The Trail Smoke Eaters split a pair of games with Interior division rivals on the weekend beating the Merritt Centennials 7-5 at the Cominco Arena Friday night before bowing to the Penticton Vees 6-2 at the South Okanagan Event Centre on Saturday.
Trail had their work cutout for them going against the CJHL’s top-seeded team in the country. The Interior division-leading Vees were coming off 10-0 and 11-0 slaughters in a home-and-home with the Surrey Eagles last week and heading into the match against the Smokies on a 12-game winning streak.
“Their team speed is definitely above average, and we’re not at their level right now as far as execution, skating, and consistency,” said Trail head coach Nick Deschenes. “They play the same game for 60 minutes, it doesn’t matter. As Surrey saw, even if they are up eight goals they’re still trying to score.”
However, Trail skated with the Vees in the first period, taking a 1-0 lead on a goal from Scott Davidson at 7:14 before the Vees’ tied it on a power play when Cody DePourcq redirected a Gabe Bast point shot to beat Adam Todd at 11:41.
The Vees would roll with the momentum into the second period. After Smokies forward Ryan Swanson took a penalty for hooking, Newell scored unassisted on a good individual effort 70 seconds into the period to give Penticton a 2-1 lead.
Less than three minutes later, DePourcq netted his second of the night and fourth of the season on what proved to be the winner going high on Todd to make it 3-1 Vees. Demico Hannoun made it 4-1 Penticton on a pretty play from Newell, before Charlie Zuccarini cut the lead to two on a Trail power-play goal with 12 seconds remaining in the period.
That was as close as the Smoke Eaters would get as Riley Alferd scored two goals in the third, outshooting Trail 13-5 in the period to give Penticton the 6-2 victory.
Trail was 1-for-2 on the power play, while the speedy home team went 4-for-7, including three minor penalties called against the Smokies in the third period, none to Penticton. While Deschenes did not criticize the refereeing, he suggested a two-man system would have been preferable for such a fast and high-paced match.
“It was a really good hockey game, a 1-1 game going into the second period,” said Deschenes. “I don’t think we deserved to win the game, but it wasn’t a 6-2 game.”
Viktor Dombrovskiy added two assists for the Smoke Eaters and is third in the league among defenceman in scoring with 2-13-15, while Todd stopped 27 shots for Trail and Hunter Mishka 24 for the Vees.
The previous night, Trail emerged with a thrillling 7-5 victory after holding off a tenacious Merritt Centennials team.
The Smokies blew a 4-1 third-period lead, but managed to stave off a Centennials comeback thanks to a late goal on an outstanding effort by Scott Davidson to break a 5-5 tie on the power play 13:43 into the final frame.
Trail would then kill off a penalty with three minutes remaining in regulation and Bryan Basilico would net the insurance marker with less than a minute to play to seal the deal for the Smokies.
“You play with fire and you get the lead, then you let up and make simple mistakes,” said Deschenes. “It’s still early in the season and we’re taking those as lessons to be learned and it’s pretty much what it is. We take two points, but we do have to look back and say, ‘How did the game turn so quickly and how can we prevent it next time.’”
Jake Lucchini was named the game’s first star with a goal and two assists, while Davidson was second star for his two-goal night, and the Cents’ Diego Cuglietta third star. Craig Martin and Basilico each had a goal and an assist, while Harlan Orr pitched in with two helpers, and Gryffin Martin and Kienan Scott added singles. The Smokies Adam Todd stopped 21 shots on the night while the Cent’s Anthony Pupplo made 24 saves.
Smoke Signals: The Annual Smoke Eaters Ice Breaker $1,000 draw, dinner and dance will be held on Saturday in the Cominco Gym. Tickets are available at Re/Max All Pro Realty. Phone 368-5000 for ticket information and reservations. The dinner this year features Prime Rib and Prawns with “Random Embers” playing at the dance to follow. Tickets: $50 per person or $90 per couple. Cocktails are at 5:30 p.m., dinner 6:30 p.m. Tickets can also be purchased at any Smoke Eater home game.