Over 1,100 Trail Smoke Eaters fans started the home team off on a winning note on Wednesday at the Cominco Arena, as the Smokies skated to a 4-1 victory over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
The Smokies’ Wacky Wednesday promotion started off with a minor glitch when technical difficulties delayed the playing of the national anthem. But following the tragic death of a soldier and assault on Parliament Hill in Ottawa earlier that day, Smokie fans were feeling keenly patriotic, as they took up the Canadian national anthem and sang it, a cappella, to a rousing conclusion.
The Smoke Eaters played inspired hockey after that, as Brandon Volpe netted what would prove to be the winning goal 14:45 into the first period. After a hard forecheck by Stephen Ryan dislodged the puck in the Silverbacks corner, Connor Wynne swooped in picked up the loose puck and sent it towards the goal, where it took a strange bounce off Salmon Arm goalie Angus Redmond; but Volpe would fight his way to the net and bang it in, before being knocked to the ice, to put the Smokies up 2-0.
“Overall our intensity and play away from the puck was much better than it was our last game here at home,” said assistant coach Craig Clare. “We talked about it all week, so we’re happy with the effort. It’s as close to a 60-minute effort that we’ve gotten this year.”
Due to injured forwards Robbie Johnson and Dallas Calvin, defencemen Wynne and Jeremy Lucchini were pressed into service on forward lines and looked impressive throughout the night.
“The guys we threw up there tonight, didn’t look like they weren’t forwards,” said Craig. “Jeremy had a heck of a game, playing out of position . . . That whole line played really well. Same with Connor with his speed, he just kept it simple, you’re playing the same game, you’re just going to different areas.”
Despite the line juggling, Trail came out hard, dominating play along the boards, and controlling possession for much of the first period as they outshot the Backs 9-7.
“That’s the thing about our forwards we have a lot of versatility, and I don’t think we’ve kept our line up the same for any game this year. So it speaks a lot to these guys being able to play with each other.”
Craig Martin opened the scoring with his new linemates. After Salmon Arm’s Bennett Morrison was sent off for interference, Ryan Swanson dished off to Jake Lucchini whose shot squeaked through Redmond and lay on the goal line for Martin to knock in at 13:14.
After Volpe’s goal, the Silverbacks would get on the board 5:55 into the second period, when Ross Heidt skated in on the left side and wristed a shot five-hole on Adam Todd’s to get the ‘Backs within one. However, Martin would net his second on the night and sixth of the season at 5:55 of the final frame, making a nice move into the offensive zone, and waiting, before wiring a shot over the blocker of Redmond and into the top corner to make it 3-1.
“We talked about their ‘D’ always moving back quite a bit, so I delayed for a bit,” said Martin. “I was looking for one of my linemates, but they got picked up on the backcheck so I saw an opening and I just took the shot.”
The goal, with assists to Lucchini and Charlie Zuccarini, gave the Smokies a little breathing room, as Salmon Arm tried desperately to come back, but strong defensive play and big stops from Todd, particularly during a power play opportunity midway through the period, kept the Smokies on top.
Salmon Arm would pull their goalie with over two-minutes to play, but would not get any closer.
Martin would eventually gain possession of the puck at centre ice, yet instead of shooting it at the wide-open net for the hat trick, he passed to Zuccarini on the right side whose shot just missed the post, but bounced into the slot to a streaking Lucchini who made no mistake, making it 4-1 with one minute to play.
“I got a little nervous thought I’d miss it, and thought Zuccs (Zuccarini) could get it,” explained Martin. “I’m just glad Lucch (Lucchini) buried it.”
Martin would get first star for his three-point game, Gryffin Martin was named second star, and Adam Todd the game’s third star for his 28-save performance.
The Smokies were 1-for-3 on the power play, and perfect on three penalty kills.
With their third win in a row, Trail moves into a tie with the Merritt Centennials for second place in the Interior division and will travel to Salmon Arm on Friday and to Prince George for a game with the Spruce Kings on Saturday.
“It (the win) sets us up nice going on the road, we are on a little bit of a roll here, so hopefully we can take that on the road,” added Clare.
The Smokies next home game goes Oct. 31 against the Centennials at 7:30 p.m.
Smoke Signals: The Trail Smoke Eaters’ Wacky Wednesday proved very successful, thanks to the generous support of AM Ford that donated the van, and to the fans who came out and bought almost all of the 1,500 van raffle tickets up for sale. The lucky winner of the van was Bob Whyte.