What a game tonight at the Cominco Arena. Check out the box score. That had pretty much everything you could ask for. Back and fourth action. Great goals, great saves, big hits, a fight, lots of intensity, terrific puck battles and lots of drama. The over 1100 fans who came out to the game certainly went home with their money's worth. I do want to say how happy I was to see a nice big crowd out at the game despite the 8-2 loss in Penticton the night before. Smokies fans showed their support and the team responded with an entertaining victory. We need crowds like that all year.
Tye Lewis and Travis St. Denis continued to set the pace for the Smoke Eaters on the score sheet. St. Denis extended his point streak to 7 games and his goal scoring streak to 4 games with his power play marker in the 2nd period. Lewis extended his point streak to 5 games with a goal and a couple of assists. The two combined for 8 points over the 2 weekend games. I do want to mention though that they've had Paul Mailey doing a lot of the leg work for them at even strength. The Trail Captain got rewarded for that when he scored the opener today. Nick Sandor has also looked good with them on the PP. Lewis of course scored the dramatic overtime winner tonight. He made a terrific move at the Burnaby line before wiring a monster shot top shelf on Harrison May. It's a play that reminded me of the four dramatic overtime winners that Brandon Clark and St. Denis scored against Penticton last season at the Cominco Arena. It sure sent the crowd home happy.
This game actually could have been 4-1 Trail if the Smoke Eaters had been able to cut each period down to 19 minutes. They allowed a goal in the final minute of each period that allowed Burnaby to twice take late leads and in the third tie the game. The Smokies got a bit scrambly in those final minutes, but otherwise played a very solid and exciting game. The young defencemen will continue to have their moments, but they are absolutely making progress. Eric Walker especially is standing out as one of Trail's best on the back end despite only being 16 years old. He is playing with the poise and physical presence of a veteran. It's in his blood with a couple of uncles who played pro, but it also has to do with his work ethic.
I singled Walker out, but I really think all the rookies are coming along. That includes Tommy Rizzardo who made his debut as a full time member of the Smokies roster this weekend. There are going to be growing pains for Tommy (especially after not playing any pre-season games due to injury) and the rest of the inexperienced group, but they're going to get sharper and sharper every week. A rough start or some rough games are not surprising. However, the progress we're seeing is promising. Matthews is becoming a physical force who has good instincts. Piccard is just solid, battles for pucks and seems to know where to be. Chaput didn't play but has shown improved confidence moving the puck with each game he plays. As they improve it'll make life a little easier for Steve Koshey and Graeme Strukoff.
As for Wade Bennett, he did an admirable job jumping up to forward tonight. Wade played forward for most of his minor hockey career from what I understand. He converted to the blue line a couple of seasons ago. However, he didn't seem to have any trouble fitting in as he was called upon to make the jump up front tonight with Riley Loyst and Colin Lidster out of the line-up. Bennett I thought showed good instincts and won his share of puck battles in the corners.
The Brown/Sandor/Dyck line also had a heck of a hockey game. Brown and Dyck got huge goals in the third period to tie the game and put Trail ahead. They won a lot of puck battles and played some very solid hockey in their own end. It's a nice and balanced line that I'd like to see more of. Sandor has been a play maker so far this year with 8 assists already. He'll find the net soon. Brown and Dyck are really finding their extra gears after relatively slow starts for both of them. They're both complete players who are the types that Coach Ingram is really going to lean on.
The victory also gave Garrett Beckwith his first win as a Smoke Eater. I'm sure it was a big weight off of his shoulders. Beckwith didn't play poorly in his previous effort, but the team was just not clicking. Tonight it was a nice combination. Beckwith made some great stops and controlled his rebounds well while the team played a much better overall effort in front of him. Beckwith and Smiley are both sound and acrobatic goaltenders who I'm confident will continue to push each other in giving Trail top notch goaltending. I didn't talk about the Friday night game in Penticton on here, but Smiley deserves a lot of credit for some of the ridiculous saves he made in that one before the Smokies folded the tent on him in the third. Both guys deserve full marks for their play even if the stats don't back that up. As the team continues to improve the goaltenders will get numbers that reflect that. They should at least both know that they're doing their jobs.
There were a lot of skeptical fans in the crowd tonight as I made my walks around the rink. Fair enough. However, they saw a lot to be happy about out there tonight. It started with hard work and ended with a victory. That's points in three of four games for Trail and 19 goals in that span. We'll see if Trail can continue to build on that when they go for revenge Tuesday night in Merritt. Don't forget to tune into Mountain FM for that game and to Overtime tomorrow night for a boat load of reaction from the weekend.
...Former Smoke Eater Dylan Herold had a chance to mingle with friends today during the game. The Burnaby Captain was suspended for being involved in the second fight after a whistle on Friday night in Salmon Arm. Too bad we didn't get to see Herold. He has really carved out a great spot for himself in Burnaby after a rough sophomore year in Trail and never really getting going in Merritt. Herold is putting up points, killing penalties and leading the Express in the locker room. Couldn't happen to a classier young man. I'll have an interview with him on the blog later this week. Another former Smoke Eater, Jimmy Geerin looked solid for Burnaby tonight. I always thought he was very good for Trail in half a season here.
...Penticton is the first team to knock off Vernon since April. Talk about an incredible run. It's going to be hard for anyone to stop the Vipers this season. The Vees certainly have the talent to test them. Doesn't sound like the game had anywhere near the action that the Burnaby/Trail game did, but a win is a win is a win.
...Meritt fired over 40 shots on Salmon Arm but still lost 7-3. The Cents will visit Westside Sunday before Trail comes to town on Tuesday.
...Beaver Valley lost twice this weekend in the KIJHL but will soon get a boost from the return of Kris Davis to their back end. Nelson beat the Nitehawks on Friday and will play Sunday. Grand Forks lost on the road Friday and plays Columbia Valley on Sunday. That same Rockies squad is coming off an 11-1 loss in Castlegar tonight. Erik Wentzel scored a hat trick and had an assist in his return to the Rebels.
...Can you think of a worse first game for a veteran NHL goaltender on a new team than what happened in Edmonton tonight?