Special teams and nerves may have played a large part in the Trail Smoke Eaters game again on Sunday as they fell to the Merritt Centennials 4-1.
The Smokies outshot the Cents 20-4 in the third period, but aside from an early goal by Shane Poulsen, they couldn’t get another one by Merritt goalie Tyler Steele.
“We couldn’t score and our PK (penalty kill) was terrible,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Bill Birks. “At times we we’re all over them, and at other times we’d take shifts off, you can’t do that.”
Birks also pointed out that the 200 or so scouts in the stands may have caused the players to squeeze their sticks a little tighter and make uncharacteristic errors.
The Smoke Eaters fell behind 2-0 in the first period, managing just three shots on net and eight over the first two periods before Poulsen drew the Smokies within one just over a minute into the third. The six-foot-four defenceman broke in on the Cents goalie and beat Steele with a quick shot to the short side.
Despite completely outplaying the Cents throughout the third, power-play markers at 4:17 by Merritt’s Sean Maktaak and at 16:05 by Sebastien Pare put the game out of reach.
Just as in the Cowichan match Saturday – where the Capitals went 4-for-8 on the power play – the penalty kill let the Smokies down against Merritt and the power play couldn’t generate any offence.
The Cents went 2-for-4 on the power play, while the Smokies were 0-for-5 with the man advantage.
“It’s definitely something we’re going to work on this week,” said Birks.
Braedon Krogfoss got the start in net, stopping 15 of 19 shots, while the Smokies directed 28 at the Cents net, including the third period onslaught.
The Smokies make their only trip to Prince George on Friday to face the Spruce Kings, and return via Merritt for another tilt with the Centennials at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Former Smokie Sam Mellor scored twice and was named the games first star to help lift the Penticton Vees to a 3-2 overtime victory against the Vernon Vipers on Saturday.
After donning the orange and black for two years, Mellor played with the University of Alaska at Anchorage last season and joined the Vees in a trade that brought forward Alex Holland and Djordje Leposavic to Trail this summer.
In the same game former Smokie AP Crag Martin scored the opening goal for the Vipers and was named the games second star in his first regular season game with his new team.
Martin finished third in scoring in the KIJHL with the Beaver Valley Nitehawks last year and played in nine games with the Smoke Eaters as an AP, scoring five times and assisting twice. Vernon also lost its second game, a close 4-3 match to Powell River to go 0-2 on the weekend.