Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Post Westside Audio

Nelson Ford Trail Smoke Eaters Hockey on Mountain FM: Westside 7 Trail 3

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Smokies Assistant Coach Brian Youngson

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Smokies Forward Mike Betz

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...Don't forget to check out the Smokies retro jersey auction. The lastest bids are just down the blog from this post. Bids are due January 30th.

...Some very frustrating news to report. Justin Brown has sustained an upper body injury and won't make the road trip this week. Boy has he had hard luck in his BCHL career. I remember last season just about this time Justin was just starting to play his best hockey and put up some points when he was out with an injury. Now he has 6 points in his last 3 games and he goes down. With all the karma he's earning he'll be an iron man for the rest of his career. I'm sure the Smokies are wishing one of their best two-way guys a speedy recovery.

...Injuries were also a factor in Trail's poor performance on the PK against Westside. It's tough when you're down 3 veteran defenceman. With Strukoff, Swaffield and Kaufmann all out with injuries the Smokies didn't get the performance they needed from their 5 regulars. AP Bennett Hambrook actually had a very solid debut for the Smokies and plays with a nice edge. He had one rough outing against Trevor Bailey that was kind of a "welcome to the BCHL" moment, but overall Hambrook (of the Nelson Leafs in the KIJHL) is a player to watch. Swaffield should be back on Wednesday against Powell River and Kaufmann should also be back shortly. Strukoff's return date is still no known although he told me he wanted to play on the trip.

...Another two-way guy who has really been performing of late is Captain Paul Mailey. After the 7-3 loss in Westside he has 10 points in his last 10 games. Mailey had 40 points last season and can put up a lot more points than he did in a frustrating first half. He was always valuable on the ice even without the points, but now we're again seeing the kind of player he can be at both ends.

...While there was a lot for the coaching staff to be frustrated about on Sunday they can look to a few positives. One of them was the "pack mentality" Trail continues to display. It's something that was perhaps lacking a bit earlier in the season. The team is standing up for each other no matter which line is on the ice. They're playing as a unit or as a "pack" and that can only lead to good things. There will be no pushing the Smokies around and everyone is buying in. There will be off games like the one on Sunday, but I still get a sense that the team has a much better attitude than back in the early fall. They had points in 7 straight games before the one in West Kelowna so there's no reason to get down on themselves. Wednesday is an important rebound game.

...Despite losing 7-3 I liked how Trail kept pace with the Warriors at even strength. The special teams battle went Westside's way and was the difference in the game. However, you can tell a lot about a team's ability by the way they match up with top teams 5 on 5. If Trail could have stayed out of the box (or gotten some calls) and executed better 5 on 4 or 4 on 5 that would've been a close game. That's a lot of "ifs" but to me its more a comment on how the team's play is still solid in even strength situations. The PK had also been so much better recently until the Westside game. They need to make sure it's only a one time thing as the PK has been a killer for them on the road.

...The playoff race is still very tight. Quesnel and Merritt sit a single point ahead of Trail for 5th place, but the Smokies have games in hand. They have to take advantage of those games during this week's road trip against some tough teams. Prince George is 5 points out and the playoffs are certainly not out of reach for them yet. Trail was 6 points behind Merritt only a few weeks ago and we saw how quickly that gap can get erased.

...One of those opponents for the Smokies this week is Alberni Valley. Congrats goes out to Mitch MacMillan for scoring 50 goals in 49 games. That's quit an accomplishment. Especially when you realize that the next best total so far is Trevor Bailey's 38 goals and Colton Beck is in third spot with 32. Nobody can touch MacMillan's sniping so far this season. It should be interesting to get a look at MacMillan, former Smoke Eater Tye Lewis and the red hot Bulldogs for the first time this week. I always enjoy a visit to what is maybe the loudest crowd in the league. I do have to say though I still think Trail has the smartest fans out there... except for the ones who give me hell... or maybe especially those ones! Don't forget all four games on the trip will be live on Mountain FM.

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