The Trail Smoke Eaters found their stride on the weekend, treating their hometown fans to a pair of critical victories over the Prince George Spruce Kings and Coquitlam Express at the Cominco Arena on Friday and Sunday.
Air Force commit Nick Halloran had a four-point night as the Smokies lit up the Spruce Kings on Friday on their way to a 7-3 victory, while Sunday’s game was a goaltending standoff that saw Trail emerge with a 2-1 overtime win over the Express of Coquitlam.
Trail forward Kienan Scott netted his fifth goal of the season when he finally beat Coquitlam goalie Lawson Fenton 54 seconds into the 4-on-4 overtime period to lift the Smokies to the 2-1 victory. The Express netminder had stopped 51 of 52 Smokies shots through three periods, but Scott took a great bank-pass off the boards from Jake Kaupilla and broke in all alone beating Fenton on a sweet move to the net and earning the Smoke Eaters their fouth victory of the season.
“I thought as the game went on we got a little bit away from how we should be playing all the time, but the guys stuck with it, they worked hard through the whole 60 minutes, and we got our two points at the end of the day,” said Smoke Eater head coach and GM Nick Deschenes.
The Smokies grabbed a 1-0 lead when Red Deer native Kale Howarth notched his first goal of the season, taking a perfect cross-ice pass from Ryan Swanson and backhanding it top corner on Fenton with 38 seconds to play in the first period.
Trail dominated the opening frame outshooting Coquitlam 18-8 and continued the pace into the second. Every Smokie line was rolling and pressuring the Express, creating a number of odd-man rushes and excellent scoring opportunities. But Fenton was brilliant, robbing the Trail forwards on every occasion and, with a little help from the cross bar on one blast from the high slot, managed to fend off the relentless Smokie attack in the second.
With time winding down in the middle frame, Coquitlam returned the pressure and were rewarded when Colton Kerfoot fed Jackson Cressey in front and the Coquitlam forward buried it stick side on Macburnie with two minutes remaining to tie it at one, despite being outshot 40-14 through two periods.
“I’ve been part of those games as a player, and its frustrating because you’re outplaying the team but you’re facing a hot goaltender,” said Deschenes. “But give them credit, they had a tough road trip and they definitely gave us a push in the third.”
Indeed, it was a different Express team that steamrolled onto the ice for the third period. This time it was Macburnie’s turn to shine as Coquitlam fired 18 shots at the Smoke Eater goal in the period but could not beat Macburnie who made several clutch saves to keep the score tied at one. With the shots 52-32 after regulation, Scott scored on the Smokies first shot of the OT to give Trail its fourth point of the weekend.
“For him (Macburnie) I think there was 30 shots, and he let one goal in, as much as there should have been a greater margin of victory, Bailey made sure that game never got away from us as well.”
Fenton was named the game’s first star, while Cooper Leitch and Scott garnered second and third star honours.
On Friday, Trail snipers found their range breaking open a 1-1 game in the second period by scoring three times to take a 4-1 lead into the third period.
Prince George opened the scoring but Cooper Sande scored his first of the season 5:13 into the first period to tie it at 1-1 with Halloran and Spencer McLean assisting.
Halloran made it 2-1 stripping the defenceman of the puck then speeding into the zone and beating Kings goalie Sam Tanguay with a wicked snap shot blocker side with 7:50 to play in the middle frame.
The goal sparked the Smokie offence and 74 seconds later, a trailing Max Newton picked up a Connor Brown-Maloski pass and wired it top corner to give the Smokies a 3-1 lead.
McLean and Halloran worked the puck to Ross Armour behind the net, who faked to the left then slipped around the right post to beat Tanguay short side. Trail outshot the Spruce Kings 8-7 in the period, but P.G. would cut the lead to 4-2 on a goal from Kyle Johnson 3:26 into the final frame. But just 91 seconds later, .John Laurito got it back breaking in on the right side and blasting a shot top corner to make it 5-2. The Spruce Kings tallied one more seven minutes in but breakaway goals from Cooper Lietch and a shorthanded marker by Halloran would ice it for the Smoke Eaters.
“It was one of those games, I thought as a group we could have played better, but we definitely had some players that really elevated their game and took things over.”
Trail goalie Linden Marshall nailed down his first win in his second start for the Smoke Eaters and was solid all night stopping 24 of 27 shots, while Liam McCloskey came on in relief for Tanguay in the third period and both combined for 20 saves.
The two wins are a huge confidence builder for a Smoke Eater team, which began the turnaround on Wednesday taking a 2-1 lead over the Penticton Vees into the third before falling 5-3.
“Overall it was important for us climb back into that playoff race and get two home wins, and in all honesty that Penticton game was a game we were in until the very end so there’s three good performances here moving forward.”
Trail travels to Vernon on Wednesday for a game against the Vipers, before returning home for tilts against the Langley Rivermen on Friday and the Salmon Arm Silverbacks on Saturday. The wins put the Smokies at 4-6 just two points behind the fifth place Merritt Centennials and three behind the 5-6-0-1 Vipers in fourth place, but with two games in hand.