Monday, November 30, 2009

Post Game: Penticton 4 Trail 2

Trail, BC – Steve Koshey and Nick Sandor gave Trail (10-20-1-1) two different leads, but the Smokies couldn't hang on against the 5th ranked team in Canada. Beau Bennett's 2 goals powered the Vees to a 4-2 victory on the 60th anniversary of the Cominco Arena.

Trail fired 16 shots on the Vees in the first period. Joel Rumpel was exceptional in the Penticton goal and kept his team from getting into a large early hole. Only Koshey's blast from the left point eluded Rumpel for a 1-0 Trail lead after 20 minutes.

Ben Sexton's 4th goal of the season tied the game for Penticton early in the second period.

Trail answered back as Travis St. Denis and Mike Betz set up Nick Sandor for his 20th of the season just as a Smokies power play expired. Sandor took a pass from Betz and put the puck between his and Rumpel's legs to give Trail their second lead.

The Smokies didn't hang on to that lead for long as Bennett struck on the power play with a highlight reel goal on the man advantage.

The Vees power play struck again in the third period as Garrett Milan knocked in the rebound off a Bennett shot to give Penticton their first lead of the game. Bennett then put it out of reach by scoring his second of the game with a quick release from the top of the slot.

Rumpel stopped 29 of 31 Trail shots for the win. Kiefer Smiley as sharp for the Smokies with 31 saves on 35 Vees shots.

ON THE TRAIL: The loss snapped Trail's three game winning streak ... Graeme Strukoff and Tye Lewis were still out with lower body injuries, Josh McEwan was scratched ... Betz extended his point streak to six games with an assist on the Sandor goal. Sandor has now scored 20 goals in his last 18 games after not scoring in his first 14 ... The win for Penticton breaks their strange streak of four straight overtime losses at the Cominco Arena ... The Smoke Eaters next action is in Salmon Arm on Friday night.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Post Game: Trail 6 Prince George 5 (OT), Mellor Interview

Here's the recap of last night's game from the BCHL website:

The Trail Smoke Eaters let a two-goal lead get away in the third period, but rebounded in overtime to top the Prince George Spruce Kings by a 6-5 score.

After a scoreless first period, the teams exchanged six goals in the second period by scoring three apiece. Sam Mellor and Nick Sandor -- with a pair -- netted for Trail while Zac Rasmussen, Brooks Robinson and Wes McLeod replied for the Spruce Kings.

Trail took a quick two-goal lead just 1:34 into the third, but Prince George bounced back with a pair to force overtime and set the stage for Mellor's winner.

Garrett Beckwith picked up the win for Trail with 36 saves, while Steve Papciak faced 54 shots in the loss.

The victory was Trail's third straight and fourth in their last five games.

The Spruce Kings now travel for a Saturday night meeting with the Vees, while the Smoke Eaters remain at home awaiting that same Penticton squad on Sunday.

Here's my interview with Sam Mellor after the game:

Smokies Forward Sam Mellor

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...Tye Lewis missed the game for Trail last night with a minor lower body injury. It happened after his third goal on Thursday night against Quesnel. At first Lewis felt like he would be fine and ready to play against Prince George. Unfortunately the injury will instead keep him out of the line-up for a brief but yet undetermined amount of time. It's not a serious injury and should only require a couple of weeks off at most. Graeme Strukoff was also out of the line-up with his re-aggravated injury and Sean Nugent was suspended.

...Wade Bennett and Thomas Abenante took Nugent and Lewis' spots in the line-up. On the back end, Phillip Patenaude filled in as an affiliate player for the third time this seasons. He has an assist in each one of those games. Patenaude again didn't look out of place. However, he was surprisingly the only player in the entire game to take a penalty. His minor for tripping in the second period was the only penalty called by referee Grant Tyson. The Smoke Eaters and Spruce Kings both played a hard nosed and physical game. Tyson let them play that game without sticking his nose in to try and be a deciding factor. I thought it was one of the best performances I've seen from a ref in the BCHL. If you're going to let them play you have to be consistent. I felt he was.

...You see 11 goals and might think the goaltenders had an off night. In my view both Papciak and Beckwith played very strong games. The only goal that you could really fault either of them on was when Beckwith turned the puck over to start the second period. Otherwise they both made some huge stops to keep their team in it when the momentum was with their opponent.

...The way I described this game last night on the broadcast was a highly entertaining battle between two skilled, determined and in some ways flawed teams. They each made some key mistakes at key times. However, they also had the skill and heart to put those mistakes behind them and continue fighting hard for the two points. Prince George had a let down in allowing Trail to jump out to a 5-3 lead early in the third, but they battled back and forced overtime. The Smoke Eaters had a let down in allowing the Spruce Kings to come back from the 5-3 deficits, but they kept fighting and found a way to win the game in overtime. It was a highly entertaining game and I'm sorry that their season series is already over. 3 of the 4 games between the Smokies and Spruce Kings were among the most entertaining games this year.

...For the first time this season Trail has won three straight games and four of their last five. Their scoring has certainly been the key to those victories. They've scored 23 goals in their last 3 games and 31 in their last 5. That's an average just over 6 goals a game. Mike Betz had 14 points over that 5 game span and 11 in his last 3. Nick Sandor also has 11 points over the last 3 games while Scott Jacklin has 9. That's some ridiculous production. In doing that the Smoke Eaters have moved themselves to within 1 point of Quesnel and 3 points of Prince George in the Interior Conference standings.

...After a run of games against the northern teams the Smokies will now have to prove themselves against the Okanagan clubs over the next couple of weeks. They've got Penticton, Salmon Arm, Vernon and Westside over the next four games. With three of them at home it is a real opportunity for the Smoke Eaters to prove they have made some big strides by being competitive with the league's top teams.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Game Day Audio

After last night's 8-2 win over Quesnel I had the chance to chat with several members of the Smoke Eaters about that win and tonight's game with Prince George. The Smokies lead the season series with the Spruce Kings 2-0-0-1. They beat Prince George twice on the road, but lost in overtime when the two teams last met at the Cominco Arena. This is the last game Trail will play this season against any of the northern teams. Their record so far is 7-3-0-1. Another win tonight for Trail tonight would bring them within 1 point of Quesnel and 2 of the Spruce Kings.

Smokies Forward Tye Lewis

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Smokies Defenceman Steve Koshey

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Smokies Goaltender Kiefer Smiley

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Smokies Coach Jim Ingram

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Halfway Point, BCHL Notes

Tonight's win over Quesnel marks the halfway point of the 2009-2010 BCHL season for Trail. Penticton Vees play by play guy Ryan Pinder and I are planning to blog about that on a live blog this Tuesday night so stay tuned for more details on that.

From a Smoke Eaters perspective the end of the first half of the season means the end of a ridiculous run of road games. They played 2/3 of their road schedule before even reaching this point. 20 of the first 29 games were away from the Cominco Arena. For a team with Trail's tough travel schedule that made it difficult for them to get any momentum going. The Smokies were also breaking in a lot of rookies and new players especially on the back end. Those players traditionally take a month or two to really get comfortable and confident with the level of play in the BCHL. When you break down the first 30 games into 10 game segments you can see that is starting to happen.
  • First 10 games: 2-7-1-0
  • Second 10 games: 2-7-0-1
  • Third 10 games: 5-5-0-0
The Smokies had a really tough go of it in their first 20 games while breaking in all those new players. Now that they've had key minutes in all situations we're starting to see that hard work pay off. For anyone who has watched the team since September you are now seeing a totally different side of guys like Garrett Beckwith, Tommy Rizzardo, Eric Walker, Wade Bennett and Ben Matthews on the back end. They're all a lot more confident and poised. We also shouldn't forget that the 2nd year veterans on the blue line like Steve Koshey, Graeme Strukoff and Mitch Kaufmann are all 18 years old and still have a lot of developing to do as well. Another 30 games is a big difference when you've only played a year and a half at this level. Plus both Beckwith and veteran Kiefer Smiley have been playing their best hockey in the past 3 weeks. Everyone seems to have more confidence.

While all that ice time for the young guys is starting to pay off on the back end, we're also seeing a forward group with more scoring depth than I think I've ever seen in my time here. Every forward in the top 6 is scoring at at least a point per game pace. The "third line" is as good as the second line has been in previous seasons. Here's a situation where some injuries and new opportunities have thrust some guys into roles where they were able to prove they can produce points. Now Coach Ingram can be confident enough with his entire forward group to roll four lines and know there won't be a shift off for the opposition. The whole top 9 has a ton of skill while the current fourth line has skill and also the ability to work and grind you to death in the corners. Vernon has had so much of their success with the ability to send wave after wave of top end forwards at the opposition. If the Smokies are willing to work as hard as the Vipers do or harder I feel like the skill is here to play in a similar way. However, the work ethic has to be consistent or that skill won't amount to anything.

I'm not saying we can expect a 25-5 run in the second half of the season. There will continue to be growing pains. I'm sure there will be more injuries and bad games here and there. However, I have to believe the worst is behind them. The initial growing pains and endless bus trips are a thing of the past. Now is Trail's opportunity to use those lessons they learned to pull away from the other teams in the so called "second tier" of the Interior Conference and start putting a scare into the Okanagan teams. They can start doing that with 2 more home games this weekend and then 7 of 8 in December. If this team is as talented as I believe they are they'll prove it during this stretch.

Now that we're at that halfway point we can also take a look at who might be potential winners at the awards dinner 3 months from now.

MVP: Last year's winner Ryan Bulach did it all for Trail. He was the leading scorer and one of the top defensive forwards. Scott Jacklin is a guy who is making that kind of an impact for Trail right now at both ends of the ice. The entire top 6 forward group is producing at a similar rate and all could get consideration depending who has a stronger finish. Lewis, Mellor, Sandor, and St. Denis have all been go to guys depending on the game. Dyck has been producing at the same rate as them since a slower September. Wilkins was there too before his injury and Mailey's scoring is coming back. Right now I think my choice would have to be Jacklin. However if we see Mike Betz continue at anywhere near a 2.2 point per game pace that will likely change. You also have to consider a very impressive 21 points in 29 games on the back end from Steve Koshey. Of course this could all change come March.

Leading Scorer: Right now it seems like it'll be between Jacklin, Sandor and Lewis. St. Denis and Mellor could still catch up though. The team has up to 7 guys who realistically could score 20 goals this season. Only 2 scored that many last season. Scoring has not been the issue in the first half.

Top Defenseman:
Danny DeKeyser won this award for Trail last year after a superb second half of his rookie season. I could easily see one of the first year Smokies like Matthews, Walker, Kaufmann and Rizzardo play a huge second half to take the award. Right now you'd have to go with Koshey based on his very significant offensive production and much improved play in his own end. He had a tough September but has been making big strides at both ends of the ice. Also don't count out Graeme Strukoff for this one once he gets healthy. Unfortunately injuries have limited him to 17 games so far.

Rookie of the Year: Travis St. Denis took this last year after he emerged as an offensive force in the last 2/3 of the season. It didn't take Sam Mellor that long. The Cranbrook product has been one of Trail's best forwards from the moment the puck dropped in September. He's been scoring goals, winning puck battles and playing smart hockey all season. Wilkins could give him a run for his money, but he's hampered by those missing 18 games. Any of the four rookie defenceman could also challenge for the award with a big second half. Look at how much of an impact Eric Walker has already had, and as a 16 year old he's got so much room to grow.

Fan Favourite: Jadon Porterfield won this last year and if that's the style of play the fans love I'd have to think Josh McEwan and Sean Nugent would have a really good chance this season. McEwan is a mad dog out there who doesn't seem to fight unless he's giving up 2 or 3 inches and 10 to 30 pounds. He's got the never say die kind of attitude that fans in Trail love. Nugent is another guy who will fight hard for every puck and pound his opponent into sand. However, if the fans go another way I could also see this one going to one of the many local players on the team.

Most Improved: It depends if you define this as most improved from the start of the season or most improved from last year. Porterfield won this last season so I assume it was most improved since the start of the year. In that case right now I'd have to go with Tommy Rizzardo or Darnell Dyck. Both had slow starts and have come on to be two of the team's most reliable players. I'd also like to think that by the time the season comes to an end we could be saying the same thing about the goaltenders. It seems like we're headed that way. If it's most improved from last season Dyck again qualifies as he's already almost doubled his point total. Scott Jacklin had a very slow start to his Trail career and is now one of the team's best players. Steve Koshey has already almost equalled his point total from his rookie year, is playing with a lot more confidence and is in better shape.

As for the awards like inspirational, most dedicated and the sportsmanship/hard work award... it's hard for me to really speculate on that stuff. As well as I know the players I'm not in the dressing room or at practice. That's why these awards are in the hands of the coaches. I do know there are a ton of very good candidates for those awards starting with the team's leadership core.

The first half has obviously been a frustrating one for the Smoke Eaters. I think I probably expected a record closer to .500 than where they are now. 13-16 wins was more in the range I thought we would see. However, they are well positioned to make a run at getting close to .500 in the second half. Hopefully we'll see some big crowds at the Cominco Arena as the guys finally get an extended run at home.


...As you've heard and read elsewhere the Merritt Centennials are starting life without the Forsythe brothers. Coach and GM team Dylan and Tyler have either quit or been fired depending on who you talk to. Is it that hard to put out a press release? Luke Pierce takes over as the fourth coach in Merritt in 2009. Al Glendinning, Joey Bouchard and the Forsythes have all left or been shown the door in a turbulent year for the Cents. Pierce is for now just the interim Coach and GM. Can he last? A 7-3 win over Williams Lake is a good start for the young man only a year removed from his playing career. That being said, his long term future will likely depend on how consistent the team can be and what other candidates are available. I do know that I've heard from several sources how well liked Pierce is among the players and staff of the club. If that translates into them working and playing hard for him it's a good start. He has to go up against a league full of very experienced coaches so he'll need all that good will and more.

As for the departure of Dylan and Tyler Forsythe, it's hard to comment on their ability without really knowing what was going on behind closed doors. I will say that generally it's unfair to judge a Coach/GM without at least giving them a full off season to recruit their own players. The Forsythe's came into this situation very late in the game with almost no time to properly recruit. Even when Bouchard was hired I felt like it was too late in the game. Is this the team they would have had in Merritt if they had taken over in March or April? I highly doubt it. That doesn't mean the team they'd have recruited would be better or worse. I'm just saying they really didn't get a chance to prove it one way or another.

I know there was talk of them being involved with some potential investors for the Cents. I assume their departure likely signals the end of that interest. Hopefully whatever hiring the club makes in the future will be entirely hockey related rather than connected somehow to one potential ownership group or another. In the end the society is still running the club and hiring Bouchard for one ownership group and the Forsythes for another (if that is what happened) doesn't seem to have done anything for Merritt. Hire a good hockey guy and that'll work for any reasonable new owner.

I certainly wish Luke good luck in his new role.

...The Okanagan clubs have started making their moves as we start the flurry of activity heading to the December 1rst carding deadline and the January 10th trading deadline. Salmon Arm struck first in dealing local product Mike Puddifant to Burnaby for Matt Ridley. Ridley has moved around from Cowichan Valley to Penticton to Burnaby and now to Salmon Arm in the past couple of seasons. His talent and pedigree is undeniable. However, the son of former NHLer Mike Ridley has yet to find the consistency and mental game to go with his undeniable talent. Playing with the high end talent in Salmon Arm will certainly give him that opportunity. As for Puddifant, he's a hard working young player who will give his all for an Express team that needs a spark.

It's also a very important move for Salmon Arm because 16 year old super rookie Jagger Dirk has left the team for Chicago of the USHL. That's the same team that sniped Patrick Raley from the Smoke Eaters and Sahir Gill from the Vipers. It's bad enough to have them take players from this league in the off season, but when it starts happening during the season? Yikes. Dirk has been a major player on Salmon Arm's young blue line. Ridley is going to have to replace Dirk's offensive production while making up for the loss of Puddifant's solid play in his own end.

...The Vernon Vipers have made a blockbuster deal sending a couple of very promising young players in Nick Amies and Drew George (plus futures) to Cowichan Valley for stud defenceman Curtis Gedig (plus futures). There are a couple of ways we could go with this one. One thought is why would the Vipers want to mess with their chemistry by making a move like this when they're already 28-1 to start the season. Let me again note that they've only lost one game!

Of course anyone saying that probably hasn't talked to Vipers Coach and GM Mark Ferner. Every time I've interviewed him this season he's made it clear he is not yet satisfied with how they've played. He judges the team on their performance not on their opponents and it seems like he still wants to see them play better. That's a scary thought for the rest of the BCHL. Plus while it's always tough to trade good young players like George and Amies, they aren't trading guys who were key cogs on either of their special teams units. We're not talking about core players or members of their leadership group. These are young players whose best seasons in the BCHL are ahead of them.

In return the Vipers get an NHL draft pick who is among the better all around defencemen in the league. Gedig may only have 9 points so far this season, but he's a guy who can play in every situation. I saw him dominate a game here in Trail. He was basically the only reason the Capitals were in that game and pushed them to a 3-2 win. That's just one example, but in talking to coaches, players, broadcasters and scouts around the league there's no question he's considered one of the better completely players out there. He'll also get a great opportunity to pad that point total playing with the deepest roster in the league.

As good as the Vipers are I'm not sure they had a defenceman with as much pure ability as Gedig. I think he can walk into that dressing room and take a spot on both of their top special teams units. I also know that he's a player who would have been a target for any other top team looking to improve their depth on the back end. Can you tell me that he wouldn't have been a welcome addition to Penticton, Westside and especially Salmon Arm? The Vipers in making this move both add Gedig to their line-up and make sure he doesn't end up with one of their closest rivals.

It's a good move. It's also a good move for the Capitals as they add top end young talent in Amies and George. There are also futures involved in the deal that could make it even more valuable depending on what they are. Will next year's Vipers miss those two young talents? Sure they will, but they're also a team that doesn't even have a slight problem recruiting good young talent. Do you think they'll have any issue filling those spots next year? It's all about winning a Royal Bank Cup again this season -- and this move makes that more likely.

Let us not forget that it also clears a roster spot heading towards the December 1rst deadline. The Vipers had 23 guys on their roster and now will be down to 22. I wouldn't be surprised to see them move one of their 8 d-men to move down to 21 before then. At that point their roster players and cards can only total 25. If Vernon had held on to all 23 players they'd have limited the amount of movement they could make at the trade deadline if any injuries or opportunities came up before then.

What do you think?

...The Quesnel Millionaires also got in on the act by picking up forward Jesse Verheyden from Winnipeg in the MJHL and Clayton Chessa from Surrey. Verheyden played last year for Burnaby and has also played for Merritt and Alberni Valley. Both forwards immediately jumped on to their top line with Trevor Hertz. I thought they were the only good line for Quesnel in their 8-2 loss in Trail. Perhaps Chessa is another player like Darnell Dyck was in Surrey -- just didn't get the opportunity to show what they're capeable of. The Millionaires certainly needed to add some forward depth. However, in doing that they appear to have let go of Eric Hansen. Are they much better off with Verheyden over Hansen? It's an improvement, but I don't know if it's a huge one.

...The KIJHL announced that they will welcome the expansion Osoyoos Coyotes into the league for next season. That will bring the league up to 8 Thompson/Okanagan teams and 10 Kootenay teams. Are we headed towards a split and the eventual formation of the Okanagan Junior Hockey League? All parties deny that at this point, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it happen. They're already cutting back the travel between the two conferences. With each up to at least 8 teams it will soon be easy for owners to say "well why not cut our travel bills and just stick to our own region?" I also think that the number of teams continues to dilute the talent pool in the league. They have the lowest number of 20 year olds of any Junior B league and that has allowed them to focus on being the best developmental Junior B league out there. However, with a limit of only 2 16 year olds and their limit of 20 year olds... it's going to be hard to fill 18 rosters with enough strong 17, 18 and 19 year olds. Especially with Major Midget, BCHL, WHL and now USHL teams all after the best young players.

...I'm still planning to do a full alumni update on the blog soon. If you want links to the graduated alumni you can find it on the official site by clicking here. I did want to note that Grant Rollheiser is back healthy and playing for Boston University. He'll be getting the start at the historic Madison Square Garden this weekend. That'll be an experience for the big guy! You should read the Terrior Hockey Fan Blog for the latest on BU. I also wanted to congratulate former Smoke Eater Travis Gawryletz who got the call up from the ECHL Elmira Jackels to the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters. Good luck to Travis as he tries to make an impression at the next level.

...Trail hosts Prince George Friday at 7:30pm and Penticton on Sunday at 3pm. Hope to see you there!

Post Game: Trail 8 Quesnel 2

Trail, BC – It was quite a homecoming for the Smoke Eaters (9-19-1-1) as they scored 7 unanswered goals in an 8-2 win over Quesnel (10-17-0-3). Trail wrapped up the first half of the season with only their 10th home game. The win starts a stretch of 13 of their next 15 games at the Cominco Arena.

Quesnel got goals from Jacob Verheyden and Elliot Raible to take a couple of early one goal leads. However, the Trail offensive machine came alive with 5 second period goals.

Tye Lewis scored his first BCHL hat trick to the lead the way. Scott Jacklin continued his career year with 4 more points while Steve Koshey added 4 of his own. Mike Betz chipped in with 3 assists to bring his point total to 11 in 5 games with the Smoke Eaters.

Trail also got 2 points each from Travis St. Denis, Sam Mellor and Nick Sandor. Kiefer Smiley made 33 saves for his second straight win in the Trail goal.

The Smoke Eaters will host Prince George on Friday night to wrap up all their games with the BCHL's northern teams. Trail won the season series with Williams Lake 3-1, tied Quesnel 2-2 and leads Prince George 2-1.

ON THE TRAIL: The win was Trail's first against Kirby Halcrow in the Quesnel goal. He had only allowed 3 goals in 2 other starts against the Smokies ... Matt Wilkins returned to the line-up for Trail after missing 18 games with a broken jaw. He played on a line with Darnell Dyck and Paul Mailey that produced a goal for Dyck ... Graeme Strukoff was sitll out with a lower body injury while Wade Bennet and Thomas Abenante were scratched. Taylor O'Neil played as an AP for Trail on the blue line. The 1990 born Kelowna product is in his second season with the KIJHL's Nelson Leafs. He played a solid game with his former Nelson teammate Tommy Rizzardo ... Trail's previously struggling penalty kill didn't allow a single goal on Quesnel's 6 power plays. The PK is running at 80% efficiency at home and just over 65% on the road.

Click here for the game summary

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Overtime Podcast, 50000 visitors

Mountain FM's Overtime is now a podcast! If you miss an episode of our weeknight sports talk show we'll have it for you online. It's available on our website right here on the blog if you look to left near the top of the blog. You can also click there to subscribe to the blog on iTunes. Listen to Overtime while you work out, ride the bus, cook dinner, shovel your lane, etc. Just remember that every episode of Overtime is brought to you by OK Tire in Trail. Without or sponsors and everyone who buys adds we couldn't bring you the type of show that isn't available in any other similar sized market. The latest episode we have posted includes a long interview with Smokies Coach and GM Jim Ingram. Check it out. To hear Overtime before it's available online you of course have to listen from 6pm to 10pm every weeknight on Mountain FM.

Also I wanted to quickly mention the blog has passed the 50,000 visitors mark. I don't know if that's good or bad given that it is now a 2 year old website that I've likely put more hours into than I spent on all 5 years of my High School education... we had grade 13 in Ontario at the time. I do know that I've really enjoyed working on the blog over the last 2 years and I hope that you have all enjoyed reading it. What have you enjoyed or not enjoyed about the blog? What kinds of things could I do to make improvements to it? Let me know in the comments section or feel free to e-mail me.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Post Northern Trip Audio

Smokies Forward Nick Sandor

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Smokies Forward Michael Betz

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Nelson Ford Smokies play by play: Trail 7 Prince George 2

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Nelson Ford Smokies play by play: Quesnel 4 Trail 2

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Nelson Ford Smokies play by play: Trail 9 Williams Lake 6

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Betz and Sandor honourable mentions

Trail Smoke Eaters forwards Mike Betz and Nick Sandor received honourable mentions when the BCHL announced their Player of the Week award today. It was won by Wetside's Trevor Bailey. Betz and Sandor actually out scored Bailey. The Warriors forward had 6 points in 3 games while Betz collected 8 points and Sandor had 7. They also both had hat tricks in Trail's 9-6 win over Williams Lake.

Scott Jacklin was also a big scorer for Trail on the trip as he had 2 goals and 8 points over the 3 games. You can vote for Jacklin in a poll on the BCHL website asking fans which BCHL player has had the most impressive offensive breakout as the season's midway point nears. Jacklin has 33 points in 29 games -- 10 more than he had all of last season. Congrats to all of them for their big weeks.

I'll have audio highlights from the weekend as well as interviews with Sandor and Betz on Overtime tonight and later on the blog.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Post Game: Trail 9 Williams Lake 6

I'm just getting back in town after our bus trip from Williams Lake. No time or energy to write my own recap so here's the one from the BCHL website:

The Trail Smoke Eaters and Williams Lake Timberwolves combined for 15 goals -- including seven in the first period and six in the second -- in a wild game that saw the visiting Smokies pull out a 9-6 victory on Saturday evening.

Justin Hogan opened the scoring four minutes in for the Timberwolves, who also received offence from Jason Diehl and a second from Hogan in the first period. Michael Betz, with a pair, and Nick Sandor and Scott Jacklin, on shorthanded efforts, gave the Smoke Eaters the lead heading into the second, however.

Hogan and Betz both completed hat tricks in a second period that saw both teams score a trio of goals. Trail led 7-6 heading into the final frame, where Sandor scored his third and Travis St. Denis capped the scoring late.

A number of players had career outings on the night, as Sandor finished the game with six points while Betz added a pair of assists to his three goals. Trail's Jacklin and Williams Lake's Danny Merth each tallied four points. Kiefer Smiley picked up the victory in net with a 27-save performance.

The Smoke Eaters now return home to begin a three-game homestand that begins Thursday against Quesnel. The Timberwolves, meanwhile, embark on a road trip that on Thursday in Merritt.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pre-Game: Trail at Williams Lake Audio

Mota Auto Repair's Behind the Bench with Smokies Captain Paul Mailey

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RDKB's Visitor's View Point with Timberwolves Assistant Coach Tyler Fuller

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Post Game: Quesnel 4 Trail 2

NOTE: Here is my recap from the official Smokies website. What I'd add to this is that it was again obvious how much this team can accomplish when they are focused and dedicated to working hard. When they aren't? It's ugly.

I don't know how the guys could have started so slowly again after forcing Beckwith to bail them out early in Prince George on Thursday night. This time they did it to Smiley. Both times the goalies came up big, but when you put yourself behind the 8-ball like that you're not always going to come back.

There is so much talent on the team. It's obvious based on the performance once they started getting going. It's obvious based on how they were able to score with ease when they picked up their play in Prince George. They can be as good as anyone when they've got they're all killing themselves for that puck. But how can that group only fire 7 shots on net in the first 30 minutes and follow that with 26 the rest of the way? The answer will only come by looking in the mirror. It'll come from making a true commitment to giving everything they have all the time instead of half the game or every couple of games. All the talent in the world and 50 cents won't buy you a cup of coffee if you get out worked for any extended stretch in a game.

I don't know why that hasn't sunk in yet.

In Theo Fleury's new book he makes a statement that I mentioned during the intermission of tonight's broadcast. It basically amounts to saying that systems don't win games and there's no point in being overly complicated. The bottom line according to Fleury is that you'll win games if your skill guys out work their skill guys. It's that simple. If your best players bust their asses at both ends of the ice you're going to win games. If they take shifts or periods off you're just not.

There's a reason a guy who went through everything Fleury did and had as many physical disadvantages as he did was able to have a hall of fame career. He had the will, desire and work ethic to make it happen no matter how many people doubted him. If skill guys at this level aren't willing to consistently match or exceed the work ethic of their opponents or the role players on their teams... their careers will be over before they're legal drinking age in the US. And there will be nobody else to blame.

Quesnel, BC – A strong second half wasn't enough for Trail (7-19-1-1) to overcome goaltender Kirby Halcrow and a hard working Quesnel Millionaires (10-15-0-3) squad on Friday night. Quesnel took an early 1-0 lead and hung on for a 4-2 victory over the Smokies.

Halcrow stopped 31 of 33 Trail shots. He has only allowed 3 goals on 76 shots in two starts against the Smoke Eaters.

Trail started slowly with only 6 shots in the first period and only a single shot in the first then minutes of the second period. After getting down 2-0 on an Eric Hansen power play goal the Smokies started to bounce back. They out played Quesnel the rest of the way and fired 26 shots on goal in the second half of the game.

Scott Jaclkin's goal on a Trail man advantage brought them to within one. Halcrow then robbed Travis St. Denis on what seemed like a sure goal to preserve the Millionaires lead heading into the third period.

Despite several Trail chances in the third it was Quesnel that would score the next goal. Taylor Holst's 15th of the year with 6:37 left held up as the eventual game winner.

The Smoke Eaters made it close on a terrific shot from a tough angle by Mike Betz on the power play. His second of the the weekend cut Quesnel's lead in half, but the Smokies only had 22 seconds left to score again. Instead, Breyden DeCock put the final nail the Trail coffin with an empty net goal.

While Halcrow was named the first star of the game, former Millionaire Kiefer Smiley matched him save for save. Smiley stopped 37 of 40 Quesnel shots including some huge saves to keep Trail in the game early.

Trail will try to wrap up their final northern swing of the season on a winning note on Saturday night in Williams Lake.

ON THE TRAIL: Quesnel now leads the season series between the teams 2 to 1. Halcrow has been the first star for both Millionaire wins. He was at the World Junior A Challenge when Trail beat Quesnel 8-2 ... Graeme Strukoff and Matt Wilkins missed the game with injures. Both players are week to week at this point ... Colton Semenok made his debut with Trail as an AP. He jumped seemlessly into the Smokies line-up and earned extensive praise from Trail assistant coach Brian Youngson during his second intermission interview on Mountain FM. Semenok won the confidence of the coaches to the point that he was on the power play and penalty kill in the third period. His strong performance follows a fine effort by AP Philip Patenaude on Friday night in Prince George. With similarely strong games from AP forwards Gavin Currie and Jesse Niemi this season the Smoke Eaters have been blessed by strong call-ups ... Youngson got booted from the game in the second period for arguing a 10 minute misconduct penalty called against Trail forward Tye Lewis ... Betz also had an assist on Trail's first goal. He now has 3 points in 3 games since joining the Smokies from Spokane in the WHL.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pre-Game: Trail at Quesnel Audio

Mota Auto Repair's Behind the Bench with Brian Youngson

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RDKB's Visitor's View Point with Quesnel Coach Glen Watson

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Re-Max All Pro Realty's First Intermission with AP Colton Semenok

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Post Game: Trail 7 Prince George 3

Prince George, BC – The line of Scott Jacklin, Tye Lewis and Sam Mellor combined for 8 points in Trail's (7-18-1-1) 7-3 win over Prince George (10-16-1-1). Darnell Dyck, Paul Mailey and Mitch Kaufmann also added 2 points each in the victory.

Garrett Beckwith was sharp with 31 saves for the Smokies. He was really tested early as Trail was on their heels in the first ten minutes. Prince George out shot the Smokies 15-8 in the first period, but Nick Sandor's goal made sure the Spruce Kings only had a 2-1 lead after one.

Mellor's power play goal early in the second period was the first of six unanswered markers for Trail. Steve Koshey put the Smoke Eaters ahead for the first time when he snuck in from the point and tapped in a great feed from Jacklin. Koshey played and was very effective despite being a game time decision after an injury in Vernon.

Kyle Nielson replaced Steve Papciak in the Prince George goal to start the third period.

Mike Betz knocked in the rebound from a Paul Mailey shot to score his first career BCHL goal. It would stand up as the eventual winner. Mellor scored his second of the game on some great passing from Jacklin and Lewis. Sean Nugent also converted after a terrific pass from Tommy Rizzardo.

The Smokies closed out their scoring as Darnell Dyck used some quick hands to tuck a puck in at the side of the Spruce Kings net. Affiliate player Philip Patenaude got his first assist on the play.

Lyndon Martel, Stewart Lambert and Wes McLeod scored for Prince George.

ON THE TRAIL: This was Trail's final game in Prince George this season. The Smokies lead the season series 2-1. The teams will play again next week in Trail ... Matt Wilkins and Graeme Strukoff missed the game with injuries ... Patenaude was at Trail's training camp in August. He had 14 points in 18 games with Nelson in the KIJHL. The Smokies also have AP defenceman Colton Semenok with them for the weekend trip. He played a season with Canmore in the AJHL and has 3 assists in 14 games with Beaver Valley in the KIJHL ... Trail visits Quesnel on Friday night and Williams Lake on Saturday.

Click here for the boxscore

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

DeKeyser and Youngson Interviews

Danny DeKeyser on his scholarship

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Smokies Assistant Coach Brian Youngson on Vernon games

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Great to have a chance to catch up with Danny and I know everyone in the organization is really happy for him. Not my best performance in the interview as I was severely groggy this morning. Unusual for me to have trouble sleeping like I have this week. Got a big bus trip to correct that. We hit the road tomorrow morning for the second and final northern road trip of the season. After Saturday Trail will have finished 2/3 of their road schedule in only 29 games. There's a big long home stand just around the corner. Once we make it into the hotel in Quesnel I'll probably have an update tomorrow night on whether or not any extra bodies were needed and are coming on the trip. I'll also have details and audio on two pretty big stories for the KIJHL's Beaver Valley Nitehawks. 16 year old forward Aaron Hadley has been named to Team Pacific for the World Under 17 Challenge and the Nitehawks have been picked to host this year's KIJHL All-Star Game. We'll have more on that tomorrow during Mountain FM newscasts and tomorrow night on the blog.

Here's a quick look back to how Trail looked on their last and very recent northern swing...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

DeKeyser to Western Michigan

Congratulations are due to former Trail Smoke Eater Danny DeKeyser who has committed to Western Michigan in the NCAA. Last season's Smokies defenceman of the year has earned that elusive Div 1 scholarship that so many terrific junior players are after. It's also a perfect fit for Danny as the school is only two and a half hours away from his family home. It couldn't happen to a more deserving young man.

DeKeyser was one of at least 10 BCHL level defencemen in Trail's training camp last season. He came from being a relative unknown in these parts to earning a spot among the eight guys who broke out of camp on the back end. Danny and the other rookies in that group each took their turns sitting out some games early. It didn't appear that he was necessarily going to emerge from the pack.

After those first few weeks of the season DeKeyser never sat again. He especially emerged as a force when an injury put Brandon Clark out of the line-up. Clark had been the obvious leader of Trail's back end early in the season and was at the time likely the team's MVP. When Clark went down a lot of ice time opened up and DeKeyser stepped up to prove he was one of the top young players in the league. He finished the year with 8 goals and 17 assists, but the majority of those points were scored as his game evolved in the second half of the year.

Danny was a pleasure to watch last season and everyone who watched him play knew it was only a matter of time before the scholarship offers came his way. DeKeyser chose to play closer to home this season in the USHL where he has 4 points in 7 games. However, I'd say his year in Trail was what woke up the hockey world to how much potential the Michigan native has. As Danny's game continues to grow this season in the USHL and he continues to mature physically, I believe he'll be a player to watch in the NCAA.

That whole back end from last season has made tremendous strides. DeKeyser is the first of the 08 rookies to line-up a scholarship, but it won't be long before guys like Koshey, Strukoff, Zmurchyk, Reardon and Smutek get those calls coming in. I also certainly expect Patrick Raley (who while technically not a rookie was like a whole new player last season compared to when we first saw him) to find his way to college opportunities. They were all part of a very exciting run to 11th spot in the national rankings last fall. It's just to bad that some key injuries pulled the rug out from under that team.

Congratulations to Danny and his family. All their hard work and dedication over the years has paid off. An opportunity like this means that no matter what happens in hockey, Danny is setting himself up for life. That's what this is all about.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Smokies drop both weekend games

Vernon, BC – Travis St. Denis' first career hat trick was the highlight of back to back losses for the Trail Smoke Eaters (6-18-1-1) in Vernon (24-1-0-0). The Vipers beat Trail 8-4 and 7-1 on Friday and Saturday nights.

Sam Mellor and Paul Mailey scored Trail's other goals. Darnell Dyck had 2 assists.

Montrose native Connor Jones responded with a hat trick of his own on Saturday. The Jones twins combined for 11 points while Vernon out shot the Smokies 91-51 over the weekend.

The Vipers have won all four games between the two teams this season. The defending national champions have only lost once so far this season.

Trail's next action is in Prince George on Thursday. After this week's northern trip the Smoke Eaters will then play 13 of their next 15 games at home.

ON THE TRAIL: Trail was only the second team this season to score at least 4 goals against Vernon in a game ... Travis St. Denis' hat trick was the second by a Smoke Eater so far this season. Nick Sandor scored one against Surrey in October ... Kiefer Smiley faced 72 shots in two starts over the weekend. Garrett Beckwith stopped 17 of 19 Vernon shots in relief of Smiley on Saturday ... Mike Betz suffered a lower body injury in his debut with Trail on Friday. Steve Koshey was injured in Saturday's game. The status of both players is questionable heading into this week's games ... Matt Wilkins will not return for the northern trip but will likely be back with the Smokies for their next home games ... Graeme Strukoff was suspended for Saturday's game after being involved in the second fight after a whistle. Strukoff squared off with Vipers Captain Kevin Kraus after Kraus was the third man into an altercation between Ben Matthews and Braden Pimm.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Betz and Ingram Interviews

Smokies Forward Mike Betz

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Smokies Coach Jim Ingram

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Betz to Trail

The Trail Smoke Eaters have added 1992 born forward Mike Betz to their line-up. Betz played parts of this and last season with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL. Last year in 30 games as a 16 year old he had 2 points and was a +3 player. The Chiefs then sent him down to Sicamous in the KIJHL where he made a huge impression with 17 points in 13 games. This is a player that has a very imrpessive skill set. So much so that he was Spokane's 1rst round draft pick in the 2007 WHL Bantam draft. Betz went 12th overall. He'll join the Smokies with an eye to getting more playing time and developing his game as the Chiefs still believe he will become a full time fixture on their roster in seasons to come. It certainly doesn't hurt for Trail to develop a relationship with Spokane for similar situations in the future. In the meantime though he will bring his bag of tricks to Trail's line-up which includes some terrific puck skills, an excellent reach and a very good shot. He gives the Smokies another valuable right handed shot (EDIT: while the WHL website lists him as a right handed shot pictures I've since found show him shooting left so my apologies for the mistake), and with a 6'2, 215 pound frame he might be ideal to stick in front of the net on the power play. Betz is in practice this week and will likely make his Smokies debut this weekend on the road in Vernon on Friday and Saturday nights. As always yuo can hear those games on Mountain FM with Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters play by play at 104.1 FM in Trail.

Unfortunately this addition also meant that someone had to go. Trail released defencemen David Piccard and Marc-Antoine Chaput to make room for Betz and to clear space heading into the December 1rst cut down date. By then the number of players on your roster and cards you have left to use can't exceed 25. Now the Smokies will have 22 players on the roster with 3 cards left to use. Depending on whether they make any moves before December 1rst that could leave them in a pretty strong position to make some moves before the January trade deadline. Of course there is always a lot of activity heading into that December 1rst cut down day so you never know what could come before then.

I do want to say a quick word about each player. I think both Piccard and Chaput absolutely have the ability to be impact players in Junior A. Piccard thinks the game well and rarely makes one of those big mistakes out there. He's solid, smart and effective. David wasn't going to make a huge offensive contribution at this level, but given time to continue developing he really is a guy you could count on in your own end. He showed what he could do in helping Nelson to a KIJHL championship last season and again really upped his game over the last month here in Trail. He is also a very classy and respectful young man who I'm sure will find success at whatever it is he chooses to do now.

Chaput took a couple of weeks to adjust to the move to Trail after coming all the way out from Quebec to play for Surrey. He has very good puck skills and the instinct of an offensive defenceman. That showed in his ability to make a transition to playing forward when called upon. In fact he even put up 3 points in a single game when he was playing up front against Quesnel. He's not a big player but he's willing to battle hard in the corners. He also thinks the game well and works hard. I suspect this is absolutely not the last we've seen of him at this level whether it's here or somewhere else in Canada.

Both players can make a contribution to this or another Junior A club. Unfortunately it was a numbers game. After the addition of Tommy Rizzardo (who had been injured in training camp) and Mitch Kaufmann the Smokies had 9 defencemen. That was never going to last. Injures to Graeme Strukoff and Justin Brown delayed the decision and gave some guys a chance to show what they could do. I'm sad to see both Piccard and Chaput go, but it's not a reflection of their inability to get the job done in my view as much as it is just the reality of having so many inexperienced guys on one team. They could have easily fit with anyone as a 5th or 6th guy this year but Trail had too many of those guys as rookies and needed to make a couple of moves to change that.

I wish them both well and am looking forward to seeing Betz in action. Every scouting report I've heard so far has been extremely positive. The first step for him in the orange and black again will likely be on Friday night in Vernon against the defending national champions. Talking about walking right into the fire! Should be a heck of an introduction to the BCHL for him.

If Betz turns out to be a forward with say "top 6" skills the Smokies are putting themselves in an excellent position when it comes to forward depth. With the emergence of Darnell Dyck, the return of Justin Brown from injury and the forthcoming return of Matt Wilkins from his injury the forward depth is looking very good. We could easily see 3 very good scoring lines here in Trail as things shape up over the next couple of weeks.

I'll have an interview with Smokies Coach Jim Ingram about the move tomorrow night on Mountain FM's Overtime between 6pm and 10pom again at 104.1 FM in Trail or on our website. The interview will be on the blog later on. I'll also try to track down the coaches in Spokane to get their view on Betz and what we can expect from him here in Trail.


...The Smoke Eaters also moved the rights of F Adam Gummer (89) to Spruce Grove of the AJHL for the rights of D Ryan Stanton (89). Stanton is in his fourth year with the WHL's Moose Jaw Warriors. He's got 18 points in 18 games and is very likely going to finish his junior career in the WHL. This is just a matter of making a deal that will allow Gummer to continue his hockey career after not reporting to Trail's camp in August. This should make it clear to those who were calling for his rights to be used to acquire a 20 year old veteran defenceman that no such deal was even close to being out there. Hopefully Gummer gets his game back with Spruce Grove. He was Drayton Valley's leading scorer at the time that Trail picked him up for Skyler Smutek last year.

...Ryan Pinder's Vees blog reported today that Penticton made a move sending F Adam Zamec (89) to the Welington Dukes of the CCHL for future considerations. That leaves the Vees with one extra 20 year old slot for any additions between now and the January trade deadline.