Many coaches and managers will agree you can’t get a real sense of a team’s cohesion and direction for at least a month or even more into a season. Well we’re now at that point in the BCHL with most teams having hit the 10 games played mark and some closing in on the quarter pole of the season schedule. While a couple teams continue to distance themselves ahead of the rest of the pack (mainly Wenatchee and Penticton), many others had a reversal of fortunes over the past several days, some for the better, some for the worse.
Perhaps the one team that has seen the most improvement over the past week is the Trail Smoke Eaters. In fact it’s been a pretty positive week in many respects for one of junior hockey’s most legendary franchises. Prior to the weekend the team announced an agreement to sell 90% of the franchise to Minnesota businessman Rich Murphy who’s soon-to-be 19 year-old son Ryan is a rookie forward on the Smokies. The agreement provides some medium-term certainty for the small market franchise which has been bleeding money for some time. Much of what both Murphy and the Smoke Eaters have said publically should come as a comfort to team supporters and it appears this is a positive move forward. Perhaps this news had an immediate impact in other ways as well with the Smokies putting up a six point weekend road trip for the first time in recent memory. In fact it’s the first time the Smokies have won three road games in a row since December 2012. It took overtime for Trail to beat the Clippers 2-1 Friday night but the offence really came alive Saturday and Sunday with 7-3 and 5-2 victories over the Capitals and Rivermen respectively. Trail’s 43 goals on the season leads the entire Interior division while the goaltending duo of Linden Marshall and Zach Dyment have put up some pretty respectable numbers of late. After a rough start the Smokies seem to be finding their form just in time to keep pace with the rest of the incredibly competitive division.
The Salmon Arm Silverbacks also rebounded nicely over the weekend posting a pair of wins over Surrey and West Kelowna. The class of the Interior, however, remains the Penticton Vees who swept a home and home weekend set with the Merritt Centennials. But the Vees certainly had to work for the victory Saturday night. Merritt had a 3-1 lead midway through the third before Jared Nash and Ty Amonte scored less than three minute apart to tie the game at three. Veteran defeceman Mitch Meek played OT hero scoring his first of the season 1:58 into the first overtime period. While Penticton has a very impressive 9-1 record, three of the wins have come in overtime to lead the BCHL. It’s an indication the Vees are playing tighter contests to start the season but still manage to come out on top.
Salmon Arm’s 6-3 win over the Eagles Saturday night put an end to Surrey’s three game points streak. The Eagles certainly appear to be ever so slowly coming out of their cellar dwelling ways but they still have a long way to go. The Eagles pushed the Vipers to overtime Friday night where they came out victorious thanks to Darius Davidson’s game winner. I’ve mentioned numerous times on this blog that I firmly believe the Eagles are a much improved squad and this is further evidence of that. But at the end of the day I’ll still be surprised if they can manage to lock up a playoff spot in the Mainland division. What does help their cause is a trio of troublesome starts from the Rivermen, Express, and Spruce Kings. To this point only the Wild and Chiefs remain above .500 in the division which appears to be the weakest in the BCHL.
Speaking of the Chiefs, they’ve had a bit of a strange start to the season. The hosts of the 2018 RBC have a solid 7-3-1 start but it seems to be either feast or famine for Chilliwack. Those three losses have come courtesy of the Rivermen (4-1), Eagles (8-2), and the Warriors (1-0 in OT). Not that it’s any cause for concern but it’s a classic example of what a young squad tends to be and that’s inconsistent. Jason Tatarnic is an experienced, highly capable coach and I suspect they will even things out as time progresses. There’s no doubt the Chiefs are a solid team once again this season and especially given their weak division they will have no trouble cruising through the regular season.
We should also take the Wenatchee Wild’s furious start with several grains of salt. Yes they have the league’s best record at 9-0-1, have scored the most goals with 61 and have an amazing goal differential of 40. But five of those nine wins have come against a struggling Spruce Kings squad where the Wild have outscored Prince George by a combined 35-8. Wenatchee has only played one game against a team over .500 at the time of their respective meetings and that was a 6-3 win over Vernon at the Showcase in Chilliwack. The Wild will not keep up this torrid pace once they face stiffer competition on a more regular basis.
I wondered last week how real the Cowichan Capitals’ start to the season was and I got somewhat of an answer this past weekend although it’s still a bit muddled. After getting out to a solid 6-2-1 start out of the gate the Caps stumbled on the weekend. A 3-0 lead after one period in Victoria Friday night turned into a 4-3 OT loss. The negative momentum seemed to carry over into Saturday night’s home tilt against the Smokies as Trail took the 7-3 win. The Caps did rebound with a 5-2 win Sunday afternoon against a Powell River Kings team with two affiliate defencemen. The Capitals have a home and home this coming weekend with the Grizzlies, a chance for both squads to distance themselves from the other.
Sunday’s loss marked the second in a row for Powell River after winning seven straight. The Kings have certainly had a roller coaster start to the season losing their first four before rattling off those seven in a row. The Kings are the real deal in my opinion and I still expect them to finish at or very near the top of the Island division.