The Trail Smoke Eater and Vernon Vipers rivalry continues to grow as a physical match up ended in a 5-3 victory for the Vipers on Saturday in Vernon, in what was Trail’s last exhibition game.
“It was good,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Cam Keith. “We’re not really looking at the results right now, it’s more about the process … But I thought we played really well. All the kids in the line up proved that they can play in the BCHL.”
The Smoke Eaters last faced the Vipers in the Interior Division semifinal last March, losing in five games in what was a punishing and physical series.
“That (physicality) was the part I wanted to see,” said Keith. “Get to that regular season form of compete, and facing Vernon in Vernon was a perfect setting for it. We were missing a couple of our key players and so were they, so it was pretty balanced in that way. I thought physically we’re at where we should be at right now.”
The see-saw battle saw Vernon take a 2-1 first period lead on goals from Nicholas Cherkowski and Michael Young. Smokies forward Kale Howarth netted the lone Trail marker of the period when he knocked down a breakaway pass, walked in and wired a shot over the glove of Vipers goalie Anthony Yamnitsky – former goaltender for the Wenatchee Wild.
Trail tied the game on a power-play goal when Rossland native Ross Armour one-timed a cross-crease pass into the open corner early in the middle frame. Minutes later, Smoke Eater rookie Levi Glasman broke in with Howarth on a two-on-two. Glasman burst to the net, beating the defenceman and chipping in a Howarth pass on the backhand over the sprawling Yamnitsky to put Trail ahead 3-2 heading into the third.
“He (Glasman) is going to be the real deal,” said Keith. “He’s like a Ross Armour only left handed. Same style of game, same hockey IQ, and plays with a bit of an edge, gritty. He’s a Smoke Eater through and through.”
In the third period, Vernon found the equalizer. Working the puck around the perimeter and back to point-man Chris Jandric whose point shot found its way through traffic to tie the match at the eight minute mark. Jandric then knotted the winner on a similar play only from the opposite point in the late going and Jordan Sandhu sealed the win with an empty-net goal in the final seconds for the 5-3 final.
“I thought both teams competed really hard,” said Vernon coach Mark Ferner on the Vernon website. “The last exhibition game, players are still fighting for jobs and that’s the way it should be. Obviously that’s a good group over there, and they had the majority of their guys in, but I think our guys responded really well.”
The Smoke Eaters goaltender Brandon Wells played the full 60 minutes and was solid throughout. The Spirit River, Alta. native will carry much of the workload this season.
“I wanted to get him as many shots I could,” said Keith. “Obviously him being a 20-year-old, he’s going to carry the bulk this year. We didn’t have enough exhibition games just to play him a half, I needed to play him full.”
The Vipers cruised to a 3-0-0-1 exhibition series record with their only loss coming to Salmon Arm in overtime. Trail went winless through its exhibition series against Wenatchee and Vernon, but the ‘process’ gave coach Keith and the rest of the coaching staff a chance to evaluate and structure the team over a relatively short time period.
“Younger recruits all had big roles and we kind of rolled four lines and put everyone in different situations, put some young kids on the power play, because down the road there’s going to be situation where we need to use these kids. So it was really helpful that way to see them play in that kind of situation and excel.”
The Trail Smoke Eaters regular season opens at home on Friday, as they face the West Kelowna Warriors at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.
Cobert, Wa. native, Carter Jones, who was released from the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, joined the Smoke Eaters for the match up against the Vipers on Saturday. The skilled 18-year-old centerman played with the KIJHL’s Spokane Braves and was fourth in league scoring last season with 26 goals and 66 points.
The Smoke Eaters released Castlegar native Aiden Jenner, who will join the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.