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. Kaufmannhas 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...
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'stragically 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.