The Greater Trail Midget Tier 2 Smoke Eaters advanced to the provincial final with a 3-0 victory over the Smithers Storm on Tuesday afternoon at the Cominco Arena.
“I thought we brought our work ethic,” said Trail coach Brian Youngson. “Any time we work hard as a group we’ve had success. I didn’t envision a 3-0 success but I thought that was just a byproduct of everyone just wanting it that bad and doing what it took to make it happen.”
Trail captain Mitch Titus scored the winner and Cole Gallo earned the shutout as the Midget Smoke Eaters finished off an incredible run through the round robin with the semifinal win over the Storm.
AP Tyler Ghiradosi fed Titus at the top of the crease and the Trail native banged it by the Smithers goalie with a fraction of a second left on the clock in the first period to give Trail a 1-0 lead, as the Smoke Eaters played a tight defensive match, neutralizing the Storm’s attack.
“We got some big saves (from Gallo),” said Youngson. “He didn’t have to be amazing all game, but when he had to make some big saves, he made some big saves, and I thought defensively as a group we played really well.”
Gallo came up big on a breakaway midway through the second period, then on the penalty kill he calmly made a glorious glove save on a point-blank blast from the low slot. The Smoke Eaters had their share of opportunities as well, as Titus rang one off the post on a second-period power play, but it wasn’t until the 14:12 mark of the third period, when he carried the puck down the right wing and sent a perfect pass to Devin Ghiradosi in front who redirected it by Smithers tender Owen Sikkes to make it 2-0.
Smithers would suffer a blow to their comeback attempt when Liam Dodd took a four minute penalty for a hit-to-the head with 3:37 remaining, and Nathan McKay would ice it scoring into an empty net with Chris Colquhoun assisting.
Trail’s road to the playoff round took an unbelievable turn on Tuesday.
The Kelowna Midget Rockets, the odds on favourite coming into the tournament, were unbeaten going into the last day of the round robin but a 5-3 loss to North Delta early Tuesday, and a stunning 3-2 upset by Williams Lake over the Rockets in the afternoon matchup set the stage for a must-win Trail game against North Delta Tuesday night.
“Anytime you have success in tournaments like this, sometimes especially if you’re a bit of an underdog, you need to have the stars align, and I think Williams Lake playing spoiler for us definitely helped.”
In the final game of the round robin, the 2-1-1 Trail needed to win outright against North Delta, as a tie would put the Smokies out of a playoff position. So with the game tied 3-3 in the final minute of the third period, the Smoke Eater coach pulled his goalie, and Trail’s Ryan Neil would net the winner with 12 seconds left on the clock, to give the now 3-1-1 Smoke Eaters the best record in Pool B and a berth into Wednesday’s semifinal.
“That’s a special one,” added Youngson. “I think no matter what happens with the outcome this evening, I think that’s a game the guys will remember for a really long time.”
North Delta, Kelowna, and Williams Lake would finish with identical 2-0-2 records but Delta would advance due to its head-to-head victories over both teams, and play number-one seed New Westminster in the other semifinal Tuesday morning.
In an epic match up, New West was trailing Delta 4-2 in the third period, but would score early then tie it with less than a minute remaining. The game would take two overtimes before Jordan Smith of New Westminster scored at 3:12 to win it and send them to the final.
See Friday’s Trail Times for more on the provincial Midget championship.