during the run and the addition of Steen Cooper on his line has clearly has done him some good.
- Speaking of Cooper, since coming over from the Cowichan Valley Capitals, he’s got a goal and four points in three games; talk about making a good first impression. He could have had more, as he rifled a shot of the cross-bar last Wednesday, and that was short-handed. Cooper has been great in the middle of Dalpe and McClure, as the three have quickly generated chemistry. The trio have combined for six goals and 16 points in three games.
- The Vees won’t be focusing so much on their opponent, as they are on themselves and the importance of tonight. One, it’s a divisional match up and their record against the Interior is great (10-3-0-1) and want that run of success to continue. More importantly it’s the only game tonight in the BCHL. That means the Vees are making up a game in hand on everyone else in the Interior, including Vernon, who sit just one point back of the Vees. A win helps open the gap, as they would be three ahead of the Vipers and still would have a game in hand.
- The Vees also welcome back Travis Blanleil, who’s done serving a two-game suspension. Blanleil will be a welcome addition up front, as he’s regarded as one of the Vees and arguably the league’s best checking forwards. He’ll jump back on a line with Cody DePourcq and Jack Ramsey.
- Hunter Miska will start in net tonight. He won both games against Merritt last week and shutout Trail back on September 14th; he made 32 saves in that game. It’s Miska tonight and Olivier Mantha on Friday in Chilliwack. That was confirmed from the Penticton Herald’s article this morning.
- Kienan Scott will be the AP in the line-up and again will wear number 23, and again will skate alongside Riley Alferd and Matt Serratore. Scott didn’t look out-of-place on Saturday and actually had two legitimate scoring chances. I liked his simplified approach but also wasn’t shy about taking the puck to the net.
Smoke Eaters Notes:
- Trail has just two wins in their last 10 and three in their last 20 but that won’t be taken lightly by the Vees. This is a younger team that will be determined to show they can’t skate with one of the Interior’s best.
- Quite a few veteran faces are gone from the Smokies line-up but there are two that the Vees will have to pay attention to; two-thirds of their 20-year-olds. Braden Pears is one, as the fleet-footed defenseman can pose a threat from the blue-line. He doesn’t hesitate to jump up into or lead the rush and will throw quite a few shots towards the net from the blue-line. Where he can get in trouble is when he’s closed-in on/ pressured. If the Vees take away his space and get a bit physical with him, Pears can be prone to a few turnovers and in turn, chances the other way. Another Smokie to look out for, is fellow 20-year-old Travis Stephens. He leads the team in goals, all be it with just nine but has shown he can finish around the net. He’s also the only regular roster player on Trail with a point against Penticton this season.
- Scott Davidson, an up-and-coming 17 year-old last season, who had 11 goals and 34 points one year ago, has suffered through his own sophomore slump. So far, the now 18-year-old only has just two goals and nine points in 29 games. Davidson, who’s committed to Quinnipiac, has the ability to be a game-breaker but for various reasons this year hasn’t been able to put it all together; he’s pointless in four. Regardless, the Vees will have to be weary of Trail’s first line left-winger.
- An area of strength, on paper, is their goaltending with the duo of Adam Todd and Dustin Nikkel. Nikkel will get the start tonight and did face the Vees once this season and was tagged for seven goals on 23 shots. Despite their numbers this season, I like both Todd and Nikkel, as these two are more than capable puck-stoppers. Todd saw the bulk of the action last spring during Trail’s late playoff push, but has missed a big chunk of time this year due to injury. Nikkel, who was with Salmon Arm last spring, has started 20 games and isn’t the reason why this team sits where it does.
- Home hasn’t been kind to Trail so a road game isn’t as daunting as you would think, but it’s their starts that have dogged them so far this year. When they score first, they’re a respectable 4-5-1-1 but when they give up the games first goal, they’re 3-18-1-0; downhill from there it seems. Something to watch for tonight is what we see from the Smokies early.
On the Broadcast: Both coaches will join me in the pre-game show which gets going at 6:40pm. In the first intermission we’ll hear from Brett Beauvais, as he he talks about his scoring run. In the second Intermission, the voice of the Chilliwack Chiefs Marc Fitzgerald joins me, as we tee up Friday’s clash.