Mike Hockley

Smoke Eaters prepped for strong regular season finish

The Trail Smoke Eaters will resume the 2019-20 BCHL season on Jan. 3 on the road in Merritt. The Smokies hit the ice with eighteen games remaining on the schedule, just six points back of the Interior Division leading Penticton Vees.  

With three games versus the Merritt Centennials in five nights, the Smokies are in a good position to pick up some valuable points prior to their home and home series against the Vees on January 10th and 11th. The Smokies play the Cents five times during the remaining eighteen games of their BCHL regular season.  The Centennials have struggled through the pre-Christmas portion of the season, and need to stay in front of the West Kelowna Warriors to secure a playoff spot.

The two games against the Vees early in January are the last meetings between the two rivals as they battle for the division title and number one seed in the Interior Division playoffs.

The Smoke Eaters have dominated the scoring leaders list most of the season with three of the top four point getters in the league.  Leading the group is the highly skilled 18-year-old Kent Johnson with 69 points through the first 36 games of the season. Johnson continues to make things look easy out there with goals like the recent “Michigan”, lacrosse style goal he scored versus the Cowichan Valley Capitals prior to the holiday break.

Joining Johnson at the top of the scoring list is Michael Colella, who continues to produce on the wing.  Colella now sits in second place with 47 points, tied with Penticton Vees standout and Philadelphia Flyers 2018 first round draft pick Jay O’Brien.

Owen Ozar rounds out the top four in the BCHL scoring race with 46 points in just 36 games, as both Johnson and Ozar missed games due to the World Junior A Challenge as part of Team Canada West, along with Powell Connor and Philippe Lapointe.  Ozar has benefited from playing with one of the BCHL’s top offensive threats in Lapointe. Although he was injured to start the season, Lapointe has been scoring at a rate of 1.89 points-per-game since his return and already sits in the top 20 scorers with 36 points.

Tyler Ghirardosi is the missing part of the Ozar and Lapointe line as he went down with an injury during a game against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks on December 15.  He is on track for a career year in the BCHL with 32 points already through 38 games. No news yet as to the expected timeline of return for Ghirardosi, who also plays a big role on the Smoke Eaters power play that sits first in the league.

The Smoke Eaters season so far would not have been the same without the outstanding arrival of netminder Logan Terness. The 18-year-old has had an already amazing rookie season in the BCHL. Having seen action in 29 of the Smoke Eaters 40 games, he sits among the leaders in both goals-against average (2.38), save percentage (.932) and wins (16). Terness also had an invite to the Canada West selection camp. Now sharing the crease with Matteo Paler-Chow, the pair give the Smokies a great chance to win every night.

Logan Terness making glove save

The Smoke Eaters defence may not get the attention like the dynamic scoring forwards or the rookie standout in goal, but Head Coach and GM Jeff Tambellini has assembled one of the deepest and toughest blueline groups in the BCHL. Offensively, it has been lead by Diarmad DiMurro’s 29 points, Powell Connor with 20 points and Cody Schiavon, since he arrived in a late October trade from Surrey. Tambellini likes to dress seven defencemen, which means this group is joined by solid defenders like Jameson Murray, Kyle Budvarson, Jackson Murphy-Johnson, and the Smoke Eaters newest acquisition, 6’6″, 225-pound Kyle Pow. Corey McCann and Trevor Isaksson round out a defence corps that is one of the toughest in the league, no matter how players are rotated in and out of the lineup on any given night.

With eleven games in January, the Smoke Eaters are very busy coming out of the holiday break. With an Interior Division title within their grasp and a lighter February schedule before the playoffs, look for the Smokies to hit the ice with a purpose come Friday night in Merritt. It should be a wild 18 games to get set for the BCHL Fred Page Cup playoffs.