The Penticton Vees get their first look at the Trail Smoke Eaters tonight at the SOEC, another “Wicked Wednesday.” The Smoke Eaters are the only Interior team the Vees haven’t faced yet but they’ll be seeing a lot of them in near future. The Smokies will be a regular opponent of the Vees over the next seven weeks, as they play Trail four times in their next 19 games.
Penticton comes into Wednesday’s game winners of seven straight and they sit atop of the Interior Division and the BCHL overall standings. They even shot up the CJHL national Top 20 rankings, climbing from 12th to fifth this week.
Trail has stumbled a bit out of the block, as they’re 2-5-0-0 through seven games and have lost their last three, including Saturday’s 5-2 loss in Salmon Arm. One thing the Smokies have going for them is the amount of games in hand they have on the rest of the division. They have a game in hand on Penticton and Salmon Arm, two on West Kelowna and three on Merritt and Vernon. They have actually played the least amount of games of any team in the BCHL outside of Wenatchee. They’ll need to make a push and soon and their schedule sets them up well. After tonight five of their next six games are at home.
Special teams, again, was the story in the Vees 5-2 win in Prince George on Saturday. The power-play got another goal but the main story was the penalty-kill, as the Vees killed-off five of six Spruce Kings power-plays. Now, the coaching staff has made it clear they want the team to be more disciplined going forward but are they more undisciplined than last year? Through eight games this year, the Vees have been short-handed 35 times, compared to the 32 times they were short-handed through eight games last year. So, the numbers tell us they’re taking less than half a penalty more (.36) per game this year, compared to last year. A small increase but it’s an increase.
The PK has eased their time served, as the Vees own the BCHL’s third-best penalty-kill at 88.57 percent, allowing four power-play goals in eight games. Though their PK has been excellent, they’re going to need to find a way to cut down on their trips to the penalty-box.
Secondary scoring was another area they wanted to shore up and Saturday might have been the step in the right direction. The Vees scored five goals outside of their top three of Tyson Jost, Scott Conway and Chris Gerrie. When those three combined for just one assist (power-play) in a five goal win, you know you’re getting secondary scoring. They’re getting some scoring from their back-end too, as Dante Fabbro had two goals and five points in two games last week. They now have six players that have scored three or more goals and seven that have five or more points. That number could be improved upon but it’s a good start.
Goaltending has been another storyline in the early going, as the Vees Anthony Brodeur owns the league’s best goals against average (1.13) and save-percentage (.957) among starters (three or more games). Newcomer Zach Driscoll won in his debut Saturday, turning aside 22 of 24 shots in an efficient outing in PG.
It also was a weekend of firsts for the Vees, as Ben Brar and Jason Lavallee scored their first BCHL goals on Saturday. Lavallee scored in the second period, the Vees third goal and Brar scored the Vees fifth and final goal in the third period. Now Seamus Donohue, Sam Jones and Griffin Mendel are still in search of their first BCHL goal. Maybe, we see one of those three make it happen tonight.
One of Trail’s issues early has been their goal differential; they’ve been struggling on both sides of the puck. Their 21 goals scored isn’t a huge issue, unless you look at their goals against. They’re giving up nearly two more goals than they’re scoring per game. Their 33 goals against this season is fifth worst in the BCHL and their goal differential (-12) is 13th out of 17 teams.
Is it goaltending, or better put, green goalies? They have two rookies manning the net this season in Bailey MacBurnie and Linden Marshall. MacBurnie is 20 but is in his first season of junior after playing prep school hockey with Salisbury in Connecticut. Marshall is just 17 and played with the Pacific Coast Academy last year in the Canadian Sports Schools hockey league. Maybe their inexperience is showing, as MacBurnie is 21st in goals against average (3.54) and 19th in save-percentage (.897). Marshall has only played in one game this year and that was an 8-3 drubbing in West Kelowna on September 15th.
Trail has gone out and tried to shore up their defense with the acquisition of defensemen Cole Arcuri and Bennett Morrison from Merritt and Chilliwack respectively. Those two came over to the Silver city in the last two weeks and both are experienced d-man that should help stabilize things on the backend.
Their offense has been hit hard by departures, as they’ve graduated or traded 109 goals and 265 points from last year to this year. Gone are Jake Lucchini (35-48-83), Charlie Zuccarini (27-30-57), Craig Martin (19-27-46), Dallas Calvin (16-29-45) and Bryan Basilico (12-22-34). That’s a lot of offense.
They do have Harlan Orr back who was fifth in team scoring last year (18-17-35) and they’ve welcomed back Jake Kauppila who spent last year in the USHL with the Green Bay Gamblers; he should help out up front. Also back to try and provide some offensive punch is OHA grad Kienan Scott and former Merritt Centennial Rhett Wilcox.