The Trail Smoke Eaters deserved a better fate on the weekend, coming away with a single point after a pair of road games with the Prince George Spruce Kings and Penticton Vees.
Trail held third-period leads in both games, but fell 6-4 to the Spruce Kings Thursday and 3-2 in double overtime to the Penticton Vees on Saturday.
Trail led the Vees 2-1 late in the third period but Penticton tied it with 94 seconds remaining, then scored with less than a second to play in the 3-on-3 overtime period for a dramatic 3-2 victory.
Despite the loss against the 7-1 Vees, it was an inspired effort for a Trail team that played Penticton at their home opener in front of over 3,000 fans at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
“I was really proud of our group,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Cam Keith. “We came out with a different mentality, played the game the right way – a full 60 minutes so to speak. But again we need to learn how to close out games, especially against teams like Pen, you can’t give them any opportunities late. It is what it is, but you get a point against Penticton on the road, it’s still a big point.”
Vees captain Nic Jones delivered the fatal blow with a one-timer from the slot that beat Smokie goalie Zach Dyment high blocker side with 0.1 remaining on the clock to give the Vees their fifth straight victory.
The Smoke Eaters held the Interior-Division leading Vees to just 30 shots in regulation, and while Dyment played well throughout the game, he was sensational in the two five-minute overtime periods when the Vees swarmed the Trail net blasting another 13 shots at the Smokie goalie.
“He was great,” said Keith. “He did what he needed to do for the first three periods … but we played the right way against Penticton and a lot of the shots were from outside, but when Zach needed to make a big save, he made a big save, and that’s what you expect out of your goalie – that’s what you need out of your goalie.”
The Vees opened the scoring when Jonny Tychonick buried the rebound on a shot from Jones through traffice for his first BCHL marker. Smoke Eater Ryan Moon tied it up midway through the second period, on a two-on-one rush that resulted in the Smokie forward gathering the puck after a blocked pass and beating Vees goalie Mat Robson five-hole at 9:47.
With under five minutes remaining in the final frame, Braeden Tuck setup Ross Armour in the slot and the Rossland native wired it high glove side to put Trail up 2-1. However, Grant Cruikshank salvaged the game for the Vees when he managed to bank a shot from behind the goal off Dyment with 1:34 remaining.
The Vees outshot Trail 46-26 with Trail going 1-for-3 on the power play and Penticton 0-for-3. Dyment was named the game’s third star while Jones took first star, and Tychonik second star.
Despite the last-second loss, Keith was more concerned about the team’s inability to hold the fort during regulation.
“At the end of the day we’re not going to be fighting for Pen for a playoff spot so we’re going to get a point no matter what. The deflating part was we let a goal with 90 seconds to go. We need to learn to lock those games down.”
Trail also held a 3-2 third-period lead over Prince George on Thursday night, but four goals in the final frame lifted the Spruce Kings to a 6-4 victory.
“We were up a goal going into the third, but we didn’t have the effort in the third period that we wanted,” said Keith. “We sat back and hoped that we could play a defensive game rather than play more on the aggressive side.”
Kale Howarth, Josh Laframboise, Luke Santerno, and Ryan Murphy scored for the Smoke Eaters, while Travis Schneider scored twice for the Spruce Kings including the winner with 3:11 to play.
Trail now sits at 2-5-0-1 with their next game coming on Wednesday when they host the 4-3-0-1 Merritt Centennials. The Cents are coming off off a 4-3 loss to Cowichan Valley Saturday, following two big wins over Interior Division foes West Kelowna Warriors, 5-1, and Salmon Arm Silverbacks, 5-2.
“We have to play more physical against them,” said Keith. “Merritt is a really hard working, simple hockey team and we have to play above the level that they bring. We have to out-compete them and we didn’t in those games, we played good hockey but not great hockey.”
The Smoke Eaters drop the puck against Merritt at the Cominco Arena in Trail on Wednesday at 7 p.m.