The Greater Trail AA Midget Smoke Eaters put forth a great effort but in the end would settle for silver at their annual tournament at the Cominco Arena on the weekend.
The Midget AA Smokies would advance to the noon final on Sunday with an exciting 6-4 victory over the Spokane AA Chiefs the same morning. However, six games in three days, and a depleted line up would eventually take their toll as Trail would fall to the West Kelowna AA Midget Warriors 4-0 in the final match.
“I was happy, we were shorthanded and played six games,” said Smoke Eater coach Paul Matteucci following the final. “There are no excuses, but our kids are the hardest working kids I’ve ever coached.”
The West Kelowna Jr. Warriors jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead on goals by Kent Kelly, Samuel Dubbeldam, and Kyle Laird. Smokie goalie Drake Poirier would hold them off the board the rest of the way, but the Warriors big defence and strong goaltending from Nicholas Crowder thwarted Smokie shooters throughout the game.
Despite, third period pressure and a cross bar, Crowder would stand tall on his way to the shut out and Nicholas Buchanan would score into an empty net with just over one minute of play to ice it.
“They are a good team,” said Matteucci. “We haven’t found a way to beat them. But there are no excuses, we can beat them, if we had our full squad, we would have had a better chance . . . Our top three players are out, but everybody has that, it’s part of the game, right.”
The Jr. Smokies are indeed hurting, playing the tournament without the services of top players Nolan Hanley, Johnny Todd, Karsten Jang, and team captain Luc Lajeunesse.
Nevertheless, the Smoke Eaters opened the round robin with a 2-1 victory over the Castlegar AA Rebels, before falling to the Warriors 3-1.
They bounced back with a 2-1 win over a tough Spokane team, then dispatched the Kelowna Jr. Rockets 4-3 Saturday, in a game that didn’t count for Trail due to the odd number of teams in the tournament.
However, Spokane would beat West Kelowna in the round robin 2-1 to make it a three-way tie for first place with the Chiefs, Smokies, and Warriors all deadlocked at four points. Once the math was completed, organizers determined that the Warriors would get a bye to the final, and Spokane and Trail would play in the semifinal.
In an exciting match, the Jr. Chiefs jumped out into an early 3-0 lead, but the Jr. Smokies would storm back to tie it, and eventually go on to the 6-4 victory.
Despite the loss in the final, coach Matteucci is looking forward to taking the character team to provincials in March.
“It’s hard to hang your head, these guys don’t. We have practice tomorrow and they are already excited to go.”