Friday, September 26, 2008

Game 7: Trail 3 Prince George 1


(Ryan Bulach tips in another big goal - Photo Randy Emery)

We're live from Cominco Arena on Mountain FM with Overtime tonight. Puck drop is 7:30pm. If you can't make it to the game today for whatever reason, we'll keep you up to date on the action. You can also listen to Prince George broadcaster Ron Gallo's call of the game on the BCHL Fanzone. I'll be doing the play by play on the internet for tomorrow night's game. Tonight's game is the BCHL game of the night. I think it'll live up to the billing.

The Spruce Kings and Smokies played to a very exciting 2-2 tie last Friday. It was a game you heard on Mountain FM with AM Ford Trail Smoke Eaters hockey. Click here to take a look back at last Friday's game.

It seems like the Smoke Eaters and Spruce Kings always play each other tight. I remember a couple of great Overtime battles last year. After last Friday's game I think we should expect the same thing this season.

SCRATCHES

For the Smoke Eaters, Riley Loyst (jaw), Graeme Strukoff (eye) and Jeff Zmurchyk are out of the line-up tonight for Trail. Marco Raimondo will start in goal. He's looking to build on his solid performance in the 8-2 win over Merritt. After a rough outing in Quesnel I'm sure the 20 year old wants to put together two straight solid efforts.

For Prince George, Joe Becker and Johnny Van Siclen are sitting this one out. I'm almost certain Kevin Genoe will get the start in goal, but I don't have that confirmed.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

For Prince George, Zach Davies is a stud defenceman who just picked up a scholarship to Quinnipiac. During last weekend's game he played 7:06 consecutively in the first and second overtime. You'd think he would be less effective as that time wore on, but when Davies was on the ice the Smokies couldn't get anything going. When he finally went to the bench Trail got 8 shots in 3 minutes. Davies has 2 goals and 5 assists in 7 games so far.

Alex Allan has been terrific since joining the Spruce Kings. The 19 year old from Calgary is going to the University of Alabama-Huntsville next season. He's had a terrific start with 10 points through 7 games. He's dangerous any time he touches the puck and scored the 2-2 goal last weekend on the power play.

Also watch for Sean Ambrosie and Sam Muchalla who have 9 points in 7 games. Jordan Simpson is a monster of a man who converted from a goaltender to become an enforcer here in the BCHL. We're talking about 6'3 and 240lbs. After some trash talk last Friday, watch for Simpson to go toe to toe with Jadon Porterfield or Sean Nugent of the Smokies tonight or tomorrow. I know Porterfield wants a shot at him. Don't be surprised if they go early.

Finally, the star of the first 7 games for Prince George has been goaltender Kevin Genoe. He went undefeated before last Saturday's loss to Penticton. He's got a 2.33 GAA and 91.41% save percentage. That's more than 2% above his mark from last season. His hard work over the summer has paid off. It should be quite a battle in net between Genoe and Marco Raimondo tonight.

These are big games for the Smokies and Spruce Kings. Only a single point separates the teams heading into action tonight. Prince George is sitting in second spot in the Interior while Trail is tied for third. If either team can sweep this weekend that would be a big step forward in the standings and it would give them huge momentum and confidence moving forward. Somehow I doubt either team will walk away with four points.

LIVE UPDATES

...Some good chances for Trail in the first with Nugent coming closest. Just couldn't get it by Genoe.


(Porterfield and Simpson go at it - Photo Randy Emery)

...We heard lots of talk of Porterfield and Simpson getting ready for a big tilt. Late in the first we got just that. I don't know if I've seen a better fight in the BCHL. Two big men just throwing huge right hands at each other. Talking to Porterfield in the first intermission he said he wanted to just attack him right away and not give Simpson a chance to square up. These enforcers showed how it's done. I give Porterfield the nod in this one, but both guys were right into it. A good, long fight and it had the crowd buzzing. Lets not forget that Porterfield was giving up significant size and weight in the fight. As he said in the intermission, "the bigger they are the harder they fall."

...Alex Allan opens the scoring for Prince George with a power play goal knocking in a puck from in front of the net. Assists go to Muchalla and Fillion. Pretty solid execution on the PP from Prince George. The play has been pretty even in the first with Trail probably out chancing the Spruce Kings. Doesn't matter now as it's 1-0 PG.

...Trail gets on the board as Sean Nugent puts home his fourth of the season. This guy is turning into quite the sniper. Four goals in seven games along with five fights. That's the kind of player Smoke Eaters fans love. Both Justin Brown and CJ Legassic got their first BCHL points with assists on the goal.

...Trail gets ahead 2-1 on the power play. Marco Raimondo slipped when going to play the puck in his own zone and it almost turned into a shorthanded goal against. Trail recovered and put one in with only seconds left on the PP. Ryan Bulach tips in a shot from Steve Koshey to give Trail a lead. Bulach has been deadly from the front of the net this season. He's been tipping in everything that comes near him. JF Boisvert gets the other assist on the PP goal.

...Trail has all the momentum and are really putting the pressure on Prince George here. Genoe has had to be sharp as Trail is dominating the play and getting all the chances in the second period.

(Raley gets his first as a Smoke Eater - Photo by Randy Emery)

...Patrick Raley jumps into the rush and takes a feed from Boisvert to score his first goal as a Smoke Eater. Raley looked like he just shedded a 500lbs gorilla from his back when that puck went into the net. Nice fist pump from Patrick to celebrate it too. Boisvert and Mailey get the assists there.

...Smokies out shoot PG 16-1 in the second period. Complete domination. You know Ed Dempsey will have his team ready for the third. I can imagine they're getting a talking to right now. Trail is looking sharp though.

...Patrick Raley tells me in the intermission that they can't sit back in the third period. Have to keep going hard to make sure they carry this momentum. Sitting back has cost this team before. Can't let PG get back into the game.

...CJ Legassic makes an unbelievably slick move in the offensive zone to get around the D, but can't quite get the puck under Genoe. That close to his first goal as a Smoke Eater. Great hands.

...Trail hangs back a little bit too much to start the third period, but they bring the tempo and agressiveness back up for the rest of the frame. Both teams trade chances, but Trail controls the final 10 minutes and shuts the Spruce Kings down. Probably the best 60 minute effort we've seen from this team all season long. Lots of reason for optimism after that one.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rollheiser Article

The Chilliwack Progress did an article last week on the meteoric rise of Grant Rollheiser last season. It really is amazing to think that in the first month of the season some people were questioning whether or not he'd even be a BCHL level goaltender. A few months later he's going to BU and drafted by the Maple Leafs.


Here's Rollheiser's BU profile if you're interested:
http://goterriers.cstv.com/sports/m-hockey/mtt/rollheiser_grant00.html

Good luck to Grant and all the other former Smokies who have moved on to the next level. We'll do our best to keep up with them on the blog as they jump into college line-ups across the US.

Power Rankings (Week 3)

Penticton Vees broadcaster Ryan Pinder has released the third edition of his Interior Conference Power Rankings. This time you're going to have to listen to the audio to get the rankings. Pinder has Trail ranked 7th in the conference despite being first in the BCHL in power play production, fifth in goal per game scoring and boasting an above .500 record. Does that mean Pinder is completely out to lunch? No, I think it is more than anything a reflection of how difficult it is this early in the season to rank the Interior teams. I think it's pretty easy to chose who I would rank 1rst and 8th this week, but 2nd through 7th is almost a complete toss up.

Just look at the standings. Three teams are tied for third, two teams are tied for sixth, the first and second place teams have both played an extra game, and every team but one has a record of at least .500 or better.

Lets just take a look at each team quickly (by point totals):
  • Prince George (PROS: top record in the conference so far, outstanding goaltending, a terrific top pairing and top six forwards --- CONS: defeated soundly by Penticton, only team to lose to Merritt, have not scored more than 3 goals since their second game)
  • Westside (PROS: have the best defenceman in the conference, very good puck possession, tough team, second place in the conference --- CONS: questionable goaltending and still waiting for a #1 option to emerge, third lowest goals per game in the conference)
  • Penticton (PROS: have yet to lose a game in regulation, scored a third more goals than they've given up --- CONS: have only played four games so far this year, a team full of unproven BCHL players)
  • Vernon (PROS: large core of returning players from a very good young team last season, tough to score against, two new players leading the team in scoring --- CONS: second lowest goals per game numbers in the conference, have had a couple of stinkers that had some fans and players questioning their effort, goaltending is still somewhat of a question and missing a go to scorer right now)
  • Trail (PROS: top power play in the league so far, good scoring depth, two veteran goaltenders who have performed well in all but one game, only team to beat Penticton so far --- CONS: layed a total egg against Quesnel, a young team that is learning on the job and making their fair share of mistakes on the ice, penalty kill numbers aren't great)
  • Quesnel (PROS: have had maybe the best goaltending performance in the league to date, their top six forwards are delivering results as good as anyone in the league so far, veteran team who have given up the fewest goals per game of anyone in the conference --- CONS: depth outside of the top six is questionable, results are inconsistent so far, did most of their scoring in one game against Trail while they only had 12 goals in 5 games before that)
  • Salmon Arm (PROS: top three forwards performing as well as anyone in the conference, McMaster producing very well from the blue line, coming off a strong weekend with two dominant victories --- CONS: goaltending performance from Gillis has been shaky so far despite his strong resume, scoring depth appears to be lacking so far, had a slow start)
  • Merritt (PROS: very good top line with Zalba, Grant and Johnson, excellent team toughness with guys like Brodie, Barr and Davis, have made some good pick ups up front to deal with early scoring troubles --- CONS: worst goals per game in the conference and second worst in the BCHL, no goaltender with a save percentage over 86%, worst goals per game in the BCHL)

Can you really rank these teams comfortably? I found it a little easier last week, but this past weekend has just tightened the ranks if anything. There's an argument to rank Trail 7th, but there's also an argument to rank them in the top 3 or 4. So while I'm optimistic about the start the Smoke Eaters have had, it's obvious that there is going to be a real tough battle for playoff spots and home ice advantage. Obviously that's why Ryan's rankings are not scientific and are really there to inspire discussion. If you have your own rankings post them over at vees blog.

In other blog news, Hammer got the honour of meeting the legendary Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. Check out his post on that over at the Bulldogs blog.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Weekend Review and Audio

The Smoke Eaters finished the weekend with a record of 1-1-1. That record sums up what a roller coaster it was for Trail. The 2-2 tie with Prince George was a terrific hockey game with a lot of reason for optimism. The 11-4 loss to Quesnel was a disastrous game (despite an evenly played first period) that could have destroyed the young team's offence. An interesting note about that game is that Quesnel had only scored 12 goals in 5 games before dropping 11 on Trail. That shows you just how strange a game it was. The 8-2 win against Merritt was a great way to end the trip and showed the resiliency of this squad.

The coaches told us to expect ups and downs with a team full of rookies. I don't know if even they expected that kind of an up and down. How many times do teams go from being blown out to winning a blow out within less than 24 hours? These guys certainly aren't boring. They're a confident, enthusiastic group of players that are easy to like and should be easy for Trail fans to cheer for.

Here's some audio from our broadcasts over the weekend:

WEEKEND STARS

Here are my Smoke Eaters three stars of the weekend...

  • Nick Sandor (2G, 2A): One of the newest Smoke Eaters made an immediate impression with an assist and hard work along the boards and in the corner against Prince George. His play earned him a spot with Chad Gehon and Andrew Pickering on the top line for Saturday and Sunday. He rewarded Coach Ingram for his confidence in him with two goals and an assist. Sandor's four points in three games are more points than he had in 32 games for the Bulldogs last season. Sandor got an opportunity with the Smoke Eaters and is taking advantage of it. His one timer is deadly, he has good instincts and he's willing to work for those loose pucks. The start of his Smokies career is very promising
  • Ryan Bulach (3G, 1A): The Smoke Eaters Captain opened up the goal scoring flood gates this weekend. His tip in of the Brandon Clark point shot against Prince George was a massive goal in a game with few of them. Bulach's goals all weekend were examples of a player being rewarded for going to the net. In Merritt he scored two on picture perfect tap ins. Bulach also won a lot of important face offs and was always battling for pucks in both ends of the ice.
  • Brandon Clark (2G, 1A): Clark continues to anchor the Smokies defenceman. His veteran presence is a calming and steadying influence on the young group that can sometimes get a little bit scrambly in their own zone. Clark is also making massive contributions offensively. In his previous three BCHL seasons Clark had point totals of 14, 18 and 17. Last season he only had one power play goal in the entire season. This year he has 4 goals, 2 assists and 6 points in 6 games. He has two power play goals in that time and is doing an admirable job leading the top ranked power play in the BCHL. His goal scoring totals are tied for the team lead. This is another player (like Sandor) who is getting an opportunity to be a top line player and delivering results.

Honourable mentions: Andrew Pickering (0G, 4A), JF Boisvert (1G, 3A), Steve Koshey (1G, 3A), Chad Gehon (2G, 1A)

The Smokies are showing a significant amount of scoring depth so far this season. They've got seven players (Gehon, Pickering, Sandor, Bulach, Clark, Boisvert, Koshey) who are at a point a game pace or better. Eleven players have at least a goal and sixteen players have at least a point. On that note congratulations to all the players who got their first BCHL goals and points this weekend. Hopefully just the first of many. Their power play is 10 for 32 with a 31.25% efficiency so far this season. They're 6.25% ahead of any other team in the league. They are fifth in the league in goals per game (4.20) behind Langley, Penticton, Victoria and Powell River. It certainly has been a pretty good start to the season offensively. The defence and goaltending was holding up pretty well too until the Quesnel game. I suspect long term they'll be back at least in the middle of the pack in goals against per game.

TOUGHNESS

Smoke Eaters fans were calling all of last season for more toughness and more size. It would be hard to imagine them complaining about that so far this season. Jadon Porterfield and Sean Nugent are as tough a one/two punch as any in the league. Nugent has fought in 5 out of 6 games this season and won or at least tied every one of them. Porterfield has fought in both of his games including the complete destruction of Quesnel's Ryan Reynolds. He also had a great and even tilt with Merritt's Barr. Both guys are as strong and as tough as any of the so called enforcers around the league. They also both love to drop the gloves and get physical. Nugent is also helping the Smokies on the scoreboard with three goals in six games.

Those guys are not the only ones who are bringing a physical game to the table. Chad Gehon got the Merritt game off to quite a start by being willing to drop the gloves with tough guy Tyler Barr. Ryan Bulach was willing to go toe to toe with tough guy Elias Grossmann. Rookie Graeme Strukoff has been giving players fits to the point that he has been jumped four times this season. Strukoff held his own in each one of those fights despite not getting a chance to square up in any of them. Veteran Patrik Martin continues to be a scrappy player willing to go with anyone despite his size or their size. Rookie CJ Legassic appears ready to follow in those footsteps after being willing to go with monsters like Jordan Simpson and Cam Brodie... and frankly I think he's nuts because those guys are huge. Big rookie Jayson Reardon is handing out some bone crunching hits as he gets more comfortable with the flow of the BCHL game. Basically what I'm getting at is that no one will be able to say that this team isn't tough or gritty enough. Hopefully those fans who were demanding more size and toughness will head to the rink this weekend to watch these young men put themselves on the line every night.

NEXT GAMES

Trail's next action is Friday and Saturday night at home against Prince George. The puck drops at 7:30pm.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Merritt Game Update

Great effort tonight, a terrific way to rebound from the bad loss in Quesnel.

I'll update this when I get home, but for now here's the link to today's boxscore...

http://bchl.bc.ca/leagues/hockey_boxScores.cfm?clientID=1413&leagueID=2393&gameID=573400&link=bchl

Friday, September 19, 2008

Gameday: Saturday Notes, KIJHL Update

Smokies forward Riley Loyst is the first victim of the injury bug this season for Trail. He'll be out 2 to 3 weeks with a fractured jaw. As a result, the Smokies are down to 12 forwards on the roster. No one will get a night off in the immediate future. The injury all but secures that Jadon Porterfield will make his BCHL debut tonight for Trail against the Quesnel Millionaires. You can hear the game as always with AM Ford Trail Smoke Eaters hockey on Mountain FM.

After a great performance by Marco Raimondo last night in Trails 2-2 tie with Prince George, the game of can you top this continues. Paul Barclay gets his turn tonight against the Millionaires. Quesnel really had Trail's number last year, and they're an older and more experienced team this season. The Smokies have to have a complete 60 minute effort out there tonight against the Mills. Barclay will likely be going head to head with Jeff Malcom who has been one of the top netminders in the BCHL to start this season. Should be a good battle.

Brandon Clark is really making the most of his opportunities with the Smoke Eaters. The big defencemen didn't get much of a chance to contribute offensively in Cowichan Valley last year. Well now this season he's delivered 5 points in 4 games for Trail. That's how you take advantage of more ice time.

I'll have more when we get to the rink.

UPDATE

Forward lines for tonight are as follows:

Gehon - Pickering - Sandor
Boisvert - Bulach - Mailey
Nugent - St. Denis - Legassic
Brown - Martin - Porterfield

Koshey - Clark
Strukoff - Reardon
Raley - Smutek

Barclay
Raimondo

(Scratched: Zmurchyk, DeKeyser, Loyst [jaw])

The injury to Loyst moves Patrik Martin to centre on the fourth line. It's not a role he has played a lot with Trail, but it's one he can play. Justin Brown can also take some draws there as he's played centre before as well. Sandor had a good first game getting an assist on Clark's goal. The strong play elevates him to a role with Pickering and Gehon who were shut out last night after a strong few games before that.

The Millionaires are a tough opponent who has played a bunch of close, low scoring games to start the season. They were right with Penticton last night and Vees broadcaster Ryan Pinder told me they are a tough opponent who doesn't give you much room to breathe. He also said Malcom was fantastic in net for the Mills. He burned Trail a few times last year and has apparently taken his game to the next level. It won't be easy to score tonight.

Pre-game show is 7:15 with the puck drop at 7:30 for AM Ford Trail Smoke Eaters hockey on Mountain FM. 104.1 FM in Trail, 99.3 FM in Castlegar, 103.5 FM in Nelson.

Last night's game was a beauty. As close a tie game as you're likely to see in this league. Both teams deserved a point. However, the extra 10 minutes and travel could be tough on the Smokies as we hit tonight's game and tomorrow afternoon in Merritt. We'll see how they respond. In this case it's good to have young legs.

Jadon Porterfield makes his BCHL debut tonight, and he's excited. We could see a couple of tilts as Porterfield will want to make an impression and Sean Nugent hasn't let a game go by without a fight. Nobody is going to push around this year's Smokies.

We talked to Jadon in the intermission last night, tonight we'll talk to new Smoke Eater Nick Sandor.

LIFE ON THE ROAD

I'm getting more and more comfortable with life on the road. It takes a while to adjust I think. How do you act around the team? As a member of the media, can you really be that friendly? This year I'm feeling a lot more at ease. The guys tried to shake me up a little this morning though when I didn't get up for breakfast. A pile of them stormed into my room to jump me and threw our trainer's (Kevin McCallum) mattress on me. Little did they know such things will never keep me from my precious sleep. I just rolled over and took in four more hours of shut eye. Friends and family wouldn't be surprised that Kevin later walked in and found me sound asleep with the mattress still piled on top of me.

KIJHL

If you're heading down to Castlegar tonight to watch the Nitehawks/Rebels game just bring your walkman and tune us in at 99.3 to keep track of the Smokies game. Incidentally, BV won 4-1 last night in Fruitvale. Kelowna Rockets draft pick Dylan Tait had terrific numbers in his first game with the Nitehawks. He was a late cut from the Rockets roster and is someone they absolutely have plans for. He could be a huge upgrade for Beaver Valley in the competitive Neil Murdoch conference. Tomas Abanante (who attended Trail's camp) had a goal and an assist. Brett Corcoran's brother Sam racked up 15 minutes in the sin bin.

Nelson got a 5-4 win yesterday against Kimberly with former Smokies and guys who attended Trail's camp playing big roles. Former Smoke Eater Brock Monroe was the first star with the winning goal and an assist. Smokies camp stand out Dylan Walchuk put up a goal and an assist for the second star, and Liam Gorges (who also had a strong showing at Trail's camp) scored one from the blue line for the third star. On top of that, Brady Berisoff got the win in nets (also played at Trail's camp) and former Smokies Miles Houston and Scott Jago are prominent members of the team.

Grand Forks is still looking for their first win after a loss in Creston. Former Spruce King and Merritt goaltender Shane Mainprize has come in to try and stabilize things in net there. It's been a rough start for the young Border Bruins who are trying to compete in a difficult division. Spokane is looking tough this year, Skyler Smutek and Brandon Clark's former team hammered Sicamous 7-3 yesterday.

Tonight it's BV at Castlegar, Sicamous at Nelson, Spokane at Grand Forks.

We'll try to keep you updated on those games during our Smokies broadcast.

Overtime Audio, New Players, Pre-Game Notes

Tonight Trail takes on Prince George. Game time is 7pm and the pre-game show starts at 6:45 on AM Ford Trail Smoke Eaters hockey on Mountain FM. 104.1 in Trail, 99.3 in Castlegar, 103.5 in Nelson.

Before we get to the news here's some audio from Mountain FM's Overtime this week. There's more audio that I didn't upload to the website yet, but I'm on the road now so no such luck for the moment.

As for the roster changes some people have been asking about, yes Trail has added two new forwards. Coach Jim Ingram responded to what he felt was a need for more toughness by bringing back 1988 born forward Jadon Porterfield from the VIJHL. As a 19 year old last year Porterfield had 90 penalty minutes in 17 games after being traded to Oceanside from Alberta. He impressed the Smokies at camp with his hard work and willingness to play tough. However, twenty year old spots are hard to come by for rookies. Porterfield initially got sent back to Junior B, but Coach Ingram told me his mind changed after the Westside game. It showed the coach that the Smokies needed more toughness so that Sean Nugent wasn't alone in his job as enforcer. Especially when Nugent has put in two goals in three games to start the season. He's also fought in all three games. This way the physical load is shared if things really do get intense in a game. Can Porterfield play? He looked good in camp. Put in 6 points in 17 games in Junior B. However, he's not going to be relied on for much outside of that physical presence. Ingram says one of the great things about Porterfield is that not only is he OK with that role he's enthusiastic about it. He should become a favourite of Trail fans.

The other addition is 1989 born LW Nick Sandor. He played last season with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs and put up 1 goal and 3 points in 32 games. Apparently Sandor had a terrific pre-season and was recommended by some smart hockey men on the island. He'll have a chance to jump onto the second or third line in Trail and see if he can turn that pre-season production into regular season success. I don't know a lot about Sandor so we'll all be learning about him as we go along over the weekend.

These moves meant Trail had to let go of two players to get down to 23 guys. Unfortunately that meant the end of James Kellington and Brian Kang's time with the Smokies. I don't know what either guy plans to do. I hope for the best for them. They are both very talented hockey players who should be successful wherever they end up.

Marco Raimondo is expected to get the start tonight against the hot Prince George Spruce Kings. It looks like the Smokies will rotate starters until one guy really sets themselves up as the #1. That's not a bad situation as long as both guys keep delivering as well as they have. I don't know who Trail will go up against yet, but if it's Kevin Genoe goals could be hard to come by. He's undefeated so far this season with a 94% save percentage.

Again the pre-game starts at 6:45pm tonight with the puck drop at around 7pm.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pinder's Interior Power Rankings

Ryan Pinder, play by play broadcaster for the Penticton Vees, has been doing a weekly BCHL Interior Conference power ranking over at his blog. Check out the latest installment by clicking on this link. He's got the Smoke Eaters steady in 5th spot after two versions of the rankings. I have to admit it's surprising to see Prince George up in first spot. With all the rumblings coming out of their local media in the summer you would've thought the whole team was ready to revolt against their coach. Can't believe everything you read I guess! I remember last year Ed Dempsey telling me at the start of the season (our first road trip) that the Spruce Kings had a roster full of rookies that would be learning throughout the season. It looks like a year of rebuilding from within is paying off for Prince George early this season. It'll be interesting to get a look at them this weekend up north.

Looks like the Vees and Smoke Eaters will end up criss-crossing each other between PG and Quesnel this weekend. A road trip that teams used to look at as a guaranteed four points is certainly anything but a picnic these days. The Smokies got whipped by Quesnel almost every time last season. Their goaltender Jeff Malcom was making great strides in 07-08 and seems to have taken his game to the next level so far this season. The trip will wrap up for Trail on Sunday afternoon in Merritt. A couple of smaller, physical barns and a lot of bus hours for one weekend. Sometimes I think these trips are harder on my 27 year old broadcasting body than on these guys who bust their butts on the ice for three straight games. Nice to be a teenager! Still, it'll be a big challenge and a bonding experience for a team that is all ready very close early in the year.

I am glad we'll be making two of our three trips to Prince George and Quesnel this season early in the year. It's quite nice up there in September and October. December and January? Well it's quite nice up there in September and October! I'm just a wimp I admit it.

So what do you think about Ryan's power rankings? Head on over to his blog and check it out. Personally mine would probably look a little different. That being said I think things will be closer from 1 to 8 this year than they were last year. I doubt we'll be seeing many lopsided games. Off the top of my head:

1. Vernon Vipers (Huge returning core from last year's very good team and strong performance thus far, it's hard to bet against the Vipers in the Interior)

2. Prince George Spruce Kings (Can't argue with the results so far after a rebuilding year, but will they hold up?)

3. Penticton Vees (Hard to rate them after a week off but they look as skilled as ever)

4. Trail Smoke Eaters (Perhaps the best goaltending tandem in the Interior and two wins in three very tight games for the young team)

5. Westside Warriors (Terrific puck possession team who can play tough and physical but need to sure up their goaltending either with improved play from within or elsewhere)

6. Quesnel Millionaires (Malcom has had perhaps the best goaltending performance in the league so far and the Mills have a lot of vets who want to take this team to the playoffs)

7. Salmon Arm Silverbacks (Two losses to Quesnel but they ran into a very hot goalie so how will they rebound?)

8. Merritt Centennials (Had a tough time scoring goals for three games until the third period against Trail and a strong game against Prince George, getting May in goal and other additions up front could turn things around quickly)

What do you think? I'll be back later tonight or tomorrow with some audio from this weekend and Brandon Clark's live appearance on Mountain FM's Overtime last night.

Incidentally, we discovered tonight on Overtime that former Prince George and Merritt goaltender Shane Mainprize has landed in the KIJHL this season with the Grand Forks Border Bruins. He apparently was trying out in the NAHL, but is now going to suit up for Grand Forks. Should be a big boost for them.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Game 2: Trail at Merritt

We're live on the air on Mountain FM for the first broadcast of AM Ford Trail Smoke Eaters Hockey. Trail is taking on Merritt in the first road game of the year. For the Smokies, Danny DeKeyser, Jeff Zmurchyk and James Kellington are sitting this one out. For Merritt, Graeme Gordon, Cody Abbey, HT Lenz and Brad Davis will be in the stands. Davis is suspended after an incident last weekend in Prince George. Apparently a Prince George player disrespected the Merritt jersey and Davis responded. That's not surprising for those of us who have seen how he wears his heart on his sleave.

The Smokies need to get off to a better start as they've been trailing early in most of their pre-season and the first game of the season as well. Coach Ingram suspects it's just a matter of young players getting used to the BCHL and working out their nerves. Trail can't take Merritt lightly. They may have had a rough time in Prince George last weekend (losing 4-0 and 9-1) but tonight is their home opener. They have a new goaltender (Harison May from the Bulldogs), a new forward (Colton Sobchak from Salmon Arm) and some guys who are now playing for their spots on this team. Merritt is going to be up for this one and Trail better be ready.

Listen in to our broadcast at 104.1 FM in Trail. 99.3 in Castlegar. We should also be available on the BCHL fan zone. The PPV broadcast will also be available but you won't hear our broadcast on that.

UPDATE:

1-0 Trail after the first. Chad Gehon gets the goal. If you want an update on the boxscore it's on the BCHL website at http://bchl.bc.ca/leagues/hockey_boxScores.cfm?clientID=1413&leagueID=2393&gameID=573368&link=bchl

UPDATE:

Smokies Win! Close at the end but 4-3 victory. In the KIJHL, Castlegar beat Nelson 4-3 and Beaver Valley beat Spokane 4-3. Popular score!

Check out Westside at Trail tomorrow night at 7:30pm.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Game 1: Post Game Audio

Some interviews we had on Mountain FM's Overtime after the 5-4 double overtime win over Penticton. Check out Ryan's Vees Blog if you want the opposing point of view.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Game 1 Result: Trail 5 Penticton 4 (2OT)

(Clark scores the overtime winner and gets mobbed.  Game photos by Randy Emery.)

Check out the box score at the new BCHL website. There are also some new and interesting features there.  They include four new BCHL blogs that I'll soon be putting up links for.  Hammer is still the godfather of BCHL blogs, but I'm glad to see more guys getting into it.

Wow, what a way to start the season.  I don't think anyone who saw that game could possibly say they didn't get their money's worth.  No matter what you thought of who carried the play, this game had a little bit of everything.  Lead changes left and right, early deficit, come back, late deficit, come back, big saves, big hits, pretty goals, fights and overtime.  Oh, and the lights went out.  It was as good a time as I've had at a BCHL game. 

We kicked things off with what I thought was a very cool video graphic on the big screen put together by Trail's jumbotron tech guru Daryl Taylor.  I had the honour of introducing the team with Van Halen's "Right Now" blaring on the sound system.  Loved getting to do that, hope it sounded OK.  The crowd was right into it, especially during the introductions for the five local players wearing orange and black this season.  Unfortunately after the opening festivities the lights at Cominco Arena took an absurdly long time to start back up.

The delay could only have heightened the nerves for Trail's 13 BCHL rookies.  It seemed like that early as Travis Oulette and David Andreassen each took advantage of Smokies defensive coverage mistakes to give Penticton and early 2-0 lead.  Goaltender Paul Barclay later told me he thought the nerves of starting the season may have contributed to those goals getting behind him, but he had almost no shot at them.

However, as they've done throughout the pre-season this plucky young team didn't show any signs of quit.  Sean Nugent knocked in the rebound off of a Skyler Smutek shot and Trail was only down 2-1 after the first period.  Nugent just recently joined Trail after competing in lacrosse all summer long.  His Victoria team went all the way to the Minto Cup final.  Nugent also played Jr B hockey under Coach Ingram with the Kerry Park Islanders.  He has BCHL experience as well having played 10 games with the Cowichan Valley Capitals.  Nugent didn't score any points in those games but was able to get on the score sheet in his first period with Trail.  The goal also marked Smutek's first BCHL point.  Riley Loyst had the other assist making his return to the BCHL after a year in Nelson.

The second period was an odd one on the scoreboard.  Penticton out shot the Smokies 16-4, but Trail got the only goals of the period.  Sean Nugent is proving himself to be quite the sniper so far.  Coming down the left wing he was going to dump the puck in but instead saw that young goaltender Sean Bonar left him a hole to shoot for.  The relatively harmless looking shot evaded Bonar and the game was tied.  Just a couple of minutes later a Patrick Raley shot hit off of J.F. Boisvert in front of the net and beat Bonar to give Trail a lead.  Both goals were prime examples of what can happen when you get pucks to the net and when guys go to the front of the goal to make some noise.  That's something Coach Ingram has always preached and early on the proof was in the pudding.
  
Mid-way through the period new Trail Captain Ryan Bulach showed why the coach gave him that role.  Penticton's Grossman did something to C.J. Legassic (missed it) that called for a quick visit by trainer Kevin McCallum.  Bulach immediately responded by challenging a legitimate BCHL heavyweight fighter.  As Coach Ingram put it to me after the game, Bulach may not have earned the decision in that fight but he sure proved again what kind of leader he is.  Bulach fought hard and stood up to Grossman while taking a few punches for his team.  Trail then completed a big penalty kill at the end of the period to head into the dressing room with a lead.

A controversial penalty on Patrick Raley gave the Vees an early chance in the third.  Travis Oulette took advantage of it with his second of the night.  The impressive product of Ontario Jr B hockey tied the game up at 3.  Small but feisty Garrett Milan quickly gave Penticton their second lead of the game just a couple of minutes later.  Right off the next face off Nugent showed one of the main reasons he'll see a regular shift on the Smokies.  The big man from the Island dropped the gloves with Logan Johnson and put on a show for the Trail fans.  Nugent can really throw them and he did it with gusto.  Johnson held his own, but give Nugent the decision here.  A good way to respond to the Penticton goals and stall their momentum.

Paul Barclay made some huge saves to maintain the one goal deficit.  He was fantastic all night after getting the nod as the starter in game one.  It must have felt like deja-vu for Barclay who started last year's home opener.  In that game he let in a couple of goals early before going the distance to double overtime.  In that game he made a late mistake (that still in my mind was a blown call) and Vernon got the win.  This time it'd be a different story.  Late in the period when things looked lost, J.F. Boisvert continued to show why Trail was so happy to recruit him with his second goal of the game and his BCHL career.  Brandon Clark picked up an assist and his first point in Trail.  The power play goal lifted the crowd's spirits and sent the game to overtime.

Trail had a great chance with a late power play in overtime, but they couldn't take advantage.  In double overtime Barclay had to come up huge on a penalty shot to prolong the game.  After saving it he knocked the put into his net.  However, on a penalty shot once the initial save is made the play is dead.  Had it been a live hockey play the goal would've counted.  The huge stop kept Trail alive and gave them the opening they needed.  With some extra room thanks to the three on three action Riley Loyst got a late shift and made the most of it.  Clark found him streaking through centre, Loyst made a good move to draw the defence in and found a streaking Clark who put the winner into a wide open night.  A fantastic debut for the team full of new faces ended with a victory against the defending champions.

While the team was obviously nervous and scattered at times there were a lot of things to like about this effort.  Later this week I'll talk a bit more about what I thought they did well and not so well in their first game.  Right now a little more than 24 hours later I'm still pretty pumped from seeing one of the most exciting hockey games I can remember in my short time watching the BCHL.  The other thing that really stood out for me was how good a vibe there was in the locker room after the win.  These guys have only been together a couple of weeks but the chemistry is fantastic.  They are obviously thrilled to be here and relishing life in the BCHL.  I can only hope this enthusiasm and positive feeling keeps building as these guys get some more experience under their belts.

Here's the bottom line for me: Saturday night was my girlfriend's first Smokies game (I think at least) and she told me today that she wants to go back again on Saturday whether she gets to see much of me at the game or not.  That's exactly the point isn't it.  Lets hope she's just one of many fans who'll get hooked.

SMOKIES THREE STARS

While the game sheet takes both teams into account I'll just be talking about Trail here. 

1. Paul Barclay: 47 saves on 51 shots.  In Coach Ingram's words he won Trail the game.  Barclay was terrific in exhibition play and terrific again on opening night.  His athleticism was again evident in some big kick saves and his endurance late in the game.  However, the biggest difference this year is his poise.  Barclay is a calmer, smarter goalie with an extra year and a new lease on his hockey life.

2. Brandon Clark: the elder statesman of the Smokies young blue line played a calm, smart and 
physical game through the first 55 minutes.  After that he was part of the two biggest goals of the game.  Clark had an assist on the tying goal.  He looked good on the PP and it was nice to see that unit get a goal in the first game.  He also started and finished the play on the winning goal.  His deceptive speed got him in behind the D for a great feed from Loyst on the winner.  Clark will be counted on as a steady leader on the back end.  He's also expected to contribute more on the scoreboard than he ever has in the BCHL.  He is getting the opportunity he's been waiting for.  So far, so good.

3. Sean Nugent: Two goals and a decisive fight.  That was surprisingly only good enough for third star on this night.  Nugent did all you would hope from him and more on this night.  An assist away from the Gordie Howe.  Coach Ingram said Nugent was more than just an enforcer.  If game one is any indication this guy has more to contribute than his gifted fists.  A great start for him especially when you realize he didn't play a single exhibition game because of lacrosse.

Honourable Mentions: J.F. Boisvert had two goals and couldn't crack my list because of what the other guys did.  He still had a terrific debut with the Smokies and showed why he's getting top line minutes as a 19 year old rookie.  Riley Loyst had two assists on the night including a terrific play on the winning goal.

NEXT GAME: Friday night in Merritt.  The winless Cents are going to be ready after what is sure to be an intense week at practice for them.  Trail can't afford to take Merritt lightly.  These games are hugely important if the playoff race ends up being similar to what it was last season.  My impression of this team is that they have a strong mental make-up and will bring their 'A' game.  It's also the first broadcast of AM Ford Trail Smoke Eaters Hockey on Mountain FM this season.  We'll bring you every road game on 104.1 in Trail.  The Smokies are back home on Saturday against Westside.  This time you'll get your chance to play in the Guitar Hero contest.  There's 500 bucks in Walmart gift certificates up for grabs after the first 10 games of the contest so take your shot and see if you can do better than I did this week.  If any of you actually saw my shameful performance you'll realize that won't be too tough.  It was a lot of fun though!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

GAME 1 PREVIEW: Penticton Vees at Trail Smoke Eaters


WHO: Penticton and Trail

WHAT: Trail's home opener and first game of the regular season

WHEN: 7:30pm tonight

WHERE: Cominco Arena, audio on the BCHL Fanzone, video on BCHL PPV

WHY: Hockey's back!

Here we go! The defending champion Vees are in town ready to play their second game of the BCHL season against a new look Smoke Eaters team. Penticton kicked things off with a tough 4-3 win in Westside last night. Andreassan, Vandenberg, Perdicaro and Milan scored for the Vees. Sean Bonar stopped 23 of 26 shots in goal. That means Anthony Borelli will likely see his first BCHL regular season action tonight for the Vees. Penticton only has eight returning players from last season's championship team. However, everything we've heard indicates they've recruited very well and should be a contender again this year. Former Smoke Eater Nathan Westover returns to Trail again to play his old teammates. Well, what's left of them anyway.

Eight is a small number for Penticton, but Trail's is even smaller. The Smoke Eaters only have five players back from last year's team. Koshey, Brown and Zmurchyk played some AP games so you could stretch things and make that eight at the most. It's a whole new team with 13 BCHL rookies on the 23 man roster. The veterans will be spread throughout the line-up while a solid veteran duo will provide stability in goal. Both Marco Raimondo and Paul Barclay have had a season of BCHL experience under their belt so don't expect much of an adjustment period for them like there may have been last season.

The 13 rookies up front and on D may be another story. They looked sharp and cohesive in exhibition play. However, a powerful Penticton line-up is a little different than pre-season teams from Powell River and Merritt. There may be a learning curve for these guys, but they are a talented and hard working group. The dressing room chemistry is strong and up beat. The vibe around the team is excellent. Lets hope that can carry over into a strong, competitive season. After months of recruiting, training, trying out, trading and preparing the time is now. Put up or shut up. Lets see what these guys are made of.

LINE UP

Tonight's scratches are F James Kellington, D Jayson Reardon and D Steve Koshey. With the depth Trail has on D this year they carded eight of them so they could see how they handle the regular season action. Might also pump up the value of some of the lesser known guys for trades down the road. For now I know they love what they see and want everyone left to get a good shot. Kellington will certainly get back into the line-up. He dealt with a minor injury in camp and is probably just working back to 100%.

Up front the lines will look like this:

Chad Gehon - Andrew Pickering - JF Boisvert
CJ Legassic - Ryan Bulach - Paul Mailey
Justin Brown - Travis St. Denis - Brian Kang
Sean Nugent - Riley Loyst - Patrik Martin

On defence tonight we'll see Brandon Clark, Graeme Strukoff, Skyler Smutek, Patrick Raley, Jeff Zmurchyk and Danny DeKeyser.

I'm not sure who is starting in goal, but from what I understood before camp the #1 job was Marco Raimondo's to lose. It'll probably depend on if he's fully recovered from being sick throughout camp. Paul Barclay will certainly challenge him for games given how well he played in exhibition.

We're just about two hours away now. I can't wait. I get the honour of introducing the team on the ice again this year. Hope to see you all at the game and feel free to come say hi. Smokies hockey, Gary Morisette doing the anthem, guitar hero at the intermission, $25,000 shoot out, music, big screen, spud shack, sud shack... are you ready or what?

DROP THAT PUCK!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Friday Hockey Audio

We're just about 20 hours away from puck drop. I don't have to tell you I'm getting pretty excited. Penticton is in tough right now against Westside before coming to Trail tomorrow night. It'll be interesting to check out an almost entirely new Vees squad with only eight returning players. Of course the Smokies only have five players back from last year themselves. I had a chance to talk to Vees voice Ryan Pinder about their new look squad. That's just one of the many interviews we've had on Mountain FM's Overtime this weekn. In case you missed it here's another look:

Visit Mountain FM's Audio section for all sorts of Overtime interviews including Nitehawks GM Terry Jones, Nelson Coach Simon Wheeldon, Grand Forks Coach Rob Fitzpatrick, Castlegar Coach Brent Heaven, Rebels Tony Johnston and Brent Lucente, etc. There's a bunch of stuff there and I may put up direct links tomorrow, but I'm confident you can find it!

Tomorrow night the Smokies introduce a couple of new game day features. The Guitar Hero sponsored by Walmart and the Ferraro Foods $25,000 Shoot Out. Also on hand tomorrow will be Fruitvale's Gary Morissette fresh off competing on Canadian Idol. He'll be doing a duet on the anthem as well as participating in Guitar Hero. There's a lot more than just the games planned for the Smoke Eaters this year. Lots of reasons to come out to the rink. Lets back the place tomorrow night! See you there!