Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Post Game: Vernon 4 Trail 1, News and Notes

I thought the Smokies put up a terrific fight tonight against Vernon. That's a team that will probably only lose a handfull of games for the rest of the season. Trail battled them hard for a full sixty minutes. The Smokies have significantly cut down on their defensive errors and major blunders. Compare the game to a Smokies effort from two months ago and it's night and day.

Garrett Beckwith and strong positional team defence held Trail in the game through the first two periods. They gave themselves a chance to win down only 2-1. However, the Smokies made a couple of mistakes on pinches while trying to press for the tie game. Those mistakes turned into goals and put the game out of reach. If one or both of those pinches are instead successful we could be talking about a different result. That's hockey.

The main problem for Trail is that all these improved efforts against the league's top teams haven't turned into points. They're going to need victories over teams above .500 is they're going to make any kind of move in the standings. Right now they're seemingly a goal or two away from being able to do that. Their ability to get those wins will possibly be the difference between making and missing the playoffs.

As for the game coming up against Merritt tomorrow... I heard a lot of fans say it's a must win. I think it's an important game. To me if Trail plays the same way against Merritt as they do against Vernon or Westside they should be able to beat the Cents. If they play loose and relaxed like they did that last time Merritt was in town they'll allow the Centennials to continue a surprising dominance over the Smokies this season.

The Merritt game won't make or break this season. A couple of wins down the stretch over other sub .500 teams like Merritt and Williams Lake only leads to an early playoff exit or even missing out on the big dance. If Trail is really making the kind of progress I think they are, they're going to have to find a way to get points against the teams they aren't expected to beat. That way no single game will make or break anything. They must have higher ambitions than that.

Here's my recap from the official website:
Trail, BC - The improving efforts don't seem to be lending themselves to a lot of points for the Smoke Eaters this month. On Tuesday Trail battled the top ranked Vernon Vipers for 60 close minutes and came up short.

Similar efforts against Penticton, Westside and Salmon Arm this month have rendered similar results. Trail's overall game has improved significantly, but they are still a goal or two away in games against the Interior's top teams.

11 saves from Garrett Beckwith were key as the Smokies and Vipers ended the first period in a scoreless tie. Vernon would jump out to a 2-0 lead in the second before Thomas Abenante answered back for the Smokies. The Trail native knocked home a nice feed after Wade Bennett forced a turnover and sent the puck to the slot.

Down a goal entering the third period the Smoke Eaters started taking some risks to try and get the tying goal. Two missed pinches turned into goals for Cory Kane and Braden Pimm as Vernon secured the victory.

Beckwith stopped 36 shots in the loss while Graeme Gordon made 25 saves for the Vipers.

In what may be his final game in the Cominco Arena, Montrose native Connor Jones scored the game winner and added an assist for Vernon. Tuesday was the final game of the season series between the two teams. Connor and his brother Kellen will be leaving the BCHL to play NCAA hockey next season.

The next action for Trail will be Wednesday night at home against Merritt.

...We named our first Mountain FM Athlete of the Year award winners tonight on Overtime. Vipers forward Connor and Kellen Jones are co-winners for 2009. They were key contributors on a RBC Cup championship team, a silver medal winning team at the World Junior A Challenge and an American Legion Baseball team that went to the state tournament. The Montrose natives did it all in 2009. Kellen even threw a perfect game. It'll be pretty tough for them to top that in 2010. I do know Smokies fans probably won't miss watching them burn their hometown team as they have so often in their three season BCHL career. Once they're in college I'm sure it'll be OK to cheer for them again.

Other athletes considered included Smokies forward Travis St. Denis, Phillies pitching prospect Chris Kissock, former Smoke Eater Scott Jago who came back from cancer to win a KIJHL championship in Nelson, Rossland cross country skier George Grey and Trail's Jason Bay. Bay set career highs in home runs and RBIs with Boston this past season. He had a couple of great seasons with the Red Sox and now appears headed to the New York Mets. If I were a local sports store I'd be stocking up on those Mets hats as soon as possible.

...Former Smoke Eaters Wade Dubielewicz and Travis Roche suffered their first loss at the Spengler Cup today. Dubielewicz got the hook in the second period as Canada fell 5-2 to Germany.

...Castlegar's Luke Walker and Team USA beat Latvia 12-1 today at the World Junior Hockey Championship. That's setting up quite a match up between the US and Canada on New Year's Eve.

...Castlegar native and Beaver Valley Nitehawk forward Aaron Hadley scored in his first game with Team Pacific at the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge. Pacific lost the game 6-2 to Russia.

...Speaking of the Nitehawks, they've carded former Smoke Eater Paul Barclay. The 20 year old goaltender was recently cut by Surrey in the BCHL because he was still injured on the December carding cut down deadline. Barclay is now healthy and ready to go. He told me in an interview there was interest from other Junior A clubs but for now he has decided that he'd rather be back in the West Kootenay. I'll have that interview up on the blog sometime later this week. In my view Barclay is instantly the top goaltender in the KIJHL and gives Beaver Valley a huge boost in a very tough Neil Murdoch Division. He had a save percentage over 90 with Surrey earlier this season. He should be lights out at the Junior B level.

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