It was a “Tale of Two Cities,” as the Trail Smoke Eaters split a pair of weekend road games, beating the Wenatchee Wild 4-2 on Friday before falling 8-1 to the Penticton Vees on Saturday.
The road trip got off to a great start on Friday, in front of a crowd of 3,500 fans. The Smokies jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead on goals from Connor Brown-Maloski, Ryan Swanson and Kale Howarth on the way to knocking off the second place Mainland division team.
“The Wenatchee game went really well,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Nick Deschenes. “To get out that quickly out of the gate and score a couple of goals gave us a lot of confidence, and we took that and kind of carried it through the game.”
Howarth’s goal 2:49 into the first period proved the winner when he took a pass from Spencer McLean and beat goalie Garrett Nieto, in for starter Chase Perry, who was pulled after giving up two quick goals.
The trip was the first to the Wild’s Arena for the Smokies and the local Wenatchee organizers put on a show for the capacity crowd reminiscent of semi-pro hockey promotions.
“It was very well done, and I think it is a great move for the league to incorporate them into the BCHL.” said Deschenes. “It only makes the league better and more solidified among the other Junior A leagues in Canada.”
Connor Brown-Maloski got the ball rolling when he backhanded a shot past Perry 63 seconds into the match with Nick Halloran assisting. CBM and Ross Armour then set up Ryan Swanson 31 seconds later, as the veteran d-man from Eden Prairie, Minn. blasted a shot from the blue line past Perry.
Kienan Scott added his fifth goal in four games on a breakaway pass from Max Newton at 11:46 of the second period to make it 4-0 heading to the third. Trail’s defence bent a little but did not break as the Wild’s Dakota Raabe and Logan Milliken beat Bailey MacBurnie to cut the lead in half midway through the final frame but the Smokies would hold on for the win.
Brown-Maloski was named the game’s first star, MacBurnie received second star honours for his 30 saves, and Raabe the third star for the Wild.
“Bailey played really well, and it got a little bit tight near the end, but all in all we were in control from start to finish. It was a good moral victory so to speak for the group.”
The win brought the Smokies within six points of the Vernon Vipers for the final playoff spot in the Interior division standings. Trail has three games in hand on a Vipers team that lost both ends of a home-and-home to Salmon Arm.
On Saturday, the Vees came out flying, scoring in the first 64 seconds of play on their way to an 8-1 thumping of the Smokies. Scott Conway had a four-point night and Demico Hanoun scored twice including the winner at 5:38 of the first period to lead Penticton to its 26th win of the season.
“The way things have played out this year so far, we just can’t put together some consistent efforts,” said Deschenes. “We go from a great game to a not so great game or vice versa. There’s nothing in between that, other than you go to sleep, you wake up, you eat and then get back on the ice, so that’s pretty much what we’re going to try to address moving forward.”
Conway tallied two goals, and Nick Jones, Taylor Ward, Mitchell Brooks, and Desi Burgart picked up the other Penticton goals, while Evan MacEachern scored on a power play to net the only Smokies’ marker.
“Realistically, we came out of it with two points in those two games, and we have to turn the page on Penticton and just keep moving forward.”
Trail’s next game goes in West Kelowna tonight where they will play the Warriors for just the second time this season. The last time the two teams met was an 8-3 Warrior home win on Sept. 15.
“We haven’t seen them very much, it’s been awhile and they’ve added some good players, it’s going to be another big challenge. It’s a tough barn to play in and they play hard, so we’ll get our guys as prepared as possible and hopefully it’s a bounce back game from that Penticton effort.”