Trail Smoke Eaters close out season

The Trail Smoke Eaters lost their final two games of the season to a tough West Kelowna team looking for top spot in the Interior division.

The West Kelowna Warriors did what they had to do to win the Interior division title with 6-4 and 8-3 wins over the Trail Smoke Eaters on Friday and Saturday, but the Penticton Vees pulled it out with a 3-2 overtime win over the Salmon Arm SilverBacks in the final regular season game to take the division title.

Both teams finished the season with a pair of weekend wins and ended up atop the Interior division standings with 78 points, but the Vees took first place by virtue of one more victory, 36, than the Warriors.

The Vees beat the SilverBacks on Friday 3-1 before the overtime win propelled them to the number one seed. The Backs had success against the Vees early in the season and were in the thick of a playoff hunt until they went on an 0-10 skid to end the season. Instead the Merritt Centennials will take the fourth seed in the division winning their final three games to finish with 67 points and will face the Vees in the first round, while the Vernon Vipers nabbed third spot with 70 points and will play the Warriors in round one.

The Smokies fought hard in the first match Friday, but the Warriors, keen on seizing first place, were merciless in the second match in West Kelowna Saturday firing 61 shots at Smokie goalie Dustin Nikkel for the 8-3 victory.

West K decided the game in the first period, jumping out to a 4-0 lead on goals from Tyson Dallman, Liam Blackburn, Matt Arnholt, and Carl Hesler. Kylar Hope would make it 5-0 before Trail’s Jake Lucchini got the Smokies on the board with assists from Bryan Basilico and Scott Davidson. But David Pope would net a pair and Jason Cotton another with 70 seconds to go in the middle frame to put the Warriors up 8-1. The Smokies kept the Warriors off the board in the third, and would score twice on goals from Lucchini, his second of the night, and Nathan Browne.

In Friday’s game, the Warriors jumped out to a 5-1 second period lead, but the Smokies showed resilience, and battled back to make it a closer 6-4 game. Lucchini scored once and added two assists and was named the game’s third star, while Brandon Volpe netted a pair of goals for the Smokies, and Davidson added a single marker.

The line of Davidson, Basilico, and Jesse Knowler has been nothing short of spectacular in the final 10 games of the season. Each has virtually doubled their season output over that period with Basilico adding 16 points, Knowler 14, including a season high five-point night against the Vernon Vipers in the 6-5 victory Wednesday. Davidson has been on fire, after a slow start, the Trail native netted 10 goals and seven assist in his last nine games to top the Smokies in scoring with 16-19-35. Lucchini has also been a bright spot in the Smokies lineup climbing into fourth spot in Smokies scoring with 8-18-26, an 18 point improvement from last season’s totals.

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