The Trail Smoke Eaters came back from a 4-1 deficit in the third period to tie the Vernon Vipers, but the Snakes would not be denied as they netted the winning goal late in the third period to skate to a 6-4 victory on Saturday in Vernon, a day after the Smokies dropped a close 4-3 decision to the Merritt Centennials.
With the two close losses, coupled with a 5-3 setback to West Kelowna last Tuesday, the Smoke Eaters fall 14 points out of a playoff spot.
“You can always look at factors why you’re not having success,” said coach Nick Deschenes. “We won our first game back, and had a lead against an affiliate goaltender, and we had a lead going into the third against Merritt and had Vernon tied with five minutes left in the game. Easily the past four games we could have had a 3-1 record and instead we’re 1-3 which is exactly where we don’t need to be.”
With 3:02 to play in regulation, Thomas Aldworth netted the winning goal, wiring a shot over the shoulder of Smokie goalie Brett Clark from the top of the circle to break a 4-4 tie and an Aldworth empty-net goal would ice it for the Snakes with under a minute to play.
The Vipers jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead on goals from Liam Coughlin and Ken Citron, outshooting Trail 21-7 in the period. The Snakes made it 3-0 at 12:54 of the middle frame when Trail defenceman Stephen Penner took a shot off his face and Anthony Latina picked up the loose puck and beat Clark.
However, Trail got on the board after Max Newton won a face off in the offensive zone to Conner Browne-Maloski who fired his eighth of the season past Jared Schamerhorn. But Trail native Riley Brandt would put the Vipers up 4-1 beating Clark 1:56 into the third period.
Despite Vernon’s dominance on the shot clock, Trail hung in and would mount an unlikely comeback. Two minutes after Brandt’s marker, Scott Davidson would finish a nice setup from Harlan Orr and Penner to make it 4-2. Newton would then net one of his own, taking a pass down low from Nitehawks AP Ross Armour and beat Schamerhorn glove side to make it a one-goal game at 11:12. Then, just 40 seconds later, Brian Basilico tied it with a quick shot from the left side to make it 4-4 on the Smokies 18th shot of the game.
The Vipers had a great opportunity to take the lead when Finlay was awarded a penalty shot after Bryan Gerstenfeld’s slash foiled a breakaway opportunity. But Finlay would ring his penalty shot off the crossbar and keep the game tied until Aldworth scored minutes later.
The Smoke Eaters have been without the services of Craig Martin, Dallas Calvin, Paulsen Lautard and goaltender Adam Todd, significant holes in a lineup that competes in every game but comes up just short.
“They’re difference makers, they’ll go out and score two or three goals a game and that’s what we need right now,” said Smokie forward Jake Lucchini. “Those are the guys that are going to make a difference.”
The Vipers outshot Trail 55-19, with the Smoke Eaters going 0-for-2 on the power play, while Vernon was 1-for-4.
On Friday in Merritt, Nelson native Cole Arcuri set up the winning goal as the Merritt Centennials came back from a 3-2 third-period deficit to defeat the Smoke Eaters 4-3.
Arcuri sent a headman pass to Michael Ederer, who stepped across the blue line and wristed a shot past Trail goalie Clark to give Cents a 4-3 lead at 13:21 of the final frame. The Cents shut down the Smokies the rest of the way.
Trail had plenty of chances in the first period, including a shorthanded 2-on-1, but Cents goalie Jonah Imoo made several crucial stops to keep the game locked at a scoreless tie. But Trail would find the back of the net first at the 13:56 mark of the opening frame, when Lucchini jumped on a Penner rebound and sniped it top corner to give the Smoke Eaters the 1-0 lead. The Cents would respond before the end of the first when John Schiavo sent it in deep to Fidanza behind the net, who centred for Cuglietta who made no mistake rippling the mesh and tying the game at 1-1 to send it to the first intermission.
The Cents would take the lead just 3:31 in to the second frame when Colin Grannary walked out from behind the net where he sniped his 11th of the season to give Merritt the 2-1 lead. It was short lived, however, as Trail tied it back up less than a minute later when Bryan Basilico wired it in the far side to bring it back to even. Trail would then regain the lead at the 10:09 mark when Copper Leitch snapped it past Imoo and give Trail a 3-2 edge heading to the final period.
The power play late in the second would carry over to the third and it didn’t take long for the Cents to tie it back up. Just nine seconds into the final frame Nick Fidanza took a cross-ice pass from Schiavo and wristed it home to tie it at 3-3 before Ederer netted the winner.