BCHL Today: Can Trail Smoke Eaters pull off epic upset?

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Welcome to the March 14, 2018 video-tastic edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

We talked yesterday about the one second round series I’m not psyched for. Today we get into Penticton versus Trail, a series I have high hopes for.

Specifically, I’m hoping Trail wins. Let me preface this by saying I covered the Vees for two seasons while working for the Penticton Western News so I’ll always have a little affinity for the town and the team, but I’m tired of them winning.

They have become the BCHL’s New England Patriots, an Evil Empire group that rolls around in a bus sloganed with ‘Envy our Past, Fear our Future.’

They play in a beautiful building. They set league records for attendance. Their uniforms look nice and I’m sick of it.

So c’mon Trail!

I actually do think Penticton is going to be derailed this year, but I don’t think the Smoke Eaters are the team to do it. Let’s see if the numbers give them a chance.

The Vees and Trail met six times in the regular season. The Smoke Eaters won one, lost four (one in OT) and tied one. The two most lopsided losses (3-0 and 4-1) came in February when Trail was finishing the regular season on a bit of a slide. Three of the games were one-goal affairs and Trail beat Penticton 4-1 way back on Oct. 28.

Here are the highlights from a 2-2 tie on Jan. 12, 2018.

The teams were dead even offensively during the regular season, Trail holding a 218-216 edge in goals for through 58 games. The Vees were much, much, much better defensively, allowing 130 goals while the Smokies surrendered 203. The wildcard in that comparison is Trail goaltender Adam Marcoux, who came over from the Cowichan Caps in November and posted a 2.79 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in 24 games with Trail.

The Smoke Eaters may be better defensively with Marcoux than without, but a substantial edge still goes to the disciplined tight-checking Vees with their ace goaltender Adam Scheel. The Ohio native posted a 1.50 GAA and .929 SP in the first round of the playoffs, facing the Coquitlam Express and their pop-gun offence. Scheel faces a much tougher test now.

Here are the highlights from a 3-0 Vees win on Feb. 9, 2018.

If Trail has a calling card, it’s an offence that included two players inside the top 20 in regular season scoring. Kale Howarth was 11th with 24 goals and 62 points and Ross Armour was 12th with 21 goals and 62 points. After a 52 point regular season, Levi Glasman is upping his game in the playoffs with seven points in four games so far.

Trail had 10 players hit double digits in goals during the regular season, including defenceman Connor Welsh with 12. Welsh (56-12-22-34) and Jeremy Lucchini (58-5-35-40) provide the Smoke Eaters two potent weapons on the back-end.

Penticton has an answer for all of that. Owen Sillinger had more goals (33) and points (67) in the regular season than either Howarth or Armour, and he’s not a one-man band. The Vees had nine players hit double digits in goals. Jonny Tychonick missed that mark with nine tallies, but he ranked third among all BCHL blueliners with 47 points.

If he’s back in the lineup, Nicky Leivermann gives Penticton another offensive option on defence. The 19 year old Minnesota native collected 10 goals and 37 points in 43 regular season games, but was knocked out of the Coquitlam series in game three after taking a blow to the head from Dominic Davis.

Penticton and Trail both have excellent power plays and the Vees are nails on the penalty kill, but the PK may be kryptonite for the Smoke Eaters in this series. In their first round sweep of the West Kelowna Warriors, Trail gave up six goals on 18 power plays against for a dismal 66.6 per cent success rate.

Taking a look at various sources this week, most prognosticators seem to be picking Penticton to win in five or six games, and that sounds about right. I’ll go with the Vees in six, but I’ll probably find some lucky orange socks to wear on game days.

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A Prince George Spruce King grad is ESPN’s Best Player in the World of the Week.

Minnesota native Bryant Christian wrapped up a four-year NCAA career last Sunday, playing his final game for American International College.

The nephew of longtime National Hockey Leaguer Dave Christian and cousin of current New York Islander forward Brock Nelson fractured his tibia on the first shift of the game, but chose to stay on the bench with his teammates.

With his Yellow Jackets trailing 3-0 in the last minute of the game, the captain went over the boards for one more shift on a broken leg.

“To have our captain go out there because he wants to be on the ice for one last time, it made me a little emotional,” AIC coach Eric Lang told ESPN.

Christian finished his college career with 149 games played, 17 goals, 43 points and 88 penalty minutes. He spent two seasons with the Spruce Kings (2012-14) before going to AIC.

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The championship series for the B.C. Intercollegiate Hockey League starts tomorrow, with the Trinity Western University Spartans taking on the Selkirk College Saints.

Trinity Western has appeared in the BCIHL finals in three of the last four years but has yet to win.

Selkirk College won four in a row from 2012-16, but failed to qualify for the championship round last year as the University of Victoria took the title.

Here are the highlights from last year’s final.

Several BCHL grads are in the mix on both sides. You may not remember them because they didn’t stick long in the junior A circuit, but there are 12 of them.

See if these names ring a bell.

On the Selkirk side you’ve got Dane Feeney, who played seven games for the Cowichan Caps in 2011-12. Goaltender Brett Huber played two for West Kelowna in 2014-15.

Because Selkirk College is based in Castlegar, there are a few players with ties to the Trail Smoke Eaters, including netminder Patrick Zubick, who appeared in three games for Trail in 2014-15. Seth Schmidt logged four games for the Smokies between 2012-14. Dallas Calvin played for Trail and Vernon between 2010-15, appearing in 53 games. Cole Arcuri played for Trail, Merritt and Powell River, appearing in 66 games.

The Trinity Western roster includes two players I watched play for the Chilliwack Chiefs, Brandon Potomak and Stefan Gonzales.

Gonzales is interesting as one of the few active players with ties to the Quesnel Millionaires. Gonzales was on the Mills roster when the franchise was transferred to Chilliwack in 2011 and he ended up seeing time with West Kelowna, Victoria and Coquitlam as well.

Gonzales has the most BCHL experience of anyone in the finals with 168 games played.

Potomak was fun to watch during a 42 game stint in Chilliwack. He collected 13 goals and 36 points and was thoroughly beaten up at the end of that season, to the point where he took two full seasons off before lacing up the skates again this year. He was one of the TWU’s big guns, with seven goals and 28 points in 21 regular season games.

Other BCHL grads are Evan Last (3 GP with Penticton, 2012-13), Elijah Vilio (1 GP with Surrey, 2016-17), Karsten Seidel (6 GP with Surrey, 2013-14) and Brendan Campbell (8 GP with Surrey, 2015-16).

See bcihl.ca

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If you ever played a shift for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, pay attention to this last item.

The team is holding its first ever Alumni Weekend this summer. Past players, coaches, staff, billets, and volunteers are invited back for two days of fun on July 20-21.

The Silverbacks will celebrate 17 years in Salmon Arm with a pro/alumni game and social on the 20th and a golf tournament and dinner on the 21st. The golf tournament will be played at the Shuswap National Golf Course and more details can be found online at sasilverbacksalumni.com

Eric Welsh is the sports editor at the Chilliwack Progress and has been covering junior A hockey in B.C. and Alberta since 2003.

Email eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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