The Vernon Vipers are a great hockey team. They've got 14 returning players from a national championship and are already playing like a well oiled machine. There's so much talent on that squad that their power plays at times seem effortless. On the other hand, Trail is a team that is still coming together and getting to know one another. They're a team with a significant amount of inexperience at the BCHL level on the back end. Playing the best team in the country is not the best way to work out the kinks. Mistakes end up in the back of your net.
It is a good way to test yourself. The 12-2 combined score at the surface looks awful of course. However, it's not something to panic over. I've been reading some people on the internet who are jumping off the bandwagon already. In 4 out of 6 periods this weekend the goal differential between Trail and Vernon was only 2. The first period on Friday and third period on Saturday created the massive difference. Most of those big goals came on the power play. The Vipers were 3/4 on Friday and 3/6 on Saturday. As one fan who watched the games told me the Smoke Eaters were right there with the Vipers 5 on 5, but the special teams were the key.
These all sound like excuses and they're not. You can't excuse those periods getting out of hand. The penalty kill has to be much better. The Smokies also have to make sure they don't have such big emotional let downs when things don't go their way. Their intensity can't take the kind of dip it did when it was 2-0 and 3-0 on Friday or when it got to 3-1 and 4-1 last night. Those moments turned what would have been reasonable games into lopsided losses. What Saturday made clear is that Trail has the talent to go toe to toe with the best in the country. They just need more games under their belt, they need to convert on their opportunities, they need to do some serious work on special teams... they need time. They just happened to be up against a team that already seems to be in mid-season form. How patient fans are is up to them.
Some strong performances that stood out for me include Garrett Beckwith in goal. He stopped 23 of 25 shots in relief on Friday before playing tremendous hockey on Saturday. Beckwith had some trouble with rebound control against Merritt last week that he has really tightened up. I also know Devon Murtagh will rebound from his first start perhaps as soon as the next game. I hadn't seen Ben Matthews in action before this weekend and the 18 year old's solid play really stood out for me. He's big and strong, makes the simple plays and reads the play very well. He was a nice surprise. Tye Lewis has a pro quality shot. He's a guy who could really surprise some people this season and could be the sniper Trail was looking for. I saw good things out of everyone over the weekend. It's just a matter of putting it all together over sixty minutes.
The next Smoke Eaters game is Wednesday in Penticton and then Thursday in Westside. They'll be back home against Quesnel on Saturday and Williams Lake on Sunday afternoon. Sunday's game is Mountain FM day at the Cominco Arena. We'll have some fun stuff planned for you so don't miss it.