The Trail Smoke Eaters found their scoring touch and got back on a winning track with a pair of victories over the Victoria Grizzlies Friday and Coquitlam Express Saturday.
After a 10-4 blowout of the Grizzlies, an ailing Smokies team would withstand a Coquitlam comeback to beat the Express 4-3, thanks to a breakaway goal in double overtime by Charlie Zuccarini.
“I’m the team’s toughest critic, but we needed an offensive outburst like that in the first game to shake that off, and Coquitlam, to their credit, came in and played us really hard,” said Smoke Eater coach Nick Deschenes. “It wasn’t the same team we saw at the start of the season, but we found a way to win.”
The winning goal, Zuccarini’s team-leading 14th of the season and 27th point, would come 36 seconds after Jake Lucchini was stopped by Coquitlam goalie Braden Krogfoss on a penalty shot. Zuccarini gathered the puck at his own blue line, blew by the defender into the offensive zone, and wired a shot top corner glove side on the Express goalie to give Trail its 10th win of the season, and equal their total number of victories from last year.
The Smokies were already missing forward Dallas Calvin and goalie Adam Todd, but the beating of the Grizzlies the previous night took its toll, and Trail would see Bryan Basilico, Robbie Johnson, and Jeremy Lucchini sit out the Coquitlam game, in addition to Craig Martin who left early in the first period after taking a low hit.
The win puts the Smoke Eaters just two points behind the Salmon Arm Silverbacks for the fifth spot in the Interior division with 10-10-0-0-20 record and a game in hand.
Trail defenceman Ryan Swanson opened the scoring at 2:53 of the first period when he blasted a point shot through traffic to put the Smokies up 1-0. The Express would tie it on the power play when Jackson Cressey banged in a rebound past AP goaltender Brock Lefebvre, but the Smokies would retake the lead on a tip-in by AP Lincoln Lane on a Swanson point shot with just over a minute to play in the first as the Smokies outshot Coquitlam 16-13 in the period.
Zuccarini would make it 3-1 on a wrist shot five minutes into the second period, but Joey Santucci would cut the lead to one scoring on a 2-on-0 before the period was out. Cressey would tie it on a partial breakaway with 4:05 remaining in regulation to force extra time.
After a scoreless 4-on-4 overtime period, Lucchini would get hauled down while going in all alone and awarded a penalty shot, but the Trail native could not beat Krogfoss on the deke, and would leave it to Zuccarini to play hero and secure the game’s first star. Swanson was named the game’s second star, while Cressy took third star honours for the Express.
Trail outshot Coquitlam 50-33, and went 0-for-1 on the powerplay, while the Express were 1-for-4.
“Clark had played four and a half games in less than 10 days and for a goaltender that could be manageable, but he’s just getting his feet wet here in the league,” said Deschenes. “Brock had been playing really well in Creston, so it was a good opportunity and gave Clarky a little bit of a rest, and it worked out in the end.”
On Friday night, Trail forward Harlan Orr netted a hat trick and both Martin and Zuccarini had three-point nights with a goal and two assists, as the Smokies scored eight times in the second period on their way to a 10-4 win.
After a scoreless first period, Trail would take an 8-2 lead on 23 shots heading into the third.
Orr was named the game’s first star, his three goals matching his season output and giving him six goals and six assists, while Zuccarini scored what proved to be the winner making it 5-1 at 15:48 of the middle frame and was the game’s second star.
Trail’s new additions also paid immediate dividends with Max Newton netting his first goal as a Smoke Eater and adding an assist, equaling AP Hunter Atchison’s output for the night, while Paulsen Lautard also had a two-point night with a pair of helpers and was the game’s third star. Kienan Scott, Brian Basilico, and Jeremy Lucchini rounded out the scoring for the Smokie Eaters who outshot the Grizzlies 41-31 with Clark picking up the win in net for Trail.
The Smokies were better than perfect on the power play scoring four times on three opportunities, including two goals on a five-minute major late in the second.
Trail hits the road this weekend for a three-game swing on the Island where they will face Cowichan Valley, Nanaimo, and Victoria. Deschenes expects to have Calvin and Todd back in the line up, but Basilico (upper body) and Craig Martin (lower body) will not play.