Saturday, October 31, 2009

Post Game: Trail 1 at Williams Lake 6

Here is the game summary I posted on tonight. I'll be working with Randy Emery and the board on the new website. If there is anything you as a fan would really like to see on it let me know at

Williams Lake, BC – The Trail Smoke Eaters (4-14-1-1) started feeling the effects of the flu bug at the wrong time on Friday night. Defenceman Ben Matthews left the game after the first period while several others were struck by the bug in a 6-1 loss to Williams Lake (4-11-1-0). The Smoke Eaters had appeared to be relatively healthy as they travelled from Trail to Quesnel on Thursday. However, several members of the roster started to suffer from the flu as they took the ice in Williams Lake for the first time since the Timberwolves rejoined the BCHL this season.

The Smokies got off to a rough start in the first period as the T-Wolves doubled them in shots. Brendan Nadolny opened the scoring in his first game with Williams Lake. Ryan Stanimir added to the lead with back to back markers to close out the period.

Trail responded with much better efforts in the second and third periods. The Smokies out shot the Timberwolves 24-19 the rest of the way, but Sean Donnelly turned away 31 of Trail's 32 total shots. Only Sam Mellor was able to beat the Williams Lake goaltender. The Cranbrook native scored his 10th of the season after Scott Jacklin made a terrific deke around Colin Wandfluh and fed a pass across the front of the net for Mellor. Wade Bennett also picked up an assist on the play.

Stanimir finished the game with 4 points for Williams Lake. Nadolny and Kyle Leung added 2 points each. The Williams Lake win evened the season series between the two clubs at one win each. Trail beat the Timberwolves 7-2 at the Cominco Arena last month.

The next action for Trail is Saturday night in Prince George. The Spruce Kings beat the Smoke Eaters 4-3 in overtime earlier this month. This will be Trail's first visit to Prince George this season. Tune in to Mountain FM for the broadcast starting at 6:45pm. It is also available on BCHL PPV.

ON THE TRAIL: Trail had won seven straight games against Williams Lake dating back to the 2005-06 season ... Jesse Niemi made his debut as an affiliate player with Trail. He has 25 points in 15 KIJHL games this season with Fernie ... Garrett Beckwith stopped 19 of 23 shots before being relieved by Kiefer Smiley. Smiley stopped 10 of 12 shots he faced ... Former Castlegar Rebel Anthony DeLong assisted on Stanimir's second goal for Williams Lake ... Former Rebel Darren Tarasoff and former Nelson Leaf Dane Rupert were both out of the Timberwolves line-up with the flu ... Trail was missing Justin Brown, Matt Wilkins and Graeme Strukoff to injuries ... Mellor, Jacklin and Bennett are all on 4 game point scoring streaks.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Game Day: Dave Dupas Interview

Williams Lake Coach Dave Dupas

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The Smoke Eaters start their northern swing tonight against Williams Lake. Tune in to Mountain FM for Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters Play by Play at 7:15.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Smokies, RTMH Address H1N1

This is Edmonton Oilers defenceman Ladislav Smid taking a tumble. He is one of three NHL players who contracted the H1N1 virus. I don't know if any of you caught one of the stories on the flu bug running through the Oilers dressing room, but it certainly is just another example of how quickly any illness can spread on a hockey team. With all the concern about H1N1 this fall (especially in light of a young player dying in Ontario) it is no surprise that local hockey clubs are doing what they can to protect their players. Today on Mountain FM's Overtime I had a chance to chat with both Brian Youngson of the Smokies and Rossland Trail Minor Hockey President Shawn Brandt about what precautions their respective organizations are taking.

Smokies Assistant Coach Brian Youngson

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Rossland Trail Minor Hockey President Shawn Brandt

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I know we're all crossing our fingers and hoping we don't see any cases in our area or in the BCHL. Odds are there will be and these efforts should help contain the spread. Hopefully all teams across the province are vigilant.


...The BCHL did a nice article on Smoke Eaters leading scorer Tye Lewis this week. It seems like the odds were stacked against Tye ever getting to play a high level of hockey but his family supported him and he's worked hard to get here. Here's hoping he'll get that college opportunity he's looking for. First let's hope the Smokies get those wins he was talking about too!

...The owner of the Rider News Blog left a comment on this blog letting us know that Fernie Ghostriders forward Jesse Niemi will be joining the Smoke Eaters this weekend. It's late so I haven't had the chance to chat with the Smokies staff about that, but I would assume he would be coming as an AP. Niemi has an interesting history as he hadn't played hockey for a year and a half before jumping into the KIJHL with Fernie last winter. He was their top scorer in the playoffs with 14 points in 11 games and is now is third in KIJHL scoring as a 20 year old with 25 points in 15 games. If he is joining the Smokies for the weekend it is another step in quite a come back for Niemi.

...In KIJHL news, Grand Forks continued their early season deck shuffling by sending 20 year old forward Bent Lucente to the VIJHL's Peninsula Panthers for 20 year old defenceman Adam Taylor and 18 year old forward Jake Newman. Newman tried out with both Williams Lake and Merritt in the BCHL this season. The Panthers are partly owned by former Victoria Grizzlies GM Jackson Penny. Lucente only lasted 13 games with Grand Forks but will now have a chance to play with former Smoke Eater James Kellington on a very good Peninsula team. It's a long way from home but perhaps his best chance to end his junior career on a winning note.

...Also of note in the KIJHL this past weekend two different players in the Neil Murdoch Division scored four goals in a game on the same day! Castlegar native and 1993 born Aaron Hadley scored four times against Fernie for Beaver Valley while veteran Castlegar Rebels tough guy Joel Robinson put four goals in against Grand Forks. The next day former Smoke Eater and current Nelson forward Scott Jago scored five points against the Border Bruins.

...Former Smoke Eater and Trail native Steve McCarthy didn't get very long to get to know his new coach. The Chicago Wolves of the AHL fired Don Granato after a 1-5 start to the AHL season for the usual power house farm team of the Atlanta Thrashers. McCarthy isn't having a great start to the season either as he has only a single point and is a -6 in 8 games. He is also getting a chance to play with Chris Chelios for a while. The ageless wonder played his first two AHL games with the Wolves on the weekend and had 2 points. Hard not to learn from him! Manny Legace is one of their goalies and Angelo Esposito is on the roster. It's a pretty loaded squad and I'm sure they'll bounce back.

...The Smoke Eaters played their best road games of the season in Nanaimo and Cowichan Valley when they were set up in a "home base" in Nanaimo and weren't forced to travel any great distance to and from the games. The Smokies are doing the same thing this weekend for their games up north against Williams Lake, Prince George and Quesnel. Just something to keep an eye on.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Post Merritt Game Audio

Smokies Coach and GM Jim Ingram

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Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters Hockey on Mountain FM: Trail 5 at Merritt 8

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Salmon Arm Video Highlights, Merritt Thoughts

Or if you prefer click here for the YouTube version.

I apologize for the audio level of the clips as my mic was on too loud so it sounds very distorted during the exciting moments of the game. Also sorry for no update after last night's 8-5 loss in Merritt as today was busy. Brian has something up on his blog. I will say that I thought it was a weird game in which I felt the Smokies deserved a better fate... at least overtime. One goal bounces in off a couple of bodies, another comes on a pass headed for behind that Trail net that takes a freakish bounce in front of the the goal, another on a shot from a ridiculous angle, another after a check on the puck carrier sends the puck right to a Merritt stick, and yet another (the 7th goal) that from my vantage point never even crossed the line. That's a lot of bad luck in one game. It was also obviously a very strong performance from Dustin Johnson and the Cents offence. It's not often you see anyone score four goals in a game.

There are moments in that game that will upset the Smokies coaching staff. Again they had some problems with coverage in their own zone. Again they had some big mental blunders at the worst possible times. The power play also really let them down in Merritt. However, unlike previous games where Trail would get down by a couple of goals and fold the tent... last night they battled back. We're seeing a club that is playing with a lot more mental toughness. The Smokies came back from down 5-3 to tie the game and had the momentum going their way. Unfortunately the Cents got a bit of an ugly one to suck the wind out of Trail's sails. That's how it goes sometimes. Still it was an entertaining if strange game against a Merritt team that has been very tough to beat in their own building. They've got wins over Penticton, Westside and Quesnel at home as well. No one should be expecting two points when they visit the Cents anymore.

The Smoke Eaters do have to limit the number of chances they give up. That was two consecutive games where the opposition fired 39 shots on the Trail goal. You can't expect your goalie to stop that many every night. The Smokies have two solid tenders who can win them games here and there. It'd be nice to see them get an easier night once and a while though. I do find the club is doing a much better job of getting in the shooting lanes and protecting the front of their net. The communication on the back end seems to be improving. Things are headed in a positive direction.

It's also nice to see the scoring starting to come. Normally if you score 12 goals in 2 games you're going to get a couple of wins. It's obvious the Jacklin/Sandor/Mellor line is humming, but they're not the only ones getting it done. The St.Denis/Lewis/Mailey line is always dangerous and now Darnell Dyck and Wade Bennett are putting some big numbers up. We also saw the Abenante/Nugent/McEwan line chip in during the recent road trip The scoring is starting to come from the whole line-up and that's what Trail needs to do to get wins against some of these teams that are really relying on their top two lines or even just top line to get their points.

The next challenge for Trail is the first northern road trip of the season. You can hear all three games on Mountain FM as we bring you Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters play by play. Also tune in to Mountain FM's Overtime from 6pm to 10pm every weeknight as we bring you reaction from this past weekend and tell you what to expect on that northern swing.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Post Game: Trail 7 Salmon Arm 1

(Nick Sandor with 5 goals in 2 games - Photo Randy Emery)

Who saw that coming? While the Trail Smoke Eaters have certainly been playing better hockey in October I'm not sure anyone would've predicted a 7-1 victory over the third place Salmon Arm Silverbacks tonight. This was a game where all the hard work came together. It was a combination of terrific goaltending, opportunistic scoring, improved defensive poise and mainly hard work. In the end the over 900 Smoke Eaters fans went home happy tonight.

I think fans also breathed a little sigh of relief. I think we were all wondering how the Smokies would react to Salmon Arm's first goal. When the 'Backs made it 4-1 I said on the broadcast that Trail's reaction in the next few minutes would show if they had it in them to hold the lead. The Smokies stayed calm, got some strong goaltending and actually added to their lead. That's the kind of killer instinct they need to make these leads they've had this month stick.

It would be difficult for me to talk about all the solid performances tonight without basically talking about everyone on the team. Tye Lewis and Scott Jacklin had three points each on the night while Lewis, Darnell Dyck and Nick Sandor each had two goals. For Sandor that means he has scored five goals in his last two games and seven in his last five games. Can we officially say he enjoys playing with Jackin and Sam Mellor? I think Sandor must be among the hottest goal scorers in the BCHL right now.

Of course Sandor isn't the only Smoke Eater who is on a bit of a streak lately....
  • Scott Jacklin (9 points in his last 5 games)
  • Nick Sandor (7 points in his last 5 games)
  • Tye Lewis (7 points in his last 5 games)
  • Sam Mellor (6 points in his last 5 games)
  • Travis St. Denis (4 points in his last 5 games)
  • Steve Koshey (4 points in his last 5 games)
  • Darnell Dyck (4 points in his last 5 games)
  • Wade Bennett (4 points in his last 4 games)
  • Paul Mailey (3 points in his last 3 games)
  • Thomas Abenante (3 points in his last 4 games)
It's nice to see some guys really start to find their stride this season. Trail is going to need to have the scoring spread out like that if they're really going to turn this season around. I also really liked what I saw from a lot of Trail's defenders in tonight's game. There were still moments when they got hemmed in their own zone thanks to some weaker efforts on the clearing attempts. However, for the most part they played a very solid and simple game. Everyone worked hard and just as importantly worked smart. They did allow a lot of shots but I also felt they often were able to keep the Silverbacks to the outside. The D also did a better job keeping Salmon Arm players away from the front of the net, or at least made it difficult for them to stay put once they got there. Certainly you want to bring that shot total down and limit the quality chances. However, those skilled players on the 'Backs are going to get their looks... you just have to try and contain them.

Of course I can't talk about tonight's game without mentioning a fantastic performance from Garrett Beckwith in goal. As with Trail's 4-2 win over Nanaimo last Friday, this Friday the goaltender was again likely the best Smoke Eater on the ice. The 7-1 score may make the game seem lopsided. It certainly wasn't. Salmon Arm fired 39 shots on the Smokies net including 29 through the first two periods. Beckwith seemed to be in a zone as he turned away high end chance after high end chance in the second period especially. You could tell he was frustrating Mark Zengerle and company tonight. If Beckwith doesn't make one or two of the key saves that he made tonight... or if he lets a weak goal in at the wrong time... that would've been a different hockey game. It was a first star worthy performance from Beckwith and certainly his best as a Smoke Eater. I would expect both goalies are now getting their confidence back after they've each put on elite performances in the past week.

When you get some big saves and get confidence in your goaltender, you play with more confidence. As you get more experience in the league and start to realize you belong, you play with more confidence. I think we're seeing the Smoke Eaters emerge from that early season shell. We all knew there was a lot of talent on this team. It's just a matter of them finding the confidence to play up to their ability for a whole sixty minutes. If the Smokies can build on that with a strong performance in Merritt they could really be on their way.

There better not be talk of taking Merritt lightly either. The Cents have won both games the two teams have played this year. They've also won two of their last three games with both victories coming at home. Plus from what I read the Cents really gave Vernon all they could handle for 2/3 of their recent game. Trail needs their "A" game to get the job done in Merritt. That small barn can be very unforgiving if you try to play a complicated game and make big mistakes. But you have to like what you saw from the Smokies tonight, and the team should now really start to believe that they have it takes to take anyone in this league down on any given night.

Tune in to Mountain FM for Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters play by play tomorrow night at 7:15pm.


...Sorry for the sound of my play by play on the broadcast tonight. I listened back to some of it already and it got very distorted at points. I had the headset turned up too loud and didn't realize it for whatever reason. Perhaps it was a disconnect between what I was hearing and what was going through to the internet feed. I'll keep a better eye on it on future PPV broadcasts.

...Congratulations to David Piccard for picking up his first point as a Smoke Eater tonight. I actually think he could've had a couple of assists in the game. Piccard has played his best hockey since being sat out a couple of games. I talk about playing a smart and simple game a lot, and Piccard does just that. He asserted himself physically tonight as well to win a couple of key puck battles. I thought he and Tommy Rizzardo perhaps played their best games since joining the Smoke Eaters. I guess it was a pretty darn good night for former Nelson Leafs.

...Speaking of the Leafs, congratulations are also in order to AP Gavin Currie. The late cut from Cowichan Valley this year scored his first point as a Smoke Eater in his first game with Trail as an affiliate. Currie made a great play on a pass from Wade Bennett. He tried to split the D as they converged on him and took him down, but Currie beat them to his feet and won the puck before putting a perfect feed on Darnell Dyck's stick. After watching a lot of the Leafs in the playoffs last spring I've always been a fan of Currie's complete game. I know Nelson Coach Simon Wheeldon is also a big Currie booster. It's nice to see him get some BCHL action and fit in well. We'll likely see more of Currie against Nelson as Justin Brown will probably continue to have to sit out with an upper body injury. Currie is tied with former Smoke Eater Scott Jago as Nelson's leading scorer so far this season in the KIJHL.

...Speaking of the walking wounded, Brown is out a week or two. Graeme Strukoff will meet the team in Merritt after a few days at home while he is recovering from a lower body injury. The club is hoping to have him back for the northern trip next weekend, but that may be too soon. We also may see Matt Wilkins back sooner than we expected depending how the next week goes for the rookie. Marc-Antoine Chaput was a late scratch today, but I'm not sure if that was the result of an injury. I think we all expected this early road schedule (20 of the first 29 games on the road) would lead to some injury trouble. Better now than in January and February like the past two seasons!

...For local hockey fans who want to see a game in person on a Saturday night instead of just listening to one there are a couple of choices. Take your radio with you and check out the Kootenay Major Midget squad at the Cominco Arena at 6:45pm on Saturday and on Sunday morning. In the KIJHL, Castlegar hosts Grand Forks and Nelson is home against Kimberley.

...Trail can feel a little better about blowing their lead against Surrey after seeing the Eagles do the exact same thing to Westside this week. Surrey also beat Victoria in overtime tonight. They're on a huge role and have found a place in the national rankings. Watch out for the Eagles come March. I'm interested in seeing how they do against Powell River tomorrow.

...Trail can also feel better about their loss to Cowichan Valley as the Capitals beat Salmon Arm the next day as well. The Caps lost 5-0 tonight against Penticton, but from what I hear they played the Vees pretty well. Not an easy team to beat at the best of times! We'll see how things progress in Duncan. There's often an emotional boost from a new coach. Will it last?

...Perhaps Thomas Abenante was part of Jake Baker's early exit from Nanaimo. The Trail forward turned a Baker turnover into an insurance goal in Trail's win over the Clippers last week. Now we hear that Baker got sent a hour or so down the road to Victoria for Teal Burns and Todd Gebert. I always thought Baker was a very solid d-man with a lot of potential when he was with Merritt. I'm sure he'll get a chance to show it with the Grizz.

...Derek Hills is on fire for Merritt lately. He had 5 points in 41 games last year. After 3 points tonight the big bruising d-man is up to 8 points already this season. Who is this player and what has he done with the guy who was described as a hard hitting defensive defenceman? I guess we'll find out when we get our third look at the Cents tomorrow night.

...Speaking of transformations (because I'm enjoying segue ways so much tonight) how about that Dustin Penner? Brian Burke may change his tune on how much the big man was worth yet as so far this season I think he has more points than the Maple Leafs have goals. Thursday's games also showed that a game is never over. Ottawa came back from down 3-0, 4-3 and 5-4 to force overtime. Edmonton came back from down 4-1. In baseball the Yankees came back from down huge before eventually losing. No lead is safe.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Game Day: Salmon Arm at Trail

Tonight the Smoke Eaters host the Silverbacks for the first time this season. For a look back at the first game of the season between the two teams click here for the box score. Also here are the highlights from our broadcast of the game...

Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters Hockey September 29th Highlights

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It was as exciting as any game we've seen so far this season. Six Smoke Eaters had multiple point games including a couple of goals each for Travis St. Denis and Sam Mellor. However, the Silverbacks have an explosive team offensively and you always have to watch out for Mark Zengerle. That means you don't want to miss the re-match between two teams who are going to be fighting hard for wins after dropping a couple of games to close out road trips on the coast. Both Trail and Salmon Arm lost to the emotionally charged Cowichan Valley Capitals after their coaching change. They've both dropped two straight games, but now Trail gets to come back to the friendly confines of the Cominco Arena. The last time Salmon Arm paid a visit to Trail was the winter of last year. Here are the video highlights of what was a well played and dramatic Smokies victory...

Now for a word on tonight's game on Mountain FM's Overtime I spoke with Trail's assistant coach Brian Youngson and Salmon Arm's GM Rylan Ferster. I also spoke to Ferster about being the coach this year for Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge.

Smokies Assistant Coach Brian Youngson

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Salmon Arm General Manager Rylan Ferster

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Should be a good one tonight. Hope to see you at the rink! Also don't forget to tune in tomorrow night to Mountain FM for our broadcast of Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters play by play from Merritt.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Smokies Weekend Video Highlights

Here are some highlights I put together from Trail's games in Nanaimo, Cowichan Valley and Surrey. You can also click here if you want highlights from the Burnaby game.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Road Trip Audio

Main Entry:
killer instinct
Part of Speech: n
Definition: an aggressive and ruthless determination to win or attain a goal

The Trail Smoke Eaters are playing better hockey right now than they were playing in September. I don't think a single fan out there can argue with that. In September Trail gave up the first goal in 7 out of 8 games. They were getting behind the eight ball early and unable to get back into games. Now in September they've scored the first goal in 6 out of 9 games and have had a lead in 8 out of 9 games. Unfortunately they only won 2 out of those 8 games, and got points in 3 of them. The Smokies are now putting themselves in a position to win games, but lacking the killer instinct to finish them. That's the kind of thing that you have to think will come with experience and confidence.

What the guys and the fans should know is that they're good enough to get ahead of teams right now... which means they ARE good enough to beat those teams. They just have to start believing it, being consistent and bouncing back when a couple of things go wrong. The positive strides are there if only they could put it all together over 60 minutes.

There were a lot of positive things coming out of that 1-3 trip. The defensive zone coverage got a whole lot better for the most part. In the two games on Vancouver Island and for most of the game in Surrey the team kept it simple and played as a cohesive unit. That's a good sign. They also truly seemed to bond while they were on the island. They won their first road game with a real blue collar effort. The power play had a very good week at 7 for 23 or over 30%. Both goaltenders showed the ability to make game saving stops at key times. Four players scored their first BCHL goals. They scored at least 4 goals in 3 out of the 4 games. Nick Sandor himself had a whole game's worth.

I know the bottom line for fans is victories. I can understand the frustration when they put themselves in a position to win and let it slip away with major defensive meltdowns. However, I've seen every game this team has played. They're getting better every day, and their mental game is starting to catch up with the ability we all know they have.

Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters Hockey on Mountain FM: Trail 5 at Burnaby 9

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Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters Hockey on Mountain FM: Trail 4 at Nanaimo 2

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Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters Hockey on Mountain FM: Trail 2 at Cowichan Valley 4

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Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters Hockey on Mountain FM: Trail 4 at Surrey 6

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Smoke Eaters Forward Nick Sandor

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Surrey Eagles Goalie Paul Barclay

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Post Game Comments and Dale Purinton Interview

The debut of a new coach helped the Cowichan Valley Capitals find some life and energy in a 4-2 victory over the Trail Smoke Eaters tonight. It was actually a very tight, physical battle that didn't remotely feel like a game between two teams at the bottom of the standings. The Capitals played like a team that was trying to impress their new coach while the Smoke Eaters really seem to be making strides with their defensive zone coverage and overall team game on the road. It was a game that really could have gone either way.

Trail certainly put the pressure on with 17 shots in the third period, but Alexandre Peck was very strong in the Capitals goal. The Smoke Eaters had their chances but couldn't convert. Scott Jacklin alone was all over his former team, and was denied a handful of times by Peck in the third period. There was a lot to like from the Smokies tonight. That's two consecutive games where they really cut down on the big mistakes in their own zone. Their coverage has been a lot better and the decision making a lot quicker. Perhaps the light is starting to go on for the inexperienced blue line? I also think the forwards in these two games have really made that extra effort to be better in their own end. That being said, you're not going to win too many games while only scoring two goals. Kiefer Smiley would likely like to have the winner back, but he was otherwise terrific in the two games on the island. It's too bad the team couldn't bail him out on that last one.

You're going to get road games like that sometimes. The Smokies battled hard and just didn't get the bounces... they came up a little short. I bet fans back home can accept games like that. It was the lopsided defeats that had some people pulling their hair out. As long as the team can keep building on the kinds of efforts we've seen here in the last two games there could be positive things coming for this group. We'll see how it goes against one of the top teams in the Coastal Conference when Trail visits Surrey on Sunday afternoon at 4pm. You can hear that one as always with Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters play by play on Mountain FM. It'll be a chance for Trail to battle former Smokies Paul Barclay, Paul Levarsky and Chris Santiago. All three are key 20 year olds for the Eagles.

As for the Capitals, their victory means new coach Dale Purinton is 1-0 behind their bench. There has been a lot of criticism of the move to fire Scott Robison and positive comments about how great a coach he is. From everything I hear Robinson is certainly one of the most respected coaches in the province. As Smokies Coach Jim Ingram told me today, Robinson will only be unemployed as long as he wants to be. That being said, Purinton didn't fire anybody and should certainly only be judged for what he's responsible for. The former New York Rangers tough guy had an extended chat with me before tonight's game in one of his first interviews as the coach of the Caps...

Cowichan Valley Coach Dale Purinton

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He's certainly well spoken and seems to have a passion for the game. While he is obviously untested as a coach, it's Purinton's job now and we'll see if he sinks or swims. His team got off to a good start with a hard working and simple game against Trail tonight. Now it's up to him and the players to try and build on that. Just as it's now up to the Smoke Eaters to try and build on the positive steps they've taken over their last two games. Maybe later in the season fans can look back at what was considered a battle of two "lesser" teams as a turning point for both of them.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Robinson Fired in CV, Purinton Takes Over

EDIT: The coaching change is now entirely confirmed (it was before but I hadn't talked to anyone in Duncan) as I just finished interviewing Dale Purinton. Expect that interview in part before our broadcast and in full during the first intermission on Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters play by play. If you aren't in Mountain FM's broadcast area check out our broadcast on our website

Word broke this afternoon on the BCHL message board that the Cowichan Valley Capitals have fired Head Coach Scott Robinson after a long tenure in Duncan. He's been apparently replaced by former NHL tough guy Dale Purinton. I will say first of all that I have not talked to the Capitals organization and I don't have official confirmation from them that this has happened. However, I'd say I'm over 99% sure that the reports are accurate.

While Cowichan has struggled out of the gate this season, let us not forget the success the club had last year. Robinson took them to a 30-20-1-5 record good enough for third in the conference and second in their division. He also took them to within a game of the conference finals. They were also third in the conference three seasons ago. It seems like Robinson had the team rebuild one year and succeed the next on a regular basis. Even had the Caps in first place once quite a few years aback. For a team that doesn't have the riches that some others do in this league, that is a pretty darn good success rate. However, their struggles early this season under a new majority owner apparently were not acceptable to management. Tonight's game will officially complete one quarter of the season for the Caps. They're 4-9-0-1 right now and one of the few teams from the coast to have done the full four game road trip to the interior... a road trip that I personally believe will lead to a lot of 1-3 and 0-4 records for coast teams this year. The Capitals took a major hit on that road swing with a couple of huge losses. Them being one of the first teams to make that trip this year is perhaps a big factor in that record and Robinson being fired.

I don't know the coast that well nor do I know Robinson that well. He's been very friendly and easy to talk to the two or three times I've had to deal with him. I also know Smokies Coach Jim Ingram obviously speaks very highly of him after serving under him as an assistant coach several years ago. It's never fun to see a good man lose his job. It impacts more than just him but his family, friends and the community. I'm sure he'll land on his feet.

As for Dale Purinton taking over, I have no idea what to expect. He just finished his playing career in 2007-08. It included 181 NHL games with the New York Rangers. He was known as a tough guy who always worked hard. What kind of coach he'll be at this level is impossible to predict now. What I can say though is that often a coaching change like this can serve as a major kick in the butt for a team. We should see an emotional and fired up Caps squad tonight as they try to make an impression on their new coach. Trail is going to have to be on their best if the boys are hoping for a second straight road win.

Our pre-game show gets started at 7:15pm tonight with the puck drop at 7:30 for Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters play by play on Mountain FM.

Post Game: Trail 4 Nanaimo 2

The Trail Smoke Eaters got their first road victory of the season tonight. The 4-2 win in Nanaimo was an example of what this team is capable of when everybody buys in and works hard. It wasn't a perfect game, but it didn't have to be. The main thing out there tonight was that the guys played the same way from the first line through the fourth and from the first pairing through the third. With Graeme Strukoff out of the line-up we really saw the whole team realize their roles in the defensive zone. I don't think I've seen them play as efficiently in their own end as they did in the final five minutes of the third period. Every player did everything they could to make sure Nanaimo didn't have a chance to snatch that victory away from the Smoke Eaters. It was nice to see the whole forward crew realize what can happen when they fully commit to their own zone. For example, I don't think I've ever seen Travis St. Denis make as much difference in his own zone as he did tonight. He was a force in the last minute especially. It was a big step forward for the whole forward group.

It was also the best game the rookie defencemen have played as a unit. We've seen some games where each of them have stepped up, but tonight I think all four of the rookies in the line-up really delivered. They made smart, simple plays and quick decisions in their own end. It was a big step for a guy like Chaput who hasn't been in the line-up a lot lately to play essentially a mistake free game. It was also a chance for Wade Bennett to get back in the line-up on the back end in what was his smoothest effort of the year. He should also have had an assist on the second Trail goal. Ben Matthews was a force all game long with a smart pinch on his first BCHL goal and some smart plays with his stick. You've already seen what Walker's solid play has earned him. These guys were given opportunities with the injury to Strukoff and all want to show they can be counted on for big minutes.

The loss of Strukoff also puts extra pressure on Kaufmann and Koshey. Both guys responded with very strong efforts. Again they played simple games and made quick decisions. Both guys were also quick and efficient when they had that 5 on 3 opportunity. We heard talk of Kaufmann's shot and that was the first time we got to see it in action. His first BCHL goal was an absolute rocket. As for Koshey, he continues to be a key factor in setting up goals. The Trail native is now sitting at 9 points through 15 games. That's good enough to tie for 10th place among defencemen in the BCHL. If he can continue to simplify his defensive game the way he did today we could be talking about a league all-star down the road.

Of course I can't mention the victory without discussing what was a very clutch performance by Kiefer Smiley. It was without question Smiley's best game as a Smoke Eater. He made some enormous saves that really displayed his solid instincts and athletic ability. The one pad stop where he slid across the crease was spectacular. Smiley also controlled his rebounds and did a very good job calming the play down. I can't count how many times he was able to cover the puck up with the team really needed it last night. That was the kind of clutch performance they needed between the pipes to get that first road win.

Speaking of clutch, when things weren't going Trail's way in the second period Thomas Abenante turned the tide with his first BCHL goal. What a night for firsts! Matthews, Kaufmann and Abenante all lit the lamp for the first time. After two weeks of hard work and narrow misses, Abenante made good on a Nanaimo turnover to restore the 2 goal lead.

The Smokies took a 3-0 lead on goals by Matthews (putting in the rebound on a nice low shot by Mellor), Kaufmann and Mellor (on a very nice set up from Scott Jacklin). It was a first star performance for Mellor who is already exceeding the pace he was on last year as a 16 year old in Junior B. His 8 goals also have him tied for the team lead with Tye Lewis. It's been a heck of a start to Mellor's BCHL career and it'll be a lot of fun for Trail fans to watch him continue to develop.

I'm sure more than a few fans felt like they were experiencing deja-vu when the Clippers started chipping away at Trail's lead with the late PP goal on the first and early marker in the second. Those two goals had the Smokies on their heels and in danger of giving up the lead all together. They had just lost four straight games after taking early leads. It wasn't something they could afford to do again. That's when Justin Brown dropped the gloves and tried to inspire the troops. He did it despite the fact that he's still dealing with a minor injury that kept him out of the line-up last weekend. That fight and the huge goal by Abenante helped Trail stem the tide and get back on track. The rest of the way may have seen the Clippers out shoot and out chance Trail, but the Smokies limited the quality of most of the opportunities. They played a very solid road game and got the job done. The Smokies also showed themselves they had what it takes to close out a win in a tight, hard fought game. That's something they had yet to do this season as the two other wins were a blow out and an overtime win.

Make no mistake, Nanaimo was a tough opponent. They worked hard and really put some pressure on with their physical attack on the forecheck. The Clippers have a very effective cycle game that created a lot of chances in front of the Trail net. The Smokies were just a lot better in front of their goal tonight. It was not holiday there tonight. That was another key in Trail's victory. However, there's a lot of talent and work ethic on that Nanaimo club. I bet as the younger defence continues to adjust to the league you'll see them start to climb the standings before Christmas. They certainly won't be a push over against anyone.

I wanted to note as well that it was too bad AP Gavin Hohl got hurt mid-way through the game and will miss some action in the VIJHL. He did a very solid job and didn't look out of place. Almost had a point too when he and Dyck got sent in on a 2 on 1 by Brown. I wouldn't be surprised if the club had him back in the line-up when the club is back on the island in the new year.

It sure helps to be able to set up a home base here and not have to ride the bus for hours before game time. Trips like this make realize how different it must be for teams who have their share of one or two hour trips to road games rather than a minimum of four hours. Being in one spot sure helps the guys play with more energy and keep that energy all game long. It also helped that the guys had an opportunity to do some team bonding on their off day. The mood around the club has really improved. They can try and build on that with a re-match against Cowichan Valley tomorrow. The Capitals did to Trail last week what Trail did to Nanaimo tonight. Now the Smokies can return the favour.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Video Highlights: Burnaby 9 Trail 5

Just a quick note, I didn't edit or have anything to do with these highlights. They're actually done by a professional from Purple Penguin and as such are way better than the amateur job I do trying to cut things together from our home games! Enjoy... but you may want to turn them off about half way through.

Our next broadcast of Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters play by play on Mountain FM is tomorrow night from Nanaimo.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tuesday Smokies Audio

(McEwan fights in his first game - Photo Randy Emery)

Eric Walker on his scholarship

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Assistant Coach Barry Zanier

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Defenceman Mitch Kaufmann

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Forward Josh McEwan

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Walker Commits to Northern Michigan

I want to send out a huge congratulations to 16 year old defenceman Eric Walker who today committed to Northern Michigan University for a full ride scholarship starting in the 2011-2012 NCAA season. Walker has impressed many with his sound and physical play as a young rookie through the first month and a half of his BCHL career. The scouts were circling early and Northen Michigan grabbed him. Of note Walker's uncle Steve Bozek (check out the the resemblance to a young Bozek) went to Northern Michigan for three seasons. Eric told me that talking to his uncle helped convince him that this was the right move for him to make.

If you look at the other side of the family his uncle Gord Walker and Gord's son Luke Walker both went the Western Hockey League route. Given Eric's size, strength and mature play he will certainly be a target of WHL clubs. However, it looks like Walker is going to play this year and next with Trail before heading off to college. I think it's a great move for him. You can already see a special player developing and he's getting the opportunity to learn in all situations on a young Smokies back end. I'm looking forward to seeing how much he grows over the next year and a half.

This also marks the second consecutive year that Trail's lone 16 year old found an NCAA home so early in his BCHL career. There is so much talent in the West Kootenay region. Travis St. Denis of Trail of course got his full ride to Quinnipiac last season and now Walker -- a Castlegar boy -- joins him as a 16 year old writing his ticket for a great education. Smokies forward Sam Mellor also earned a scholarship as a 16 year old, but he did it in the KIJHL.

Tune in to Mountain FM's Overtime tonight for an interview with Walker and audio reaction to Trail's games against Cowichan Valley and Prince George on the weekend. I also have my first interviews with new Smokies Mitch Kaufmann and Josh McEwan. Again that's tonight from 6pm to 10pm on Mountain FM. I'll have the audio on the blog sometime after it all airs on the radio. Also don't forget tomorrow night's broadcast of Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters play by play live in Burnaby.

Congrats again, Eric! It's well deserved.

Road Trip Poll

Scroll down for video highlights from this weekend's games for those who didn't make it out to the Cominco Arena. Tune in to Mountain FM's Overtime from 6pm to 10pm tonight at 104.1 FM in Trail for reaction from the Smokies and their two new players from the weekend games. Now we're off to Burnaby, Nanaimo, Duncan and Surrey for four road games in five days. A chance for the guys to take their first extended trip together after a lot of quick "there and back" outings. Perhaps an opportunity to bond and find their stride away from home. How do you think they'll do?

Video Highlights: Prince George 4 Trail 3 (OT)

My apologies for the lack of update these last two days. I've taken the time to relax with family for Thanksgiving and waste hours playing NHL 2010. With a five day road trip coming up this week I hope you can all understand! I do want to say again how nice it was to meet several parents over the weekend. You were all very friendly and encouraging. I really appreciate that. There's a lot of class among the players and their families... the victories will come but that character is what really matters in life.

EDIT: The audio on the file is off especially towards the end of the hightlights. It's not off on my copy but something got lost in the transition up to youtube.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Video Highlights: Cowichan Valley 3 Trail 2

Post Game: Cowichan Valley 3 Trail 2, Robinson Interview

(Some of the physical play - Photo Randy Emery)

Click here for the box score. The Smoke Eaters and Capitals played like two teams desperate for a win tonight. It was a hard working, physical and intense game. It wasn't pretty but it was entertaining. It seems like the team who got the last bounce won. Cowichan's first and third goals came as pucks bounced their way in front of the Trail net. Trail's first goal was the result of a fanned shot finding it's way in. Coaches will always say it's not how you score that counts. However, the frustration for the Trail Smoke Eaters tonight will be that they once again out shot and out chanced a team... and lost. This was a much cleaner game for Trail in terms of defensive break downs and coverage errors. They also received sharp goaltending from Kiefer Smiley. The difference in the game this time was Trail's inability to turn shots and puck control into goals.

It's funny how they could score twice in 9 seconds and yet not find the twine with 33 other shots the rest of the game. Part of the story there was the strong play of Peck in goal for the Capitals. The other part perhaps was a lack of confidence with the puck on the part of the Trail shooters. I counted at least five points in the game where the Smokies passed up excellent scoring chances to make that last second pass. How many of them turned into a goal? Often that extra little pass doesn't even turn into a shot. It's broken up or it's in feet. This isn't a skills competition and I'm sure Trail fans would rather see 10 ugly goals than 2 pretty ones.

Look at the Cowichan goals; Curtis Gedig (only credited with 2 points when I think he should have 3) twice fired shots from the point that either found their way through traffic or bounced off a couple of bodies to a wide open man. His first goal was a shot from the slot that hit off a body and into the Trail goal. These are not pretty goals, but they all count. The steady Gedig just found a way to get pucks through and was rewarded. I'm not saying Trail didn't do that at all because they obviously out shot the Caps. I'm just saying at times there was a slight hesitation. Shoot? Pass? Also behind their own goal delays in decision making was a problem. That half second hesitation can be the difference between getting a shot or clearing attempt through... or losing the puck. That hesitation also tends to come when the confidence is shaky and it's difficult to shrug that off.

These are small nit picks because there was very little to dislike in Trail's game tonight. They worked their butts off and battled hard all game. They won a lot of puck battles and created a lot of shots. They also played a very physical game with the kind of edge Smokies fans love. A large part of that came from the line of Abenante, Nugent and Josh McEwan. McEwan gave us a taste of what to expect from him when he took a roughing penalty seconds into the game. The 18 year old also fought a guy four inches taller than him and hit everything that he could get close to. That style suits Nugent just fine as he dropped the gloves himself and created a lot of havoc the Cowichan Valley zone. That's two straight strong games from Nugent. It was also Abenante's best game this season. He probably had more chances than any other Smoke Eater out there tonight and very nearly had his first goal. One fan told me he felt Abenante played like a seasoned veteran and we named him the second star. I also thought the line of Mailey, Dyck and Bennett did similar things for most of the game.

Tonight was also the debut of Mitch Kaufmann. After a long drive from Alberta he found himself thrown right into the mix. I thought he did a very solid job out there. Especially after the first Capitals goal took an unlucky bounce off of him. Obviously Kaufmann has to get used to the systems and the guys he's playing with, but I think he'll come in here as advertised. He seems like a reliable guy who will make the smart and simple play. One fan told me that they're worried expectations for Kaufmann will be too high because everyone has been calling for a veteran D. Kaufmann has experience but he's not going to walk in here and be Brandon Clark from last year. Just give him a chance and I can tell he'll be a piece of the puzzle in improving Trail's play in their own zone... not the whole puzzle! We'll get likely a better look at him against Prince George.

There was a bit of a score for the Smoke Eaters tonight as Tye Lewis went down for an extended period in the first. Thankfully he made it back to the ice in short order. Lewis even found a way to put home his 7th of the year. Sam Mellor also scored his 6th. If you combine Lewis (7), Mellor (6), St. Denis (6) and Jacklin (4) they out score the rest of the roster 23-9. It's not that everyone else isn't creating chances, but they aren't finding the way to bury those chances. If Trail is going to have success the scoring has to be a lot more spread out than that.

Prince George is coming in to town Saturday night. The Spruce Kings and Smoke Eaters always have terrific battles. The games are usually very tight, physical and entertaining. There are skilled and gritty players on both teams. They are also both battling to turn the ship around after slow starts. Both teams lost close games tonight as the Sprucies got dropped 4-3 by Westside in overtime. Everything is lining up for what should be a good one. I hope we see more than 870 fans out for it. I suspect the KIJHL games in Beaver Valley, Castlegar and Grand Forks took away from the audience a little bit. If it's any incentive we'll be giving away another turkey for Thanksgiving!


It's a weekend of Robinsons for the Smoke Eaters. Cowichan Valley Coach Scott Robinson brought his team in tonight while his son Brooks will suit up for Prince George in Trail tomorrow night. Jim Ingram has a long history with both of them as he coached with Scott in Cowichan and coached Brooks in Kerry Park. I'm sure the Smokies bench boss is hoping he doesn't go 0-2 against the Robinson clan this weekend! I had a chance to catch up with Scott Robinson before the game tonight for our PPV broadcast...

Cowichan Valley Coach Scott Robinson

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Robinson preaches patience for both the Capitals and Smoke Eaters fans. Can they live with early growing pains? I know some people are grumbling in both Duncan and Trail. However, patience with a young blue line can pay off by winter if you pick the right guys. I also wanted to mention how Robinson said it's not easy to find impact veterans at this point in the season. Nobody wants to give them up. You're not going to find one for left overs or future considerations when everyone is still hoping to be competitive. That's a good point for Smokies fans who expect the team to land an experienced 20 year old star defenceman out of thin air.


...I want to say a friendly hello to all the parents in town for their weekend in Trail. I met a couple of them today and hopefully will get to see a few more tomorrow. Without question 95% of parents I meet and talk to are among the nicest people I've ever met. Hockey people are top notch. The Smokies parents I've met this year haven't changed my opinion that's for sure.

...After beating Trail 8-3 on Tuesday, Merritt fell 9-3 to the Alberni Valley Bulldogs tonight. Talk about the highest high to the lowest low for Cents fans. Again a young team going through some growing pains under a new coach. What BCHL team do you think has the best chance of starting slow and having a great second half? To me the Smokies stand out but I'm biased.

...Vernon and Penticton had another ridiculously tight battle tonight. This time the Vipers won it 2-1 in OT. It's going to be tough for any other team to stop these two from meeting in the Interior finals. If they do it might be the first time the two best teams in the country played just for a chance to get to the BCHL finals. They're both scary right now and will without question load up before the roster deadline.

...A couple of trades in the KIJHL. Beaver Valley sent 1991 born forward Zachary Thompson 1991 born defenceman Elliot Dixon to Grand Forks for what appears to be future considerations as there's no return. Thompson was at Trail's spring camp and has 6 points in 10 games. Grand Forks also added 1991 born forward Jesse Laird from Revelstoke and 1990 forward Gary Mahesh from Westshore in the VIJHL. Border Bruins Coach Jesse Dorrans told me this week he wanted to add another scoring line to his struggling team and it appears he has done just that. We'll see how the team reacts. In yet another deal Castlegar sent one of their leading scorers, 1990 forward Luke Richardson to Revelstoke for 1992 forward Dylan Richardson. I'm going to have to find out what prompted that move next week on Mountain FM's Overtime.

...Theo Fleury's tragically sad story of sexual abuse is just another example of why we should value the great majority of first class and trustworthy coaches who give their lives to help these young men become better players and better men. Thank goodness the bad seeds like Graham James are few and far between. Of course another lesson from that whole sad tale is how important it is to be careful who you trust with your children. Ultimately it's just great to see how Fleury has battled back from his rock bottom and seemingly found peace.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Ingram, Vandekamp on Trade

(Kaufmann at Rebels camp - Red Deer Advocate)

A couple of different perspectives have come in today on the deal that sent veteran forward Colin Lidster to Grande Prairie of the AJHL for 18 year old defenceman Mitch Kaufmann. First, I had the chance to chat with Smokies Coach and GM Jim Ingram at practice yesterday...

Ingram on Roster Moves

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Grande Prairie Coach and GM Mike Vandekamp (who used to coach in Merritt and Vernon) has some comments on the deal up on the Storm website.
Kaufmann, a six foot, 190-pound defenceman from Red Deer, was in his second year with the Storm. He saw limited playing time to start the season.

“We’ve been carrying what we feel is too many defencemen since the start of the season,” said Vandekamp. “That made it difficult to provide necessary playing time.

“Mitch has been caught in a numbers game at times. We felt this move would help him.”
It's really hard to know what the Smokies will get from Kaufmann. The newspaper report I linked to yesterday said he was steady and reliable. A Grande Prairie fan on the BCHL message board gave the impression he could be an offensive defenceman that could run a power play if given more of an opportunity. I suppose we'll find out soon enough! I'm not sure if Mitch will be in the line-up tonight, but surely we'll see him either tonight against Cowichan Valley or tomorrow against Prince George. I'm sure we'll see new forward Josh McEwan make his Smokies debut though. Both those games have 7:30pm puck drops at the Cominco Arena.