Thursday, November 6, 2008

Trail 3 Alberni Valley 2 (New Audio Player)

(Nugent scores the winner - Photo Randy Emery)

Click here for tonight's boxscore. If you want a full post game wrap and preview of this weekend in Kootenay-Boundary sports tune in to Mountain FM's Overtime with Jeff Sargeant tomorrow night. He's filling in for me as I get set to head up to Westside on Friday. Here's some post game audio from the Smokies dressing room:

New Smokies forward Adam Gummer

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Smokies forward Travis St. Denis

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Smokies forward Sean Nugent

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Smokies Coach Jim Ingram

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Let me know how the new audio player works for you. Did the links work properly? Do you like this system better than the ones we have been using?

I'm of two minds on tonight's game. On one hand it was a hard fought win over a game Bulldogs squad. On the other hand it was frustrating to watch. The power play is a major cause for concern right now. Once ranked 1rst in the BCHL they've dropped all the way to 8th. That's not a blip it's a nose dive. As the old cliche goes, the Smokies probably wished this was football so they could decline penalties. They went 0 for 5 tonight and gave up a short handed goal. When they were on a power play and CJ Legassic took a slashing penalty to send them to 4 on 4, Trail scored almost immediately. It's like the confidence with the man advantage is just shot.

Will the PP problems last? Probably not to this extent. Frankly I think the ranking on top of the BCHL was a little bit deceptive. In talking to the coaches early on they were saying that in actually watching the PP they had several concerns with it, but it was getting the job done. Perhaps those concerns are just now starting to catch up to the team. Perhaps teams went a little easier on them early in the season and then really upped their game once they saw Trail had the best PP early in the year.

A couple of other factors include injuries and competition. The Smokies kind of ran up their PP totals in a couple of blow out wins over Merritt. Recently they've had to play Penticton twice, Victoria, Westside, Salmon Arm twice and Alberni Valley. The Silverbacks, Warriors and Grizz are all top 5 on the penalty kill. The Vees and Bulldogs are a different story (15th and 16th) but those other three teams are very tough shorthanded. Four out of five of those teams are among the best in the entire league. As for injuries, Trail was missing Chad Gehon and Nick Sandor tonight and Saturday. Gehon has 3 power play goals this season and you can bet that he and Sandor played a part in Andrew Pickering's 4 goals on the PP. Take away two of your top 6 forwards and that's going to limit how effective you can be.

Gehon will likely return to the line-up on Friday and Adam Gummer would look pretty good out there with he and Pickering. I'm not sure if that's the way Coach Ingram is going to go, but hopefully something can get them going. I also noticed Steve Koshey was playing less with the man advantage and that's one of the better parts of his game. Perhaps he'll work his way back onto the PP. Any local fans saw how effective he was in that role last year in Beaver Valley.

There are no easy answers. The whole team isn't playing as sharply as they were during their great run at the start of last month. After the game today they had a long chat and from the interviews I got it sounds like the message was to simplify their game and put on their working boots. We'll see what kind of results they get on Friday. I still believe they have a top 5 power play, but they just need to find themselves again.

Incidentally, I should give some credit to the Bulldogs. I say the game was frustrating to watch, but that was also because of how well Alberni Valley took away lanes. Once they got a lead it felt like the Smokies couldn't find any dangerous openings. The Bulldogs have lost an absurd amount of one goal games. They're a hard working team that won't give you anything. Trail finally seemed to realize that late in the second and in the third period. It's looking like a long season for Alberni Valley, but hopefully fans don't blame the players for not busting their butts. They worked very hard. It's easy to get down and lethargic when you've lost ten in a row, but I didn't get that impression from them at all.

Good luck to the Dogs the rest of the way. I'm sure a number of Smokies fans are hoping they'll give the other Interior teams some trouble. These boys are not a night off!

(St. Denis takes the body - Photo Randy Emery)

...Heck of a game for Travis St. Denis tonight. Coach Ingram told me he felt like it could be a turning point game for the 16 year old Trail native. He's played well in the first 20 games, but we haven't seen as much of that creative offensive side as we saw in training camp. He scored a terrific goal to tie the game late in the second and really seemed to be doing good things with the puck today. Travis has shown that he can play smart hockey (face offs, defensive positioning, PK, few turnovers) and now perhaps he's going to start bringing the production on top of that. It's a steep learning curve for someone that young, but he's very much on the right track.

(Raimondo with a huge stop - Photo Randy Emery)

...Marco Raimondo played an excellent game in his return to the line-up. I'm very glad to see him back in goal and making the kind of athletic stops that he's known for. If it weren't for a few game saves from Marco in the third period we wouldn't be talking about a Smokies win. A healthy Marco paired with Paul Barclay is a wonderful luxury here in Trail. Barclay has shown he can carry the ball on his own, but add another elite veteran to the mix and you're laughing. I do want to mention that Barclay has been playing sick for a couple of weeks now. He said he was at his worst in the Westside game a couple of weeks ago, but it carried over to the double header with Salmon Arm. Credit to Paul for battling through it and delivering solid performances even while very much under the weather.

(Gummer in his Smokies debut - Photo Randy Emery)

...Adam Gummer made his Smokies debut and looked good. It'll take some adjustment to get used to the new team, the new linemates, the new systems and the new league. Despite all that he played hard, physical and effectively today. Gummer even set up the winning goal on a very nice play that had the Bulldogs fooled. Everyone was looking shoot. Sean Nugent is happy Gummer decided to make the pass because Nugent's fifth goal of the season won him a bet with Captain Ryan Bulach that you can hear about in the interview I posted above. Riley Loyst also made a nice save and pass to set up that winning goal. I think Loyst has been among the best Smokies forwards since he returned from injury. He's not flashy, but he has good vision and seems to come away with more pucks in the corner than anyone.

...Jayson Reardon has quietly become perhaps Trail's steadiest defensemen. There's not a lot of recognition for guys who just do the job in their own zone night in and night out, but there should be. It's a big leap for any player to go from Junior B to Junior A. Reardon took a few games to adjust and has been getting better and better ever since. I can't think of many times when the big guy has turned the puck over or made a really dumb play. He's hard hitting, strong, aware and keeps it simple. He knows where to be and he has strong anticipation. There are sides to Reardon's game that we haven't seen a lot of yet. He has a big shot that helped him score a ton in the KIJHL last year and he is apparently pretty good when the gloves come off. For now the Smokies are surely happy to have a guy they can set their watch by. Those are rare.

...As much as I've been hard on the power play over the past few days (and the guys are working hard at it they'll turn it around) I do want to note that they've improved their penalty kill numbers. Trail is now 7th in the BCHL on the PK. After starting the season near the bottom of the league it's a good turn in the right direction. 8th on the PP and 7th on the PK isn't where they want to end up at the end of the season, but it's probably better to be balanced than to have one really working while one isn't. That leads me to an interesting statistic. The Smokies have the fewest power play and penalty kill opportunities in the BCHL. Their 90 power plays are 11 less than the closest team (Merritt) while their 82 penalty kills are 16 fewer than than the closest team (Penticton). Powell River has been on the power play 81 more times than Trail has while Langley has had to kill 77 more penalties. I don't know how to explain that. It has nothing to do with the refs in Trail because the Smokies have similar numbers at home and on the road. What do you think? Check out the numbers here:

...Next game is Friday night in Westside. Last time we were there the Warriors brought a work ethic and ferocious fore check that really impressed Coach Ingram. He says the only way the Smokies are going to go toe to toe with the Warriors is if they're prepared to match that work ethic. That's what both teams are known for. Trail can absolutely hang with Westside, but the Smokies must have a better start than they've had in their last few road games. They spotted Penticton, Westside and Salmon Arm significant leads. They can't afford to keep doing that. A strong start and perhaps scoring the first goal would go a long way towards making the road to victory a little bit easier.

I say all this but a win is a win. Coach Ingram says the guys were not happy with the way they played. They have higher expectations. That's good. In the end the most important thing is that they got the two points. They came through with a victory even after the frustrating shorthanded goal in the third. But they expect more from themselves, and they'll have to deliver a better effort on Friday if they want to win.

You can catch the game on Mountain FM. AM Ford Trail Smoke Eaters Hockey can be heard on 104.1 FM in Trail, 99.3 in Castlegar, 103.5 in Nelson and 96.7 in Grand Forks. You can also catch our broadcast on the BCHL fanzone if you're out of range.

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