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.