Cherie Morgan Photography

Cranbrook Bucks looking to maintain preseason momentum


In a recent preseason preview, I noted that the 2021-22 exhibition season would once again be filled with firsts for the Cranbrook Bucks. Things like playing in front of fans and facing the Wenatchee Wild are both happening for the first time during this year’s preseason.

After the opening weekend of exhibition play, Cranbrook also experienced an immediate contrast in results. Last year, it wasn’t until the Bucks’ third preseason game that they claimed their first victory.

This time around, Cranbrook won each of its first two games. While the preseason isn’t necessarily about getting results, the Bucks have certainly sent a message to their closest rival.

On Sept. 24, Cranbrook visited the Trail Smoke Eaters to kick off the exhibition schedule. It was the first time the Bucks ever skated in front of fans after playing all of the 2020-21 campaign in empty arenas. One night later, the Bucks returned home to host the Smoke Eaters, playing in front of their own fans for the very first time.

Cranbrook entertained on both nights and finished the weekend with a pair of victories over its closest geographical rival. The Bucks’ performance over the weekend seemed quite reminiscent of their playing style last year – a quick, aggressive, tenacious, relentless style that doesn’t seem to fade.

Despite falling behind 1-0 in both games, Cranbrook scored the next three goals in each game and did not look back. Here is a quick recap of the Bucks’ first two games in front of fans.

Cranbrook wins 5-3 in Trail

Friday’s game was the first time Trail welcomed spectators inside Cominco Arena since Feb. 29, 2020. On that night 19 months ago, the Smoke Eaters won game two of a playoff series against Prince George in front of 1,996 fans. Fast-forward over a year and a half, and 366 Smoke Eaters faithful attended the preseason opener.

Things didn’t get off to a great start for Cranbrook as the Bucks were assessed a warm-up violation penalty and began the contest shorthanded. The Bucks’ penalty kill unit was able to shut the door, however, and the game settled into a swift pace.

Cranbrook and Trail went back and forth for most of the first period, with the Smoke Eaters picking up the lone goal in the opening frame. The Bucks began the second period down 1-0 before taking the game over from there.

Cranbrook found the net four times and outshot the Smoke Eaters 19-7 in the second stanza. Nathan Fox, Jarrod Smith, Cole Assailly, and Noah Leibl scored the second period goals for the Bucks.

Trail got within a goal in the third period but Cranbrook added an insurance marker from Andrew King to solidify the 5-3 victory. In addition to getting the win, the visitors outshot the Smoke Eaters 40-30 in a performance that was fairly convincing from the beginning of the second period.

The next night, the Bucks played their first game at Western Financial Place since last November and the first with fans in the building.

Bucks thrill home fans in 3-1 victory

Cranbrook did not disappoint in its debut game in front of the home crowd, although it was another slow start for the Bucks. An attendance of 712 watched the home team get outshot 20-9 in the first period.

Cranbrook’s goaltender Nathan Airey stole the show on Saturday night, including stopping all 20 shots in the opening frame. He went on to stop 40 of the 41 shots he faced on the night.

Airey’s strong play afforded the Bucks some time to find their game in the second period. Despite surrendering the game’s first tally for the second straight night, Cranbrook certainly found its game midway through the contest.

In a 5:50 span late in the second frame, the Bucks tallied three goals and cruised to a 3-1 win. Fox, Tyson Dyck, and Rhys Bentham lit the lamp for Cranbrook in the victory. The Bucks outshot Trail 21-12 in the middle period en route to the victory.

Cranbrook continues its exhibition schedule with a tilt against the Wenatchee Wild on Friday. It is the first-ever meeting between the BCHL’s two newest franchises.

On Saturday, the Bucks return to Trail and look to sweep the preseason series against the rival Smoke Eaters. This is Cranbrook’s final exhibition game against a BCHL opponent before the big showdown with the Canadian National Women’s Team on Oct. 5.

The Bucks open their regular season with a home-and-home against the Smoke Eaters, starting Oct. 8 in Cranbrook.