Friday, 25 October 2013

Trail hits the road for three in three.

Cominco arena will be quiet this weekend as the Trail Smoke Eaters are in action nearly 800km away.

The Smokies play their second straight road match Friday night in Powell River kicking off a busy three days against the league's best Kings.

Trail aims to put an end to their seven game losing streak against a team that has more wins than Trail has points.

Ironically, over this Smoke Eaters slump, one of the best games the Silver City faithful have had was against the Kings.

Talking to Trail forward Bryan Basilico after that Oct.13 loss he said they very much had a chance to win the game that eventually ended in a 3-2 defeat.

The Smoke Eaters are showing shades of last year's squad who seemed to be able to elevate their game against the teams higher in the standings.

However, unfortunately unlike last year's team, the Smokies are not beating those teams but just simply competing.

And competing doesn't necessarily result in wins.

So what do the orange and black have to do to get their first win in the last eight outings.

"Just keep on working hard, [do] the small things right and hopefully in the end we will get some wins," says forward Jesse Knowler.

"Our team has to play a full sixty minutes, be better in our own defensive zone and score more goals."

Over this unsuccessful seven game stretch, the Smokies have only opened the scoring once.

However, to their credit they haven't quit in any of those matches and have showed some applaudable push back when falling behind.

"We have lots of fight in this team," declares Knowler. "We're not going to back down. We can bring positives out of [each] game."

On Saturday, Trail visits the team that last conceded a point to them - The Alberni Valley Bulldogs.

There are few teams in the BCHL that are experiencing more struggles than the Trail Smoke Eaters, however Alberni Valley is one of them.

The Bulldogs are coming off only their second win of the campaign and have only amassed seven points so far.

Then on Sunday, Trail heads to Nanaimo to face a Clippers squad who could have come into this weekend winners of three of their last five if it weren't an overtime loss to the Bulldogs on Wednesday.

Now, I have never been paid for my opinion, nor would I ever expect money for my two cents, but how the Smokies start things off in Powell River is crucial to the amount of success the team sees this weekend.

A win over the BCHL's best, could go a long way in creating momentum through these matchups against Island Division opponents.

And a long way to putting building blocks in place to their return home next Friday.

 With Cominco able to get some peace and quiet this weekend hopefully it can rest up after a rough start to the 2013-14 season.

Hopefully the Smokies can take this road trip to recovery, return home back in the win column, and maybe their own barn might begin to be a bit nicer to them.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Unlucky number 7.

It's seven straight losses for the Smokies after falling 5-4 to the Merritt Centennials Sunday afternoon.

Jake Lucchini and Tyler Lamont scored 53 second apart in the second period to set up a wild final frame.

Merritt Centennials at 7:17 Scott Patterson from Sebastien Pare and Jeff Wight
Trail Smoke Eaters at 8:05 (PP) Bryce Knapp from Cody Bardock and Valik Chichkin
Merritt Centennials at 11:34 Scott Patterson from Wayland Williams and Devin Oakes
Merritt Centennials at 13:03 Zach Hartley (unassisted)
Trail Smoke Eaters at 18:48 Travis Stephens from Adam Wheeldon and Jesse Knowler

It doesn't get much more back and forth than that.

It's an unfortunate outcome for Trail though, a team that has won twice in Merritt this year including the preseason.

It's a blow that now puts nine points between the orange and black and the fourth place Centennials in the standings and therefor a playoff spot.

Team President Tom Gawryletz has made that clear that is what he and the Board of Directors expect, a birth in the postseason.

Still what really isn't clear is why the team has dropped seven straight.

Goaltender Dustin Nikkell's 3-8-1 record does not reflect his play at all this season.

He's been arguably the best Smokie player so far this campaign, and made another 30 + save effort Sunday.

On a night to night basis Nikkell has given his team a chance to win.

Sunday also saw four players find the back of the net for Trail which is a positive for a team that has only five members with more than three goals and collectively have let 33 more goals against then they have put forward.

Brendan Lamont scored for the first time since Sept 21, Travis Stephens continued to prove he is one of the top forwards on the team moving his point total to 11 and newcomer Cody Bardock appeared on the score sheet in his first game as a Smoke Eater.

Bardock came over from the Alberta Junior Hockey League's Sherwood Park Crusader's for future considerations.

The 6'5" 20 year old had 1 goal and 7 points in twleve games with the Crusaders this season.

The weekend also saw the Smokies move blueliner Braeden Jones to the Portage Terriers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League also for future considerations.

I'm getting side tracked.

It seems this club is right on the door step and just needs to find a way to open the door so they can finally join the party.

Whether they are going to keep knocking until someone just eventually lets them in for a bit or they just kick it down crash the shindig has yet to be seen.

Maybe it's a matter of finding the key (to their success) that will open that door.

However, for now the Smokies are right on the doorstep but they are on the outside looking in at all the fun.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Smoke Eaters Press On

The post-Bill Birks era starts Friday night in Trail when the Smoke Eaters play host to the Coquitlam Express.

This after Trail lost their fifth straight game Tuesday night that evidently became the tipping point for change.

"This is strictly a business decision" explained team President Tom Gawryletz about the Board of Director's decision to relieve Birks of his duties just 15 games into the season. "Bill and I have had a good relationship over the three and a half years he has been [here]. This hockey club has missed the playoffs the last two seasons [and] it's imperative to us to get into the postseason and when it is all said and done, friendship aside, you have to win".

"I agree it is very early, but we had great expectations going into the season."

And apparently so far those expectations have not been met with The Smokies' 4-9-1-1 record and their single win at Cominco Arena this season.

The team dropped three straight at home, being out scored 17-1 in the period, after a promising outing at the season opening BCHL showcase where they earned 3 out of a possible 4 points.

Gawryletz referred to the home-stand as "embarrassing".

Its been a bit tumultuous since then. Trail has just a single point in their last seven outings but last Sunday's match against the league's best Powell River Kings (10-1-0-1) serves as a good case study.

Heading into the game nine points separated the two clubs in the standings, but Trail pushed Powell River to the limit in a 3-2 loss.

It was a great effort that saw them fight back from a two goal deficit using power plays and hard work to create scoring opportunities.

Bursts of brilliant play that shows Trail can in fact play the elite in this league.

However, that unsuccessful sixty minutes against the Kings sat between two games where the Smokies allowed five goals in each third period.

It is the perfect example of arguably the orange and black's biggest problem so far this season, playing mistake-free-hockey for a full sixty minutes.

"They are a better hockey club than they have shown as far as I'm concerned. I'm not sure what the problem is,".

Gawryletz says a large part in the change behind the bench is the product on the ice.  "The old saying, 'It is a lot easier to fire one guy than 22 guys and I think they have to look in the mirror and realize they need to start [producing].'"

This is echoed by Captain Adam Wheeldon after I ask him if he expects more from the team.
"Yeah definitely. I wasn't on Bill. Us, as players, need to get going and do what we are suppose to be doing out there.

Wheeldon admitted he was surprised Birks was let go. "I didn't expect that to happen but we still have to [keep] moving forward with the season and keep our heads up."

Move on they must.

Coquitlam is coming off a 5-4 loss to Surrey Wednesday night, their first regulation defeat of the campaign.

They currently sit second in the Mainland division, three points behind the Langley Riverman.

Express forward Adam Rockwood is the BCHL's scoring leader with 4 goals and 23 points in 13 outings this season.

It's going to be a good test for this unstable Smoke Eaters team and Wheeldon says they have to pick up their game.

"We've been struggling lately and it is just not acceptable. We have to be better,".

We are just over 25% through the season with 43 games remaining for Trail and let's face it...that's a lot of hockey.

So we move into Chapter Two of the Trail Smoke Eaters' 2013-2014 season. The scene has been set and wouldn't it be poetic if the orange and black could rebound and snap a seven game winless streak on home ice, somewhere they haven't found much luck recently.

Surely that would keep people reading.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Smokies visit red hot Vipers having dropped four straight.

The orange and black will have their hands full in Vernon Tuesday night, as they Vipers are unbeaten in their last three.

If that wasn't daunting enough, Trail is winless in their last six with just a tie in that stretch.

However, they might find solace in the fact that five of their next six outings are on the road.

Intentionally or not, it seems the Smokies prefer to be away from Cominco Arena this year as three of their four wins have been outside the Silver City.

Nonetheless, home or away, the bottom line is the Trail Smoke Eaters need to find a way to win.

"We're kind of in a hole here and we're trying to dig our way out, but game by game we are getting better." Forward Bryan Basilico said after Sunday's 3-2 loss to the Powell River Kings.

The defeat - Trail's second of the weekend - could have easily gone the other way as the Smokies held their own with the league's best Kings (10-1-0-1) to the bitter end.

"We were definitely putting a lot pressure on them there, [but] we have to play the full sixty minutes like [we did at the end] and keep playing the body and put it all on them." explained Basilico who netted both of his team's goals.

The Smokies - once again - found themselves down early Sunday and went into the second period behind by a pair of goals. The beginning of period two saw a club that was as different as night and day from the Trail team that took the ice in the opening frame. The energy. The speed. Whatever head coach Bill Birks said to his team during the first intermission, it seemed to work.

What also acted as a spark to Trail's come-from-behind effort in the 2nd was a hit from behind on forward Dylan Mascarin that sent the orange and black on their first powerplay of the contest. Mascarin was visibly shaken up from the hit and not only slow to get to his feet but unstable once up on them. He would later leave the game (and afterwards tell me he doesn't remember much leading up to the play). It was clear to his teammates that they couldn't waste the man advantage opportunity presented to them, and they didn't.

"The puck just came out and I happened to be there just worked out," said the 6'3" 200lb Basilico whose big frame could be parked in front of the net on the powerplay a lot this season.

That half of special teams has been a bright light in a rather dark start for the Smokies as their 23.31% is good enough for fourth in the league - having scored 13 times with the extra attacker.

Unfortunately though, it is not so much what the Trail is doing, but it is what they aren't doing. They've struggled to string a full sixty minute effort together this season and their defensive zone coverage is offering way too many opportunity to their opponents.

So, with a road heavy schedule to finish the month of October hopefully Trail can build off the early season success they've found away from Cominco Arena but in away that enables them to come home and give their fans what they have not seen a lot of this season: winning.

Sunday's game was a perfect example that the team is talented enough to play with the BCHL's best. The group has it in them to not only come back when down but rally around a hurt teammate put their emotion to positive use. There is still a lot of hockey left in the season and Trail is hardly out of the playoff picture yet.

Good luck boys.

Chris Wahl will be calling Tuesday's game in Vernon. You can watch the pay per view at or listen for free at

Monday, 7 October 2013

Smokies can't crack the code at Cominco Arena.

The struggles continue for the Trail Smoke Eaters in their own barn after another winless weekend on home ice.

The Orange and Black were able to manage only a single point from two outings in the Silver City this past weekend,  which is getting to a stage just isn't good enough.

Trail now sits 1-5-1 when playing host this season, being outscored 33-11 in the process.

"I don't know. I mean, before the game and [during] the intermissions the guys seem focused and into it [but] then we're just flat. There's nothing to really explain it right now, we're trying to figure it out," replied forward Scott Davidson after I asked him if he could give a reason for the troubles they've experience at home early on.

The Smokies didn't get much right in a 6-1 loss to the Merritt Centennials Saturday, preceded by a 3-3 draw with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs Friday. The latter saw Trail fall behind 2-0 in the first period and then let a 3-2 lead get away from them in second frame. The match against Merritt saw Trail outshot 37-17.

"We just didn't really show up. The guys work ethic wasn't really there and [we] just kind of struggled," explained Davidson - who was still in full uniform - following Saturday's game.

Head coach Bill Birks had the doors closed for a considerably lengthy post game chat with his team. When they opened, Birks emerged clearly, and understandably, upset and every played was still dressed in their equipment. It seemed like they were staying that way for a while.

When I asked Birks why the group did not appear to be taking off their gear, he said he didn't know yet. However, my guess was even though the Smokies just finished 120 minutes on Cominco ice over the weekend, Trail's bench boss wasn't done seeing his team skate.

Saturday's loss was the second time this season Merritt has come into Trail and won by five goals. The first was 5-0 shutout. The Smokies will meet the Cents again on Oct.20th in the Nicola Valley but they won't have a chance to seek revenge on home ice til Dec 7th.

Looking ahead, four of Trail's next six games are against divisional opponents as they look to get out of this hole they've dug themselves - which happens to land them at the bottom of the standings right now.

"Yeah they're huge," explained Davidson. "We just need to get a good week of practice here and we've talked about how we ended up a bit of slump [earlier] and how these [upcoming] games are huge and next Sunday we could be feeling on top of the world again."

Here's hoping.

The Smokies are on the road Thursday to kick off a home and home with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. We will not have a broadcast on our behalf that game but you can tune into the Salmon Arm's call on,

The second half of the set will be held in the Silver City Friday and the Smokies will try not to make turkeys out of Powell River when they host the Kings on Thanksgiving Sunday.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Another pair on home ice this weekend for the Orange and Black.

The Smokies welcome the Alberni Valley Bulldogs for the first and only time this season Friday night.

Trail returns to Cominco Arena after coming off a split in their own barn last weekend that saw a 3-2 win against Cowichan Valley Friday followed by a 5-3 defeat to West Kelowna the next night.

The Silver City club competed in both games and Defenceman Braeden Pears thinks they worked hard and deserved better a better outcome in the latter outing.

"I don't think we need [to make] any changes necessarily. Just keep picking it up and getting better from here."

Pears says there are little things they will continue to work on, such as better coverage in the defensive zone, but thinks if they tighten up their game they'll be fine. "We have a good team," he declared.

Those thoughts were echoed by newcomer Dylan Mascarin. The 6'0" forward from Thunder Bay, Ontario made his Smoke Eater debut last weekend netting one assist.

"[We] definitely need to stay out of the box" replied Mascarin after I asked him if there was anything he thought the group could change from his first weekend in a Trail uniform. The Smokes had 17 trips to the sin bin - 10 of those coming in Friday's match.

Besides that though, Mascarin - who split last season in the SIJHL and the CCHL - agrees there needs to be a bit more focus on the back end.

"Getting out of our zone a little quicker. You know, making that first pass and getting [it] in deep."

Dylan was one of two players that debuted with Trail last weekend and one of three new faces in the dressing room.

The other new player in the line up for the Smokies last weekend was forward Bryan Basilico who comes from the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL.

"It feels good [to be here]. It's a little different, definitely getting used to it but starting to gel with the guys."

Basilico says he wants to play a power foward role and the 6'3" 200lb Macomb, Michigan native didn't take too long heading towards that goal, dropping the gloves in his first game wearing the orange and black.

Those two forward are joined by blueliner Sean Davies who Trail acquired via trade with the AJHL's Whitecourt Wolverines. The transaction saw forward Brodyn Nielsen go the other way.

All three should be in the lineup for Trail this weekend. The first of two matches is against a Bulldogs team that is coming off their first win of the season after losing seven straight.

In their nine games so far, the Bulldogs have had 22 more goals scored against them than they have netted on their opposition.

Looking ahead to Saturday's match against the Merritt Centennials - it will be the third time this season the two clubs have met.

The last encounter was in Merritt when the Smokies closed a home and home set with a 3-2 win.

However, the previous time these two met on Cominco Ice, it was a 5-0 decision in favor of the Cents.

Trail starts the weekend three points back of the top spot in the division with Salmon Arm, West Kelowna and Penticton all ahead of the Smokies in the standings.

All three teams have at least two games this weekend - West Kelowna has a third Sunday.

However, Salmon Arm and Penticton clash Friday - giving the Smokies an opportunity to make ground in the division standings.

Puck drops is at 7:30 for both games at Cominco Arena this weekend. If you can't join us you can catch the pay per view at or listen for free at