Two weekend victories may be crucial, as the Trail Smoke Eaters put an end to a tough October on a winning note.
After seven straight losses the Smokies turned things around with impressive 4-2 and 5-2 wins against Victoria and Salmon Arm on the weekend.
“Our goaltending was excellent,” said Smoke Eater coach Bill Birks. “They were good on the weekend down on the coast, but we couldn’t score when we needed to and this weekend we did.”
In Salmon Arm on Saturday, Brent Baltus and Garret McMullen teamed up for three- and two-point nights respectively, as well as being named the game’s first two stars, leading the Smokies to the 5-2 victory.
“We had some timely goals from players that score goals for us all the time and that was the difference,” said Birks.
Despite being outshot in both games, the orange and black jumped out to early leads, and continuously foiled opposition attack due to a ramped up defensive effort and exceptional goaltending from Stanwood, who stopped 72 of 76 shots over two games and was named first star in the Victoria match.
“We played a lot better in our own end,” said Birks. “Our D-men weren’t trying to be so fancy. Last weekend they were trying to do a little bit too much with the puck. They put simplicity first and that usually gets us some success.”
Indeed, the defence also pitched in with some offence on Friday, as Braden Pears and Djordje Leposavic each scored their first goal as a Smoke Eater against Victoria, and Shane Poulsen also pitched in with his fourth of the season, leading all Smokies defencemen in scoring with four goals and 10 assists.
Perhaps the most important role fell to the line of Connor Collett, Ryan Edwards, and Adam Wheeldon, who all but shut down the top lines on both nights, including the Grizzlies’ vaunted Fitzgerald trio Friday.
“They played against the top line in Victoria and Salmon Arm and they were absolutely outstanding,” said Birks.
It was Trail’s first game against Salmon Arm this season and an answer to Victoria’s 4-3 win over Trail a week ago.
“This League, it’s flip a coin every game,” added Birks. “There’s no absolute runaways, every team is beatable, every night.”
The two wins should lend the team some confidence heading into games against Chilliwack and Vernon on the weekend, and hopefully be a turning point of the season as it heads into November.
The Smokies will continue to be without the services of injured defenceman Braedon Jones, and forwards Bryce Knapp, and Jesse Knowler.