The first game of the season didn't go as planned for the Trail Smoke Eaters. Both the Centennials and the Smokies played the sloppiest regular season opener I've seen in my brief BCHL broadcasting career. The rust and perhaps the nerves were obvious in a game that more than one person told me didn't seem like regular season level hockey. The Smoke Eaters hadn't been in game action for two weeks and featured 8 rookies in their line-up. That combination and a Merritt team that didn't give up any space in front of their net equalled a frustrated Trail squad with very few clean chances to their name. Here is the boxscore from Friday's 4-2 loss. Click here for the Making Cents recap.
RyneBodger'sknuckleball from the red line that took a ridiculous hop and fooled Garrett Beckwith was perhaps a sign of things to come. While Trail rebounded to take a 2-1 lead after the first, the bounces didn't go their way all game. One puck went in off the post and off the back of Beckwith. Another went in off an apparent high stick (I can't see past the heater in Merritt to tell) with a player bowling down on the Smokies netminder. However, Coach Ingram wasn't making excuses because he wasn't happy with the effort level. Plain and simple the Smokies didn't make their own breaks or play with nearly enough passion and desperation for 60 minutes. Those weren't the 2007-08 Merritt Centennials. You can't take a night off and expect a win. There's no shame in losing to Merritt, but the frustration comes from a game in which the team didn't live up to their ability.
Those lessons better be learned quickly as Trail's schedule is a murderers row over the next two weeks. Home and home with Vernon before two more on the road in Penticton and Westside. Everybody is going to have to bring their lunch pale if they want to pick up Ws over the next couple of weeks. A great place to start would be the home opener against the hated (and defending national champion) Vernon Vipers.
Here's some audio from Friday's season opener care of Mountain FM's Overtime and our play by play broadcast...
Some positives from Friday? Tye Lewis had 2 points in his first BCHL period. The Vancouver, Washington product has a shot that is every bit as good as advertised. He'll be a big piece of the offensive puzzle. The two veteran defencemen (Steve Koshey and Graeme Strukoff) both already appear to have taken their game to another level. Koshey is certainly in better shape, but beyond that he's far more comfortable and composed with the puck. It's only been one game but he doesn't even look like the same player. Strukoff is still a bull in a china shop (just ask Steve Tresierra after Strukoff crushed him with a Scott Stevens like hit), but he is more controlled and aware of his surroundings. These two need to be great for Trail when they are breaking in five other rookies on the blue line. So far so good.
Some fans have already suggested to me that it's time to hit the panic button when it comes to the inexperienced defencemen. Frankly I don't feel like they were keys to the loss. Certainly they all had their shaky moments, but the blue line didn't make any major blunders on Friday. You certainly couldn't single them out as difference makers in any direction. To me that's a good start for new players. It's basically what you should expect in their first game. It's the rest of the team that didn't step their game up as much as I expected. Of course it's only the first game of the season and an ugly loss could have easily been an ugly win. Would Penticton fans be having this same conversation if their only game of the weekend was Friday's against Williams Lake and they hadn't been able to come from behind to sneak that one out?
That doesn't mean there won't still be talk about persuing a veteran or two on the back end. I'm seeing it online and hearing it around town. Be aware that of course management is keeping their eyes and ears open to possibilities, but there is no reason to make any rush judgements on the four talented guys who have only played one game so far... and the one who has yet to suit up.
There are lots of reasons for optimism. Each player showed flashes of why they are on the team during Friday's games. You can see why all of them could make good to great BCHL players. It's now up to those players to put it together in a consistent fashion. I'm sure that's something that all the clubs are going to go through to some extent as they start a brand new season. It's really too bad the Smokies didn't have another game on the weekend so they could have worked out some of the bugs from Friday right away. Instead we have lots of time to sit on one 60 minute period and analyze it to death.
It'll be a distant memory soon. One way or another. I'll see you at the rink on Friday! Tell your friends, bring your family... make the home opener the kind of event it ought to be every year.
...I received word today that forward Sam Olson is off to Estevan of the SJHL. Sam was easily the top scorer for Grand Forks in the KIJHL last season. He's a character player with a lot of class and integrity who I'm sure will have lots of success in Estavan. From everything I know it's a great hockey market with a lot of history. Sounds familiar. Olson was one of the final 24 players left in camp. He leaves now to the SJHL hopefully for a bigger opportunity and the playing time he deserves. His departure also ensured local boy Thomas Abenante's place on the Trail roster. Abenante was one of Beaver Valley's top guns last season (also in the KIJHL) and worked his butt off to prove he could be the kind of complete player that would find a place on any of Trail's lines. He has yet to make his regular season debut for Trail, but it's great to see another hard working local player with a lot of skill find their way onto the team. The Smokies now have Paul Mailey, Justin Brown, Steve Koshey, Eric Walker, Travis St. Denis and Abenante representing the West Kootenay while Sam Mellor, Matt Wilkins and Scott Jacklin are East Kootenay boys. That's as strong a local connection as they've had in years.
...Speaking of the KIJHL, Nelson started league play out right where they left off. The Leafs won their two weekend games by a combined score of 15-1. Beaver Valley and Castlegar played a dramatic 3-3 tie to open the season on Friday. Both teams followed that game up with losses on Saturday. The Rebels fell 5-0 to Nelson while BV dropped a 6-2 game in Grand Forks. The Border Bruins went 1-2 on the weekend with a hard fought 1-0 loss to Fernie on Friday, their Saturday win and a tough 8-0 defeat in Spokane on Sunday.
...Denver Manderson and Beau Bennett scored a combined 19 points in 3 games for Penticton over the weekend. As Rick Jeanneret once said, "these guys are good... scary good!"
The Smokies will have to turn to Beau's older brother Wade in order to get the book on how to stop the sharp shooting Californian. The first battle of the brothers will be next week in Penticton.
...The defending national champion Vernon Vipers won both their games on the weekend in a home and home with the always tough Salmon Arm Silverbacks. It looks like any holes the Vipers had after they lost some key players in the summer have been filled admirably. We'll get a first hand look on Friday in Trail and Saturday in Vernon. As tough as the Vipers can be don't forget Trail took the first two games of the season series against them last fall. A hard working Jim Ingram club can be exactly what the doctor ordered against that type of skill.
...We "experts" all think we know what to expect from teams before they play. How many of us wrote off Williams Lake before they even hit the ice? They were up 4-3 on the Vees before letting it slip away in the third period and they beat Westside. A nice case of "nobody believes in us" combined with good coaching and work ethic can make for a long lasting surprise.
...Just another friendly reminder that you can follow me on Twitter. I'll try to make it useful in situations that don't warrent a full blog post. You can also tune in to my sports show Overtime every night from 6pm to 10pm on Mountain FM. It's available at 104.1FM in Trail, 99.3FM in Castlegar, 96.7FM in Grand Forks, 103.5FM in Nelson and with live streaming at our website. While I like to keep blog readers in the loop you'll get all your breaking local sports news on Mountain FM first.