The Trail Smoke Eaters overcame a 5-1 first period deficit and skated to an incredible 6-5 come-from-way-behind victory over the Vernon Vipers on Wednesday at the Cominco Arena.
The Vipers start was almost identical to the 3-0 lead they seized in the first minute of play in their game against the Smokies two weeks ago. However, this time it took three minutes and 47 seconds to go up three on goals from Michael Statchuk, Dexter Dancs, and Liam Coughlin.
Brian Basilico would get the Smoke Eaters on the board taking a pass from Scott Davidson and beating Austin Smith to cut the lead to 3-1. But 30 seconds later Logan Mick would restore the three-goal lead and the Vipers leading scorer Michael McNicholas would make it 5-1 before the period was out.
The turning point in the game most likely occurred off the ice, when coach Nick Deschenes started the paint peeling in the first intermission.
“Obvioulsy it was a tough first 20, I probably didn’t say the kindest words to them after that first period,” said Deschenes. “But I’d like to think I said something right, because the message has been that there is still a lot to play for, we’re building for next year, and everyone’s auditioning for jobs.”
The veteran line of Basilico, Davidson, and Jesse Knowler would lead the charge and cut the lead to 5-3 by the end of two. First Knowler would set up Basilico on the power play at 18:16, then assist on Davidson’s goal with 14 seconds to play in the middle frame.
The trio would carry the momentum into the third when Zane Schartz converted a Davidson and Basilico set up to cut the lead to one. Davidson would net the equalizer with 16:04 to play, then with less than three minutes remaining Braedon Cross would net the winner, taking a Knowler feed and beating Smith for the 6-5 victory.
The trio of Basilico, Davidson, and Knowler accounted for 12-points, with Basilico and Davidson each netting two goals and two assists, while Knowler added four helpers.
Smokie goalie Adam Todd came on in relief of starter Dustin Nikkel and stopped 26 of 27 shots, while Smith turned aside 31 of 37.
The win snapped a 12-game losing skid, and despite a difficult season, coach Deschenes remains hopeful for next year.
“Moving forward, we still need a lot of pieces to the puzzle, but we’re moving in a direction that I’m still happy with.”
The Smokies will play their final home game tonight at 7:30 p.m. versus the West Kelowna Warriors, a team that is fighting for top spot in the Interior division with Penticton.
“Kelowna has a chance for first place, so I expect them to come with a little bit more.”
The Warriors will finish their season with a home-and-home with Trail, while the Penticton Vees will end their campaign with a pair against the fifth-place Salmon Arm SilverBacks, whose chances for a playoff spot were iced in a 5-1 loss to the Merritt Centennials on Wednesday.
The Vees and Warriors are locked in a tie for first place, each with 74 points.
Smoke Signals: Be sure to come to the game early for a special presentation to Trail Smoke Eaters public address announcer Tiger Milburn. The Smokies would like to acknowledge Tiger’s 50 years behind the microphone and as a tireless Smoke Eater volunteer. All students and children under-12 get in free. Also, the Smoke Eaters Cash Lottery and 50/50 draws will take place during the match.