Trail picks up points in nine of 12 games in month that
usually poses biggest hurdle
Considering the Trail Smoke Eaters didn’t notch its first win of 2011 until almost two weeks into the new year, the team managed to finish off its best January in recent memory on the weekend.
The Smokies edged the Quesnel Millionaires 4-3 on Friday and dropped a tough 2-1 double-overtime decision to the Vernon Vipers on Saturday.
Despite ending the month with an overtime loss, the Smokies managed to get through, what is usually its toughest month of the season, with an impressive seven wins, one tie, defeat in overtime and three regulation-time losses.
It marked the first time in seven seasons that the Smokies have posted a winning record in January. Along the way, the Smokies went undefeated in five road games.
The month has usually been a gloomy spot on the calendar for the Smokies. Injuries, the Jan. 10 roster deadline and winter travel have often lead to a downturn in the team’s fortunes.
However, not this year.
“The trade deadline helped,” said Smokies coach Jim Ingram, who landed forward Nic DeSousa from Prince George. “If you look it, the last three weeks we’ve picked up DeSousa, (Sam) Mellor and (Travis) St. Denis.
“That’s what we keep looking at, ‘If we could get healthy, we’d be okay,’ We’d be able to be in games and have a chance to win.
“And the times we were hurt we found a way to hang in there.”
Trail finally got St. Denis back in the lineup Friday to complete the above trifecta as the team capped off the month with a pair of exciting conclusions to weekend games at the Cominco Arena.
Friday it took Cullen Bradshaw’s goal with 81 seconds to play in regulation time to lift Trail over the Millionaires.
Newcomer Jordan Bauer along with Scott Jacklin and Sam Mellor gave the Smokies a 3-2 lead after 20 minutes. But Quesnel tied the game early in the third setting up Bradshaw’s last-minute heroics.
Trail outshot Quesnel 38-24 but Mills goaltender Bryton Udy came up with some big saves.
On Saturday, it came down to chances at both ends of the rink before a winner was determined.
Locked in a 1-1 tie, the Vipers and Smokies went through two 20-minute periods and five minutes of four-on-four sudden death overtime without either team taking the lead.
Then in the three-on-three session, Travis St. Denis had the first chance when he was handed a penalty shot on a Vernon infraction. Vipers’ goalie Kirby Halcrow shut the door on St. Denis.
Then 30 seconds later, David Robinson finished off a Vernon rush by lifting the puck over Trail goalie Kiefer Smiley for the deciding goal with 94 seconds left in the game.
The Smokies came out with more jump than the visitors and kept Vernon from mounting any kind of offence for the first few minutes of the game.
That pressure included Eric Walker’s seeing-eye shot, which made its way past Halcrow to spot Trail a 1-0 lead before the game was three minutes old.
Vernon finally gained some momentum and took advantage of a late power play chance to tie the game on Darren Nowick’s goal with three seconds left in the opening period.
Vernon held the upper hand territorially for most of the game but Smiley played a starring role stopping 37 shots on the night including 14 in the third period.
Trail found its second wind in the overtime sessions outshooting Vernon 5-2 with a couple of point-blank chances.
“In overtime our skilled guys went to work but we just couldn’t score,” said Ingram.
The Smokies are back in action Tuesday night with another big divisional showdown, this time against the Westside Warriors.
Following Tuesday’s game, the Smokies have only one more home game left on the regular schedule, Feb. 11 against Salmon Arm. Five of the team’s final six games are on the road, including the final game of the regular season on Feb. 19 in Merritt.