The Trail Smoke Eaters started the New Year off on the right note with a 4-0 shutout of the struggling Surrey Eagles on Saturday, which put Trail in sole possession of the fourth and final playoff spot in the BCHL’s Interior division.
Smokies’ leading scorer Nick Halloran scored twice, Linden Marshall recorded his first BCHL shutout, and captain Evan MacEachern netted what proved to be the winning goal 3:11 into the first period to give Trail its 18th victory of the season, one shy of last year’s total.
The victory also launches the 18-20-0-0 Smoke Eaters a point ahead of the Vernon Vipers in the Interior division standings, following Vernon’s 6-0 loss to Penticton Friday. The game against the 5-30-0-1 Eagles also would have heralded the return of former Smoke Eater Kurt Black to the Cominco Arena since he requested a trade earlier in the year, however, Black along with three other Surrey players were suspended for the game after engaging in a brawl with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks on Friday. Black, Trent Huitema, Gage Mackie, and head coach Blaine Neufeld were given two-game suspensions, as a result, leaving the team shorthanded on Saturday’s match versus Trail.
Trail jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period. Less than a minute after MacEachern took a feed from Mitch Stapley and wired it by Eagles goalie Daniel Davidson, he would set up Halloran who fired home his 17th goal of the season to make it 2-0.
Kienan Scott then scored his league-leading fifth shorthanded goal on a breakaway to make it 3-0 at the 10:49 mark for his 18th goal this year. Halloran finished off the scoring on the power play on a pretty set up from Scott and Ross Armour with just over four minutes to play in the middle frame. Marshall was solid in net, stopping 25 shots for his fifth win of the season, and was named the game’s first star in his first start since Dec. 1. Halloran was given second star nod and Davidson the third star for the Eagles.
The win comes on the heels of a 4-1 loss to division rivals West Kelowna Warriors on Wednesday, who sit 12 points up on the Smoke Eaters. Quin Foreman, Liam Blackburn, and Jonathon Desbiens put the Warriors up 3-0 before Kale Howarth replied for Trail. Blackburn then netted his 20th of the season into an empty net to round out the scoring on the night.
The Warriors outshot Trail 43-35 with Matthew Greenfield getting the win and first star for West K, and Bailey MacBurnie, taking the loss in net for Trail, was the game’s second star, while Blackburn took third star honours.
The Smoke Eaters play on the road for their next five games before returning to the Cominco Arena to host the Powell River Kings on Jan. 17.