With travel costs and just travel in general to consider when it comes to making up the season schedule, every once in awhile a gem like this gets booked. And I do expect this to be a gem of a mini-series between the Trail Smoke Eaters and the Prince George Spruce Kings. It is the first meeting of the season between the two teams and there is just something to be said about when these two meet each other.
Last year the teams only played a total of four games against each other with all but one of them being decided by one goal. The two in Trail both went to overtime with Trail winning one in the first overtime period and Prince George winning the first one in double overtime. In the 2008-09 season, these two teams met in Trail for a double header that again saw one of the games go to overtime with Sam Muchalla scoring the game winner from Wes McLeod and Zach Davies.
Overtimes aside, these two teams have played each other tough in their recent histories and have had some great games with a physical edge to them. The games in Trail may have another significance as the Spruce Kings have used them in the past to turn things around. Something the team would like nothing more to do than tonight.
The Trail Smoke Eaters have been on a roll to start the season and find themselves in second place of the Interior Division with a number of players contributing big numbers offensively. The team has stubbed its toe a couple of times but has been able to recover quickly and get back on track. Most recently was a devastating loss to the Penticton Vees when they had a two goal lead late in the game and a power play to boot. Their most recent game was an overtime win against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs on home ice Wednesday night.
The Trail Smoke Eaters are at the front end of an extended eight game home stand that features the double header with the Spruce Kings this weekend, another double header with the Quesnel Millionaires next weekend, two visits from the Penticton Vees and a single with the Victoria Grizzlies. The Trail Smoke Eaters will then head north where they will play in the Coliseum twice before returning home to host the Spruce Kings on November 20th.
With a total of five matchups in less than thirty days between these two teams, its a safe bet to make that both teams will want to assert themselves early in the five game series. With tonight`s game being the first, the Smoke Eaters are going to be relying on their success to this point in the season to get them through the early introductions, while the Spruce Kings will be looking to build on the positives that they have been able to generate.
One of those positives has been the work on the penalty kill allowing only one power play goal against in the last eleven short handed situations where the one was scored with two men in the box. Other positives include the improvement in other areas of the game especially the faceoff circle where winning a faceoff becomes instrumental in generating momentum. The four centres in charge of winning the majority of draws tonight are Kyle Manlow, Nic DeSousa, Connor Tiechko and Stephen Ryan.
Line combinations will see Manlow between Jujhar Khaira (left) and Trent Murdoch (right), DeSousa between Zac Ashdown (left) and RJay Berra (right), Tiechko between Faiz Khan (left) and Chris Bodo (right) as well as Ryan between Brendan Fornwald (left) and Riley Spraggs (right). Justin Fillion, Trevor Esau, Derek Henderson, Jeff Datoff, Isaac Davies and Jeremy Wiebe will provide the defensive pairings with Alex Wright expected to get the start in goal.
On the other side of the ice, the Spruce Kings will have to be wary of a few players as the Trail Smoke Eaters have shown some scoring depth with a majority of the points coming from Sam Mellor (19g 13a), Travis St. Dennis (14g 14a) and Scott Jacklin (6g 21a). For the first of these two meetings, Kiefer Smiley is expected to get the start for the Smoke Eaters with his 2.74 goals against average and 92.11 save percentage.
As a team the Trail Smoke Eaters have been averaging 3.60 goals a game while allowing 3.10 goals against. On home ice they have established a strong presence against their opponents with a record of 6-1-0-1, they are 8th in the league on home ice for powerplay goals, 5th on the penalty kill and have outscored their opposition 35-21 in those eight games.
The Spruce Kings are still looking for their first win on the road this season. Talking with a few players about their recent struggles, the common consensus is that this is a fluke and not an indication of the team or the players abilities. The mood is still optimistic and positive and there have been many signs leaving me to believe that this is a hurdle that will be overcome ... will it be cleared tonight?
Game time is 7:30pm in the Cominco Arena in Trail with the game being broadcast in Prince George on 93.1 CFIS-FM and also online from the radio station's website or the Spruce Kings website (please note at the time this blog was being written, the Spruce Kings website was down ... you can access the broadcast at http://ustream.tv/channel/spruce-kings)