The Trail Smoke Eaters got off to their best start since 2010-11 winning both matches to open their season at the Bauer-BCHL Showcase at Prospera Centre in Chilliwack on the weekend.
Led by a six-point night from import Charlie Zuccarini, the Smokies won a decisive 8-3 contest over the Coquitlam Express Saturday and followed that with a thrilling 4-3 overtime victory against Powell River Kings on Sunday.
“I saw some really bright spots, and my job of course is trying to get the boys playing the best hockey possible,” said Smoke Eater coach Nick Deschenes. “There are also some things we’re going to be working on, as we need to be better in certain areas.”
Trail defenceman Victor Dombrovskiy backhanded in the overtime winner at 3:23 of the 4-on-4 frame to secure the victory over the Kings.
Trail native Craig Martin took a pass from Kienan Scott and burst into the zone, splitting the defenceman, and bearing down on Kings goalie Stefan Wornig who slid out to make the save, only to have Dombrovskiy jump on the loose puck and score the winner.
The 2-0 Smokies are tied with Penticton Vees, Salmon Arm, and West Kelowna atop the Interior division standings, that, as a division, had 10 wins, one loss, and one overtime loss at this year’s Showdown.
“I didn’t think it would be that dominant of a weekend, but again it’s a snapshot, it’s still just two games,” said the Trail coach.
The Kings’ Jared Leucosevicius opened the scoring at 4:53 of the opening frame when he was awarded a penalty shot after being hauled down on a breakaway. The Powell River forward skated in and beat Smokie goalie Adam Todd with a quick snapshot glove side to take a 1-0 lead.
The Smokies replied at 13:09 of the first when Martin banged in a rebound from a Dombrovskiy point shot to tie it at 1-1.
Todd kept the game even making a great save on a Leucosevicius breakaway in the waning seconds of the first period. The save proved crucial as Harlan Orr would then notch his first goal as a Smoke Eater to give Trail the lead at 4:07 of the second period.
The Kings bounced back, however, when Jacob Pritchard scored on a breakaway, netting a shorthanded marker to tie it. But 51 seconds later Dombrovskiy put the Smokies up again on a scramble in front of the Kings’ net, this time banging in a Martin rebound to give the Smokies a 3-2 edge.
In a tight checking third period, Leucosevicius would get the equalizer and his second of the night, faking on the forehand and burying a high backhand to beat Todd on a breakaway with 5:55 remaining to force the extra frame.
Todd made several good saves in net stopping 29 shots, while Wornig made 23 saves for the Kings. The Smokies went 1-for-5 on the powerplay while Powell River was 0-for-5. Dombrovskiy, the game’s second star, had a three-point night with two goals and an assist, while Martin had a goal and two assists and took first star honours.
Deschenes was satisfied with the offensive output but not surprised, emphasizing the team’s play needs to be more consistent.
“I think we have a group, where everyone’s capable of putting the puck in the net . . . my concern was more our play away from the puck, and the fact we did let teams hang on to the third period, and the last game into overtime, so that’s where our focus has to be, is playing to our level and our standard for 60 minutes.”
The key to Saturday’s game was undboubtedly special teams as the Smokies went 5-for-7 on the power play in an 8-3 drubbing of the Coquitlam Express.
“I wasn’t quite sure what to think coming into the first game,” Martin told a BCHL reporter after the win. “I know we have a good team, lots of good players – we came out hard then kind of let off the gas a bit, but had a great third period, and that’s what I’m going to expect for the rest of the year.”
Zuccarini made a great first impression in his Smokie debut, scoring five goals and adding an assist to open the Showcase. The Connecticut native netted what proved to be the winner on the power play at 17:35 of the second period, finishing a play from Jake Lucchini and Bryan Basilico and wiring it by Express goalie Braden Krogfoss to make the score 4-2.
“He’s a pretty dynamic player, he’s explosive and he’s opportunistic, and you know what, he was probably our best player away from the puck, physically and with his back checking,” said Deschenes. “He’s getting a lot of attention right now and he deserves it.”
The Express would pull within one with 12 seconds to play in the middle frame but four unanswered third-period goals by Bryan Gerstenfeld, Craig Martin, and two by Zuccarini, including a shorthanded marker, clinched it for the Smokies.
Lucchini, the game’s second star, scored once and added two assists on the night for Trail, while Dombrovskiy pitched in with three assists, good for third star. The six-point night for the game’s first-star, Zuccarini, put the 19-year-old forward atop the BCHL scoring race, where he now sits tied with Dombrovskiy, who had a pair of three-point games, and Tyson Jost of Penticton who has three goals and as many assists. Trail outshot the Express 45-34 with Todd getting the win in net for the Smokies.
Martin meanwhile is excited to be back with the Smokies under new coach Deschenes, and is looking forward to playing in front of his home crowd.
“I like playing for him a lot,” says Martin. “He likes the skilled guys and likes playing offensive, like tonight scoring eight goals so hopefully we can keep that up.”
Smoke Signals: Former Beaver Valley Nitehawk Connor Brown-Maloski played as an affiliate player for the Smokies after being released by the Salmon Arm SilverBacks where he played in 2013-14. Brown-Maloski will stay with the team at least until Oct. 1 when a roster decision must be made.