Former Smoke Eater Andrew Pickering had two assists in his debut as a Centennial in an 8-3 win over Trail last night. The game was another example this season of how major defensive blunders can turn a competitive hockey game against the Smokies. All three first period goals saw a Merritt forward with an absurd amount of time and space to operate in front of the Trail net. It happened again on the fifth goal. Those coverage errors were the difference in the game in my view. That and the fact that Merritt was opportunistic while Trail couldn't find the handle on their many chances against the strong play of Cents goalie Keith Hamilton. With 103 saves in just two starts this season Hamilton is quickly making a name for himself. He could be a key cog in a return to the playoffs for the Centennials.
Lost in today's loss is a dandy goal by Sam Mellor who swiped the puck at the red line and made a great one on one deke before putting the puck in by Hamilton. Sean Nugent had his best game of the season as he scored, dropped the gloves at a key time and battled hard for pucks all night long. The Nugent/Bennett/Abenante line showed a lot of grit and tenacity for the second straight game. It's an odd unit that seems to have found some traction as an energy line. Steve Koshey scored today as well to continue his history of putting up points against Merritt. He just seems to find the net when playing against the Centennials. That was the Trail native's second goal of the year and both of them were in Merritt.
The Smokies have to start finding a way to play better on the road. Their schedule continues to be road heavy throughout this and next month. 20 of their first 29 games are on the road and so far they've only made it through 7 of them. The travel schedule and distance is very difficult, but they're going to find themselves in a mightily huge hole if they can't find a way to start putting up some points away from the Cominco Arena. The Smokies remain a strong home team and I would expect two very good efforts on Friday night against Cowichan Valley and on Saturday against Prince George. Hope to see you there!