The Trail Smoke Eaters thrilling playoff run came to an end Friday night in Wenatchee.
The Wenatchee Wild clinched the BCHL’s Interior Division championship with a 6-1 victory and a 4-1 series win.
“They’re a good team over there, Wenatchee,” said Smoke Eaters assistant captain Jeremy Lucchini. “Day-by-day they had the upper hand and they played better in those four games they won, so a tough loss.”
For the four-year Smoke Eater veteran and Trail native, the Game 5 setback brings an end to a brilliant junior career, in which Lucchini helped the Smoke Eaters rise from cellar dweller to playoff contender.
“It’s pretty tough, but what a way to go out,” said Lucchini. “The town was just completely behind us and it was incredible. I can’t thank them enough, there was at every game at least 2,500 people and the support was insane, and that made it a lot easier for sure.”
The Smokies season was one of its most successful in its history in the BCHL, attracting more that 50,000 fans for its 28 home games, and averaging over 2,300 fans in the playoffs. The difference from Lucchini’s first year and fourth year is incomparable. Trail finished last in the Interior in 2014-15 with a 19-33-6-0 record, but improved year-to-year, just missing the playoffs in 2016 with 23 wins, and finally breaking through in 2017 with a playoff berth and first round win over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, capped off with 32 victories and a final-four showing in 2018.
“Just trying to make the playoffs seemed like winning it all back then. Every year we kept chipping away. The second year we almost made it, my third year we did, and then this year we made a run at it, and it just seems like every year it’s getting better and better. I’m excited to see where the organization goes in the future.”
After the initial sting wears off, the Smokies can reflect on a solid playoff run that saw them sweep the West Kelowna Warriors and knock off perennial league power Penticton Vees in seven games. That semifinal series was a physically and emotionally draining seven-game battle that may have played a part in the Smoke Eaters energy level in Round 3.
“We had the chance to close it out in Game 6, and we just prolonged the series, so that might have been another factor on why we couldn’t really compete that well with Wenatchee. But it was a great year and and a great time and something I’ll never forget for sure.”
Trail forced a Game 5 against Wenatchee with a solid 5-2 win in Game 4 at the Cominco Arena. But on Friday the Wild were determined to clinch on home ice in front of 3,000 fans outshooting Trail 41-21 over 60 minutes.
Smokies goaltender Adam Marcoux was the big reason there was a scoreless first period after Wenatchee outshot Trail 14-3.
The Smoke Eaters inability to shut down Wenatchee’s most dangerous trigger-men in Jasper Weatherby and AJ Vanderbeck proved the difference. The Wild, however, shut down Trail’s top guns, Kale Howarth and Ross Armour, throughout the series.
Weatherby notched his league-leading 12th playoff goal 2:25 into the middle frame as the Wild power play cashed in when Trail was caught with too many players on the ice. The Wild made it 2-0 on Lucas Sower’s goal at 4:27 of the second.
Blane Caton notched his fourth of the playoffs, with assists to Ryan Murphy and Mike Byers, to get Trail on the board a short time later just past the five-minute mark.
The frantic start to the period continued when Cooper Zachary replied to put the home team ahead 3-1 before the 10-minute mark and Wenatchee padded its lead on Weatherby’s second of the period with less than three minutes on the clock.
Trail’s offence produced more pressure in the period though the Wild outshot the Smokies 13-11.
Wenatchee’s Vanderbeck, notched his third point of the game and give the Wild a 5-1 lead at the 5:41 mark of the third. Weatherby picked up an assist for his third point of the game and the duo made it respective four-point nights setting up August Von Ungern to end the scoring at 6-1 with 4:26 to play.
Wenatchee went 1-for-4 on the power play, while Trail was 0-for-3.
The pain of losing in the Interior final was soon replaced by a deeper and more profound loss, when the team heard the news of the Humboldt Broncos bus accident and the 15 casualties just prior to the Smoke Eaters embarking on their own bus back to Trail on Friday night.
“I was pretty upset coming off the ice and then right away that’s when we found out, and it just changed your whole perspective,” said Lucchini. “The loss went out the window and you didn’t even really care anymore. It’s awful, and it makes you sick. You spend hours on the bus all the time, and it’s always kind of in the back of your mind, but you never really think it’s going to happen. The fact that it did and that many people lost their lives, it’s just terrible.”
The City of Trail honoured the Smoke Eaters at a ceremony at City Hall on Monday, and also paid their respects to the Humboldt Broncos.
The Wild will face the Prince George Spruce Kings in the Fred Page Cup final starting Friday in Wenatchee.