You can knock Blaine Caton down, but you can’t pin him for long.
The Vernon minor hockey product may feel like he’s been ragdolled in a four-year Junior career, but all is good as he enters the playoffs with the Trail Smoke Eaters.
Caton rang up 15 goals and 33 points in 57 games with the Smokies this season. Two years ago, he was cut by the Snakes and ended up playing for three teams in an injury-plagued season, including the Smokies and Junior B North Okanagan Knights in Armstrong. He also had a cup of mocha with the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan League.
The oldest son of former Vernon Laker goalie Murray Caton – who won back-to-back Centennial Cups in 1990-92 – is stoked about returning to Kal Tire Place for Game 1 of the Interior second-round best-of-seven series.. He will likely get the start at centre for Cam Keith’s high-octane Smokies.
“I have a lot of family and friends out to the game so that will be nice,” said Caton, who turns 20 next month. “I’m definitely familiar with a couple guys there, I played with a few of them while I was there and then I know some of the recruits through playing against them in minor hockey.”
The slick 5-foot-11, 185-pounder says the Smokies are not in awe of the Vipers despite losing five of six regular-season tilts.
“We are a confident group coming out of round one with that five game series against Salmon Arm,” said Caton. “But we know this is going to be a pretty big battle for us, and for them as well. It will be a long series, I think we know that, but we’re definitely confident.”
And while the Smokies do match up well against the Vipers’ No. 1 line of Jimmy Lambert, Steven Jandric and Brett Stapley with Luke Santerno, Kale Howarth and Josh Lamframboise, Caton knows they have to keep things simple.
“I think we can’t get into too much of a run-and-gun style against these guys (Vernon). We won games against Salmon Arm like 7-2, but against the Vipers the games are going to be close, one-goal games like 2-1, 3-2.”
Caton compiled 4-4-8 while seeing limited action with Vernon in the 2014-15 season. He pocketed two goals and three points in the Salmon Arm series.
Keith, who doubles as Trail GM, is wiping the regular-season slate clean.
“It’s a little bit different preparation,” said Keith, 36. “We haven’t had the success against Vernon that we’d like to this season. We’re taking the approach that its a new season, and we know we have to prepare like they haven’t had time off, and they’re going to be a hungry team, so we’ve had a week of high, intense practice so we don’t lose that edge from the Salmon Arm series.”
He realizes the Vipers boast scary depth with Jandric winning the team’s points derby with just 51.
“When you look at their scoring, they don’t have a lot of guys that are over a point a game, that’s because they’re very unselfish, team-focus first mindset and it reflects on their record,” said Keith. “You can’t really look at their points and think they don’t have the fire power, because they score when they need to score and defend really well.”
Keith, a former Smokie who played in the American League and Europe after college hockey in Alaska, also knows the Vipers will be tough in the corners and around the net, where Darion Hanson and Ty Taylor give them the hottest goaltending tandem in the BCHL.
“Statistically they have the best goalie (Hanson) in the league right now, and it also helps with their d-core being big and strong, and it makes it tough to get in front of the net and take away his vision and find those second chance scoring opportunities, we just have to be patient…
“Goals are going to be well earned, it’s going to be a true playoff style series and we can’t expect that the same effort we gave against Salmon Arm will give us success against Vernon, everything has to be amped up.”
Game 2 goes Saturday at 6 p.m. back at Kal Tire Place. The third and fourth games are Monday and Tuesday nights, respectively, at Cominco Arena.
The Penticton Vees and Merritt Centennials open their series tonight, while the No. 1 overall Wenatchee Wild host the Chilliwack Chiefs and the Victoria Grizzlies entertain the Powell River Kings in the other series.
Student and children tickets are free courtesy of The Morning Star, KISS-FM and Hytec. Tickets must be picked up at the box office before game time.