Whether it was the festive Halloween atmosphere, a generous 50-50 raffle, or the more than 2,300 fans in attendance, the Trail Smoke Eaters came to play on Saturday.
The Smoke Eaters remedied a humbling loss to the Vernon Vipers last Sunday with the team’s only cure. A pair of wins started with a 5-4 come-from-behind ‘W’ over the Centennials on Friday in Merritt, followed by an inspiring 4-1 victory over the Penticton Vees Saturday night at the Cominco Arena.
“Merritt is a really difficult rink to win in, with the small ice and everything that goes with it, so to get that win and see it lead into tonight (Saturday) even though the guys had to travel and no sleep – we had energy the entire game, which was really nice to see,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Cam Keith.
The Smokies’ ability to shake off the devastating loss with a win in Merritt was a tough test of character, but to dominate the Vees through two periods, withstand a comeback, and finish them off in the third, propelled the team to a new level.
“There’s a difference between great teams and good teams, and we wanted to prove that we’re a great team that doesn’t go into a slump – we never lose two games in a row – kind of mentality,” said Keith.
Rossland native Ross Armour netted the winner, scoring his 12th of the season, on a nice dish from Kale Howarth from behind the goal line to make it 2-0 five minutes into the second period.
“Kale gave me a nice pass, and I happened to have a wide open net so I put it in,” said Armour. “After losing to Vernon 9-0, we had to rebound, and we did so and it was good to get it back. Having everyone going is key, and we have the last couple games and it’s shown.”
Trail came out flying in the opening frame but couldn’t beat Vees goalie Adam Scheel on two early power plays. However, the third one clicked when a point shot from Jeremy Lucchini was kicked out by Scheel but went right to Tyler Ghirardosi who fired in his first goal as a Smoke Eater at 6:48 of the first period. The Montrose native has played well for the Smoke Eaters pitching in with eight assists in 16 games, yet was happy to end the goal-scoring drought.
“It definitely feels good to get the monkey off my back,” said Ghirardosi. “Everyone is playing the right way, which makes it easy.”
Smoke Eater coach, Keith, says the 18-year-old forward has played well enough to have a half dozen goals, but is confident that Ghirardosi, who has established some chemistry with Murphy and Carter Jones, will light the lamp many more times this season.
“He’s been snakebitten with a lot of goal posts, a bounce here, a bounce there, but his points don’t really fully tell the whole story of Tyler Ghirardosi,” said Keith. “He’s a kid that battles, he’s so good on the PK, he plays hard every game. It’s nice to see a kid that plays the game the right way, rewarded in the right way … He’s a Trail kid through-and-through.”
Trail continued to attack, outshooting the Vees 17-3 in the period but only finding the twine once against the towering six-foot-four Vees goaltender.
The Smoke Eaters carried their momentum into the second and following Armour’s goal, had a number of prime looks including a Howarth breakaway that was turned aside by Scheel. The Vees also had their chances but Trail goalie Brandon Wells was steady and weathered two Penticton power-plays to keep the score 2-0 heading to the third, as Trail outshot the visitors 11-9 in the period.
As expected, the Vees came out determined in the third and Jackson Keane slapped in a Joseph Leahy rebound just 45 seconds in to bring Penticton to within one.
“When I went back in the coaches room (after the second), I said, ‘If we can hold them off for 10 minutes and keep it 0-0 we’ll be okay but if they score early that’s going to give them that extra jolt that they haven’t had all game,’ and that’s what happened,” said Keith.
The Vees continued to press and had a glorious chance to tie it but Wells slid over and robbed Massimo Rizzo of a one-timer in close to preserve a tenuous lead.
Trail’s defensive resilience neutralized the Penticton attack, and a four-minute power play midway through the final frame helped the Smokies kill the clock.
Trail capitalized in the late going when Ryan Murphy batted down a puck at mid ice then sent Ghirardosi streaking down the left side. The former Beaver Valley Nitehawk broke past the defenceman and wired a shot over the shoulder of Scheel and into the top corner for a 3-1 Smoke Eater lead with 4:13 to play.
“It was a good play when Murph knocked it out of the air,” said Ghiardosi. “I was driving to the net … and just making sure about hitting the net.”
A minute later, Howarth iced it on a breakaway, cutting across the crease and slipping the puck between the goalie’s pads for his 12th of the season, and a 4-1 final.
The Smoke Eaters outshot the Vees 38-20 and went 1-for-5 on the power play. Ghirardosi (2G) was named the game’s first star, Armour (1G,1A) second star, and Howarth (1G, 1A) third star, while Lucchini (2A) earned the Fortis Energy Player of the Game.
On Friday in Merritt, Trail charged back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Centennials, 5-4, in their first meeting of the season.
“It was a comeback game, to show that we had character,” said Keith. “We were displeased with our effort level at home and we wanted to have a rebound game.”
The Smoke Eaters Seth Barton tied the game at one in the first but two straight goals gave the Cents a 3-1 lead midway through the second period. Trail responded with Andre Ghantous and Braedon Tuck tying the game on a pair of power-play markers before the period was out.
Spencer McLean gave Trail a 4-3 lead 1:40 into the third, but Cents forward Tyrell Buckley tied it at 16:16 to set up Levi Glasman’s unassisted winning goal with just over two minutes remaining.
Trail outshot Merritt 41-30 and went 3-for-6 on the power play while Merritt was 0-for-4. Buckley was named the game’s first star, with Glasman earning second star honours and Barton third star.
The wins keep the 12-4-1-0 Smoke Eaters in second place of the Interior Division just one point behind the Vipers but with a game in hand.
Trail’s next home game goes on Wednesday when they host the Wenatchee Wild at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.