The Trail Smoke Eaters have found their game on an early-season road trip. Through the first six games to start the BCHL season, Trail averaged just 1.5 goals per game, while allowing 4.3 goals against. The Smoke Eaters came away with just one point from those six games, five of which were at home at Cominco Arena.
The Smoke Eaters hit the ice against division rival, the West Kelowna Warriors for a Saturday night game following their 6th straight loss in Wenatchee the previous night.
However, the Smokies who got off the bus at Royal LePage Place in West Kelowna was a different group then what left the Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee the day before.
Led by a determined group of returning Smokies, they dominated the Warriors right from the opening faceoff. Leading the way offensively was second-year forward Kent Johnson. The dynamic playmaker would setup offensive rearguard Diarmad DiMurro to get the scoring started on the powerplay just 5:53 into the first.
The Smoke Eaters offence, almost non-existent in the first six games, would put three markers on the scoreboard before the first-period buzzer would sound. The Smokies would ride the quick start to a 5-1 victory over the Warriors, thanks in part to a power-play that would go 4-for-6 in the evening. Johnson would finish the night with five assists and DiMurro would add a second in the middle frame to go along with two assists for a four-point evening. When the final buzzer would sound the group of Johnson, DiMurro, Ozar, and Ghirardosi would total 13 points on the night. Rookie netminder Logan Terness would make 33 saves, backstopping the Smokies to their first victory of the season.
A very confident bus would return to Cominco Arena the following night. Tasked with their third game in as many nights, the Smoke Eaters faced the Victoria Grizzlies. This was definitely not the same team that just four nights previous were soundly beaten by the Powell River Kings. The players who pulled the historic Smoke Eater jersey on this night were determined to show the faithful that their team had arrived.
Wasting no time, the Smoke Eaters found the scoresheet just 2:36 into play, as Ozar picked up his fourth of the season as he beat Grizzlies goaltender Blake Wood. The offensive show continued as Smokies fans would see their team put four goals behind Wood in the first period. They added two more in the second, and Donovan Buskey got his first win of the season turning away 13 of 15 shots on the night. Once again it was Kent Johnson (2 goals, 1 assist), and Diarmad DiMurro (2 Assists) leading the way for the Smokies as they rolled to a 6-2 victory over the Grizzlies.
The offensive explosion for Johnson over the previous four games would total ten points. It was enough for Johnson to pick up his first BCHL Player of the Week award of the season.
— BC Hockey League (@GoBCHL) September 23, 2019
With two straight wins and an eleven goal outburst over that period, a confident Smoke Eaters dressing room started preparations for their next opponent.
The Prince George Spruce Kings have had a number of player changes over the offseason. But they are the BCHL defending champions, and the Smoke Eaters had to make the long road trip north to face them at Rolling Mix Concrete Arena.
Head Coach Jeff Tambellini needed to have his squad continue their newfound momentum and the Smoker Eaters would respond. A convincing 3-0 shutout of the Spruce Kings and Trail is now on a three-game winning streak heading into the BCHL Showcase Festival this weekend in Penticton. Donovan Buskey picked up his first shutout of the season and second straight victory with a fourteen save performance.
The Smoke Eaters also picked up a little help along the way. Prior to the game in Prince George, the Smoke Eaters announced the signing of 20-year-old WHL veteran defenceman Jameson Murray.
NEWS: Smoke Eaters Bolster Back End With WHL Veteran
Welcome to Trail Jameson Murray!
— Trail Smoke Eaters (@BCHLSmokeEaters) September 26, 2019
“Murray is a very important addition to our hockey club this season,” said Tambellini. “His junior experience and two-way skillset will complement our current defensive group and fill the large void left by Trevor Isaksson being on long-term injury reserve.”
Trail sets sights on the BCHL Showcase in Penticton this weekend, with reinforcements and newfound confidence. The Smokies open the Showcase versus a Merritt Centennials club that has won just two of their first seven games to start the season. A rematch with the Spruce Kings will close out the Showcase for the Smoke Eaters.
Should the Smoke Eaters sweep the two games at the Showcase they will be back to .500 hockey and prereparing for a road trip to Vancouver Island to face the division-leading Cowichan Valley Capitals the following weekend.
The Smoke Eaters will only play three games at Cominco Arena in October out of eleven in the month. A road trip in September is where the Smokies found their game. Should they continue to be road warriors through the month of October, then the stumble out of the gates to start the season will disappear out of view behind them.