Trail Smoke Eater AP Sheldon Hubbard puts the stop on Merritt Centennial forward Diego Cuglietta

Smokies close but no cigar

The Smoke Eaters took a 3-2 lead into the third period but couldn’t hold it as the Cents scored twice in the final frame.

A pair of former Trail Smoke Eaters came back to haunt the Smokies in back-to-back one-goal losses to the Langley Rivermen Friday and the Merritt Centennials Saturday at the Cominco Arena.

The Smoke Eaters took a 3-2 lead into the third period but couldn’t hold it as the Cents scored twice in the final frame including the winner by ex-Smokie Shane Poulsen for the 4-3 victory Saturday. On Friday, diminutive netminder Lyndon Stanwood was huge stymieing the Smokies in a close 3-2 decision.

The win enabled the Cents to keep pace with the Salmon Arm SilverBacks who beat Langley 4-1 on Saturday. The two teams are currently tied for third place in the Interior division with 37 points, behind a surging Vees team, 44, that is currently enjoying a four-game winning streak, and hosts the Smokies on Wednesday.

In the loss to the Cents, after a Smokie penalty, the Centennials set up the box and Sebastien Pare and Diego Cuglietta worked the puck to Poulsen who blasted a point shot through the screen and by a helpless Adam Todd for the winner at 9:31 of the third.

Braeden Pears opened the scoring for the Smoke Eaters taking a pass from Sheldon Brett, flying down the left wing and ripping a shot off the post to put the orange and black up 1-0 at 3:35 of the opening frame. However, Merritt would tie it three minutes later when Rhett Wilcox stripped the puck from the Smokie defender and walked in on a breakaway. Todd made a good pad save but Wilcox banged in the rebound to tie it.

Merritt would take a 2-1 lead when Adam Tracey sniped a breakaway shot stick side on Todd, but a great effort by Brett chasing down the puck and dishing to Travis Stephens who made a slick move to the net and wired it by Adam Kero to make it 2-2 at 12:39.

One minute later, Adam Wheeldon deflected a Jake Lucchini shot to put the Smokies up 3-2 heading into the third period.

However, Trail failed to hold on as Jeff Wight would snipe a wrist shot off the faceoff to tie it 3-3 at 5:56 of the third, before Poulsen would settle it with his blast from the point.

The Smoke Eaters tried to find the equalizer but couldn’t beat Kero in the final minutes despite some wild scrambles and added pressure. Todd was solid in net for the Smokies stopping 44 shots and earning third star on the night.

On Friday, Langley grabbed a 3-1 lead but Trail’s Brian Basilico would draw the Smokies within one with just over five minutes to play, however, the home team was denied the equalizer, as former Trail goalie Stanwood made his debut in net for the Rivermen, and stopped 34 of 36 shots for second star honours and the victory.

Stephens, the Smoke Eaters’ leading scorer with nine goals and 13 assists, scored the other goal for Trail.

The Smokies next home game goes tonight when they host the BCHL’s leading scorer Landon Smith and the Salmon Arm SilverBacks at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena. In  a special offer, admission for all children and students is a toonie, and for all adults just $5.

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