The Trail Smoke Eaters broke out of their mid-season slump with conviction on the weekend, routing the West Kelowna Warriors in a home-and-home series.
Trail skated to a 7-5 victory over the Warriors in West Kelowna on Friday night, then doubled up the Warriors 6-3 in front of 2,500 fans at home on Saturday.
The return of Kale Howarth, Ross Armour, and Seth Barton to the Smokies lineup certainly gave the team a boost in earning the team its 22nd win on Saturday.
Trail forward Spencer McLean was named the game’s first star scoring once and adding two assists to lead the Smokies, while Howarth and Levi Glasman pitched in with a goal and assist each.
But it was recent acquisition Mack Byers who scored the winner and second goal as a Smoke Eater when he took a pass from Blake Sidoni, sprinted down the left wing, then wired a snap shot top shelf on Warriors goalie Nick Amundrud for a 4-1 lead at 12:50 of the second period.
The Smoke Eaters struggled the past month winning just once in 10 games, but a relatively healthy roster, the return of Armour and Barton from the World Jr. A Challenge, Howarth from school commitments, and a welcome Christmas break has restored the Smoke Eaters energy, confidence, and focus.
Trail jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead on goals from Howarth, Andre Ghantous, and Blaine Caton on a pretty setup from McLean.
The Warriors Cavin Tilsley put the Warriors on the board at 8:33 of the second when he stripped the puck from the Trail defenceman and beat Trail starter Tanner Marshall on a breakawy for a shorthanded marker. After Byers restored the three-goal lead, Michael Lombardi made a slick toe-drag around the Smokies defender, walked in and deked Marshall to make it 4-2.
Marshall looked to strain his left leg on the play, and Adam Marcoux came on in relief.
But Trail wouldn’t let the Warriors complete the comeback and Smokies rookie Levi Glasman scored his 17th of the season, breaking in with Howarth on a 2-on-1 and finishing a perfect pass from his Red Deer counterpart with 1:12 to play in the middle frame.
West Kelowna’s Jared Marino beat Marcoux five hole to pull the Warriors within two, but Trail answered once again. Jeremy Lucchini jumped up in the play, breaking down the right side, and feeding McLean in the high slot midway through the third period for the 6-3 final.
West Kelowna outshot the Smokies 34-31, with McLean earning first star honours, Howarth second star, and Glasman third star.
On Friday night in West K, a similar scenario saw Trail jump out to a 4-1 lead heading into the third period on goals from Braedon Tuck, Ross Armour, Ghantous, and Ryan Murphy.
But three straight goals from the Warriors tied the game less than seven minutes into the third period. However, with their top guns in the lineup, Trail did what they struggled to do early in December. Glasman put Trail up 5-4 at the seven minute mark, and Tuck scored a shorthanded goal with 3:12 remaining to put the Smokies up two.
The Warriors Michael Ryan notched a power play goal to cut the lead to one, but Howarth scored into an empty net with a minute left for the 7-5 victory.
Marcoux earned the win stopping 44 shots including a third-period penalty shot off Willie Reim, while Tuck was named second star, Marino first star, and Chase Dubois third star.
Trail’s next game goes on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena when they face Interior Division rival the Wenatchee Wild. The 25-9-2-1 Wild sit in second place in the Interior seven points up on the fourth place 22-13-2-0 Smoke Eaters.