After falling to the West Kelowna Warriors 5-3 on Tuesday in Kelowna, the Trail Smoke Eaters will look to halt a seven-game losing skid when they face Salmon Arm in a home-and-home this weekend.
The Smokies battled back from a 3-0 first-period deficit to tie the game in the second period, but could not complete the comeback as two goals from Andrew Johnson would give the Warriors a 5-3 victory.
The Smokies line of Jake Lucchini, Charlie Zuccarini, and Cooper Leitch did the heavy lifting for Trail scoring all three goals in the important Interior division match up.
Lucchini got the Smokies on the board at 17:06 of the first period with assists to Zuccarini and Leitch. The Trail native would make it 3-2 on a setup from Leitch and Ryan Swanson two minutes into the second, and Zuccarini would notch his 20th goal of the season, finishing a Lucchini and Leitch passing play to tie it at 3-3.
The Smokies owned the play in the middle frame outshooting the Warriors 12-4 in the period. Trail hemmed the Warriors in their own end for long stretches but could not find the go-ahead goal on rookie netminder Mike Lenko, an emergency call up from the KIJHL Revelstoke Grizzlies after starter Andy Desautels underwent an emergency appendectomy.
“I didn’t think we (West Kelowna) were getting the guys down low and I thought they (Trail) did a good job of pinching their D and we just didn’t get pucks out,” said Warriors coach Rylan Ferster. “We got a win and that’s important . . . obviously I thought they came in and played real good and we let a team back in the game but fortunately we got the win.”
For Trail, the games against Salmon Arm this weekend loom large. Taking a possible four points would put the Smokies into a tie with the fifth-place Silverbacks and offer a jolt of confidence heading into the Christmas break.
“(Points are huge) is an understatement, they are huge at any point of the year, but that’s the frustrating part,” said Trail coach Nick Deschenes. “There is still lots of hockey, and I mean the margin of winning and losing is small, which is a positive with this group, but that small margin seems to somehow feel like a significant distance when it really isn’t, but psychologically the hardest thing is to push through that.”
Trail outshot the Warriors 30-29 and went 0 for 2 on the power play, while West Kelowna was 1 for 6.
A lack of secondary scoring has plagued the Smokies lately with Lucchini, Zuccarini, Leitch and power-play linemate Dallas Calvin accounting for 12 of the 18 goals scored in the past five games.
Over that period, Lucchini has netted 10 points, Zuccarini eight, and Calvin seven. Conner Browne-Maloski has also contributed with three goals in his last five games, doubling his goal-scoring production on the year to six goals.
Lucchini’s three-point night gives him 17 goals, 24 assists, and 41 points on the season and puts him in a tie with Powell River’s Jared Lukosevicius for fourth place in BCHL scoring, while Zuccarini, 20-19-39, is in seventh.
As for the Silverbacks they are led by Air Force commit Andrew Farney who has seven goals and 32 points on the year, and Taro Hirose who is right behind him with 31 points. The Backs also got deeper on the back end, acquiring Alaska-Fairbanks commit Jordan Burns, 3-13-16, from the Powell River Kings on Tuesday for future considerations.
Angus Redmond has carried most of the load between the pipes. Over 26 games, he’s posted a 2.99 GAA and a .901 save percentage.
The 11-13-3-5 Backs are coming off a 6-3 victory against Merritt on Saturday, and a 2-2 draw with the Penticton Vees a week ago.
Trail plays in Salmon Arm tonight and returns to the Cominco Arena for a 7:30 puck drop on Saturday.