After picking up 3-of-4 points on the weekend, the Trail Smoke Eaters will look to cool off a hot Salmon Arm team that is fighting tooth-and-nail for an Interior division playoff spot.
The Silverbacks are coming off a season-turning three-win weekend, beating West Kelowna 4-1 Friday, Merritt 7-3 on Saturday, and Surrey 3-2 on Sunday. The six points lift the Backs into a tie for third place with Merritt with 56 points, while West Kelowna falls one point back in fifth spot with just six games remaining.
Trail is in a position to seriously affect the outcome of the playoff race with three games remaining against West Kelowna, two against the Vernon Vipers, and one each versus the Silverbacks, Centennials, and Penticton Vees.
“I hate the term spoiler, but we just want to continue to work on playing the game the right way,” said Trail coach and GM Nick Deschenes. “There is still a lot to play for, and these teams are gunning for us, so we are going to have good competition and every game is important.”
On the weekend, Trail would give up a late goal, then fall 5-4 in overtime to the Merritt Centennials, before bouncing back with a 2-1 victory over the Surrey Eagles on Saturday.
“We seem to find ways, I wouldn’t call it shoot ourselves in the foot,” said Deschenes. “Those are key moments in a game, and this year it has happened a few times. However, we did keep Surrey at bay with the last 10 minutes to play in the third. I would have liked to see a bigger score against them, but I think their goaltender played really well.”
Smokies goalie Brett Clark also shone, stopping 29 shots and was named the game’s first star as he made several key saves in the dying minutes of the third period to preserve the 2-1 victory over Surrey.
Trail’s Harlan Orr netted his 14th tally of the season and what proved to be the winning goal on the power play to give Trail a 2-0 lead at 15:41 of the second period. After the Eagles Dylan McCann was sent off for tripping at 14:04, the Smoke Eaters swarmed the Surrey net but goalie Christian Short foiled the Trail attack, until Smokies’ leading scorer Jake Lucchini fed Dallas Calvin who ripped a point shot through traffic. Short made the save, but Orr was on the doorstep to bang it in.
Following a scoreless and tentative first period, the Smokies would get on the board first. Cooper Leitch streaked down the left side into the Eagles zone and sent a hard pass in front to Brian Basilico who snapped it past Short at 3:47 to put the Smokies up 1-0. Orr would score before the end of the period as Trail outshot the Eagles through two periods 23-17.
Surrey would pressure in the third and score seven minutes in when Spencer Unger finished a perfect tic-tac-toe 3-on-1 with Ben Vikich and Darius Davidson that left Clark with no chance. But the Grande Prairie native would come up big in the late going, sliding over and robbing Davidson of an open netter with just under two minutes remaining.
Surrey pulled their goalie with 1:15 to play, but a solid forecheck and tight defence coupled with a six-foot-five Stephen Penner humbling of Vikich in the final seconds, would stifle an Eagle attack.
Surrey outshot Trail 13-12 in the period, but Trail held the edge in the game 35-30. Short received second star honours, while Trail defenceman Dexter McLeod was named third star and AP Lincoln Lane the Energy Player of the Match.
In Friday’s game against Merritt, an exciting back-and-forth match up would eventually result in a 5-4 overtime win for the Centennials.
Jake Lucchini had two goals and two assists and Calvin scored twice and added an assist as Trail blew a 4-3 third-period lead in the final minute before Josh Teves netted the OT winner at 1:43 of the 4-on-4 overtime.
Merrit outshot Trail 16-5 in the first period but the game was tied 1-1 heading into the second, as Adam Todd returned to the goal crease and played well for Trail in the first.
The Cents would take a 3-2 lead in the second on goals from Rhett Wilcox and Cole Choney, while Lucchini scored his second of the game. Smokies’ forward Calvin tied it up on the power play with seven minutes remaining, and would put the Smokies up 4-3 with 1:25 to play in regulation. However, Cents forward John Schiavo would net an unassisted goal just 26 seconds later to tie it and force OT.
Merritt outshot Trail 37-31 and were 0-for-2 on the power play while Trail went 2-for-5. Calvin was the game’s first star while Lucchini received third star nod for Trail.
“There was definitely some positives,” added Deschenes. “There is still guys playing for lots. Dallas Calvin is still looking for an NCAA opportunity, and I know that guys like Craig Martin, who have had a lot of their season taken away by injury, want to finish on a good note. There’s still lots to play for. And you always play to win, that should be in your mindset even if you are playing street hockey.”
Game time tonight against the Silverbacks goes at 7:30 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.