Two first period goals and 32 saves by Penticton goalie Adam Scheel lifted the Vees to a 2-1 victory over the Trail Smoke Eaters on Wednesday at the Cominco Arena.
The Smoke Eaters played the game they wanted to against a high-flying Vees team that has outscored their opposition 28-5 in three games leading up to Wednesday night’s match up. However, Penticton’s stingy defence and solid goaltending proved the difference, in what was a statement win for a Vees team that lost an Oct. 28 meeting with the Smoke Eaters 4-1.
“It was a huge performance by the guys,” said Vees assistant coach Matt Fraser. “It was one we had circled on the calendar, knowing that Trail has a great team this year. We’ve been playing pretty well of late, so heading into here the guys were excited and we were excited, as a staff as well, so overall a great performance from the group tonight.”
The Smokies were resilient in their own end, limiting the Vees chances, and when they did break through goalie Brandon Wells made several key saves to keep the game close. Despite missing Levi Glasman, Ryan Murphy, Carter Jones, and Braeden Tuck up front, the Trail offence, with Beaver Valley Nitehawks APs Aiden Jenner and Bradley Ross, generated a number of excruciatingly close chances, but in the end, the six-foot-four Scheel came up big.
“We’re a little shorthanded out there,” said Smokies assistant captain Jeremy Lucchini. “We got a couple call ups from Beaver Valley, but we fought hard, and just ran into a hot goalie.”
Trail set the tone early, pressing the Vees until an elbowing penalty to Ethan Martini shifted momentum six minutes and 37 seconds into the first period. A minute later, Penticton forward Taylor Ward gathered a Jonny Tychonick pass at the top of the circle and sniped a quick shot top corner past a screened Wells for a 1-0 Vees lead.
The goal sparked the Vees, and Owen Sillinger made it 2-0 on a deflection in front of the Trail goal off a Joseph Leahy point shot at 13:23. Trail came on in the final two minutes swarming the Penticton zone, but the 18-year-old Lakewood, Ohio native slid over and robbed Smokie forward Tyler Ghirardosi trying to finish a 3-on-1, and then stared down Troy Ring at the right dot as Trail outshot the Vees 12-9 in the period.
The Smokies Ross Armour brought the Smokies to within one midway through the second period netting his 15th of the season on a wrister from the high slot. Andre Ghantous came close, ringing one off the cross bar as the Vees held an 11-7 edge in shots and a tenuous 2-1 lead heading to the third.
Penticton played tight defensive hockey in the final frame in an attempt to shut down the Smokies attack. Trail had their chances, with Kale Howarth getting stopped on the doorstep on a couple attempts, and Scheel making a huge glove save off Lucchini in the slot with just over two minutes to play.
“He was fantastic,” said Fraser. “He was dialed in, seeing pucks, looking through screens, catching it, controlling his rebounds real well, and just looked really comfortable in the blue paint tonight.”
Scheel turned aside 14 Smoke Eater shots in the third period for the win, as Trail outshot Penticton 33-26. Trail went 0-for-4 on the power play, while Penticton scored once in two extra-man opportunities. Sillinger earned the game’s first star, Scheel the second star, and Smokies goalie Wells the third star.
For the Penticton assistant coach, the Vees executed their defensive plan almost perfectly.
“There’s more than one way to win a hockey game, you can have those 10-1 games, but also there’s a little more of a playoff feel when you have those 2-1, tight checking, close game games like it was tonight,” said Fraser. “Both teams played a good hockey game and it came down to one goal separating us in the end. This is a game you’re going to see come March, April, when it gets into the real more intense playoff hockey games, so it’s a good test for the guys to show that we can play this way.”
Trail remains in first place in the Interior Division a point up on the Vernon Vipers, who they play tonight. It’s the first meeting with Vernon since the Smokies suffered a 9-0 loss at home on Oct. 22.
“We just have to play like we did tonight, not taking any shifts off, finish our checks, and come to play,” said Lucchini. “We got embarrassed last time we played them, so we’ll be ready to go.”
The Vipers also lost Wednesday falling to the Wenatchee Wild 2-1. Puck drop for tonight’s (Friday’s) Trail-Vernon game goes at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.