A good crowd turned out for the Kootenay Cougars’ and the Trail Smoke Eaters’ Tail Gate party on Saturday. Clockwise from top: Sydney Dobie and Victoria Ihas hug it out with the Smoke Eaters mascot

Boatmen and ‘Backs sink Smokies

Despite the losses, Toneff is happy to be back in Trail, after spending a year coaching with Campbell River.

Two home losses didn’t sit well with new Trail Smoke Eater assistant coach Curtis Toneff, whose first game behind the bench came in Friday’s 5-1 loss to the Langley Rivermen followed by a 6-3 setback to the Salmon Arm Silverbacks on Saturday.

“We have the skill and outshooting teams means we’re getting the chances, and we have puck possession,” said the 22-year-old former Smoke Eater defenceman. “Maturing needs to happen I think, and I think everyone know that . . . we just have to string together some wins here.”

Despite the losses, Toneff is happy to be back in Trail, after spending a year coaching in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League with Campbell River.

“I’m just so excited with all the history of this town, and the small town feel, a hockey town, winter coming, and it’s nice I think there are a lot more fans than when I played,” he said. “It’s good to see the community getting behind the team. I’m excited to get to know these guys, and help them try to make the playoffs, and get to the next level in their hockey careers.”

Mental breakdowns and plain bad luck have haunted the Smokies’ third periods this season. After drawing within one goal of the Rivermen on Friday, Langley scored three unanswered in the final frame, and on Saturday, Trail tied the game twice in the third period only to see their Interior rival Silverbacks score three late goals for the victory.

“It’s just frustrating,” said Trail assistant captain Jake Kaupilla. “It’s a little lack of experience this far in the year, and not bearing down. It’s just coming down to little plays. I mean you can tell the margin of difference between the good teams in this league is just a little bit, and we’re right there.”

Salmon Arm’s Carson Bolduc netted the winner with six and a half minutes to play in the final frame, taking a pretty back pass from Nick Hutchison and ripping a snap shot from the slot by Trail goalie Bailey MacBurnie to take a 4-3 lead. The win means the Backs remain in second place, six points behind the 12-1-0-0 Penticton Vees, and one up on Vernon.

“I thought it was a back and forth game,” said Silverbacks coach Brandon West. “Both teams were looking for that two points and both teams could have had it. I was really impressed to see our team respond after some negative situations. I thought we responded well and stayed upbeat on the bench and once we got the game winner, it was like a fresh breath of air there.”

The Silverbacks got on the board just 97 seconds into the first period on a low shot from Elijah Barriga. Trail had back-to-back power play opportunities in the period but couldn’t capitalize as the ‘Backs outshot Trail 11-10.

Goals have been hard to come by for the Smokies of late, scoring just four times in three games prior to their match against Salmon Arm and going 0-for-6 on the power play. But following a tentative first period, the Smokies Jake Kaupilla tallied his fourth of the season deflecting a Bennett Morrison point shot past Salmon Arm goalie Angus Redmond to tie it 55 seconds into the middle stanza.

MacBurnie kept the Smokies in it, making a great pad save off Josh Blanchard on the doorstep, then sliding over to take a sure goal away from Bolduc. However, with time winding down in the period, ‘Backs defenceman Cameron Trott sniped a shot past the Trail goalie for his first of the season to make it 2-1.

Kienan Scott drew Trail even 8:19 into the third, scoring the team’s sixth power play goal, on a dish from Nick Halloran and wired it top shelf on Redmond.

Salmon Arm grabbed the lead less than two minutes later when a Colton Thibeault centring pass from a tight angle ricocheted off the Trail defenceman’s stick and past MacBurnie to put the ‘Backs back in front 3-2.

The Smoke Eaters replied for the last time, when forward Kurt Black tied it at three 47 seconds later, finishing a pretty 2-on-1 pass from Scott.

However, after Bolduc’s winner, Salmon Arm’s two Josh’s, Laframboise and Blanchard scored in the final five minutes including an empty netter to salt away their eighth victory of the season. Salmon Arm outshot Trail 37-33 with Redmond getting the first star nod, while Scott picked up second star honours, and Bolduc the games’ third star.

On Friday, Langley scored three goals in the third period to break open a close 2-1 match. Following goals from Mathew Graham and Adam Sinclair, Trail’s Max Newton made it 2-1 heading into the third, but goals from Jason O’Neil, Torrin White, and Justion Fregona put the game away for Langley.

Trail outshot the Rivermen 45-43 but couldn’t beat Langley goalie Bo Didur in the late going. Didur was named the game’s first star, Fregona second star, and Trail goalie MacBurnie earned third star on the night.

“We proved in Penticton, we proved in most of the games that we can play with the best teams in the league, which happen to be the best teams in our division,” said Kaupilla. “I think, a little more practice, a little more grit and we’ll be right there in the playoff picture in no time.”

The Smokies fall to 4-9 and will look to make up ground when they host the Merritt Centennials on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena. Ticket prices for Wednesday’s game is $3.

Smoke Signals:

The Smoke Eaters traded Rhett Wilcox on Friday to the Cowichan Valley Capitals for defenceman Mitch Stapley. Wilcox, a Surrey native, scored three goals for Trail in three games. Trail was in need of a defenceman following the departure of Cole Arcuri.

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