Over 2,000 fans cheered the Trail Smoke Eaters on to a great start in their return to playoff hockey as the Smokies skated to a pair of victories over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks to take a two-game series lead in the best-of-seven BCHL Interior Division playoff.
“That was our focus, especially going into the second game, you knew Salmon Arm was going to come out with a little more jam, try to even up the series, and we made sure that we matched what they brought and stayed disciplined,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Cam Keith. “We had timely scoring so it was one of those games that we carried momentum from game-to-game and I was really proud of the guys.”
A trio of Trail Smoke Eaters haunted their former team on the weekend. Following a 4-2 win Friday, former Silverbacks’ forward Josh Laframboise had a three-point night, while defenceman Carter Cochrane and Smokies captain Connor Brown-Maloski each had a goal and an assist for Trail on Saturday in a 7-2 romp.
“Obviously, it’s great scoring against your old team,” said Laframboise. “But at the end of the day, you get the win here, get those two wins at home, and we’re going to go to Salmon Arm Tuesday and be ready for another battle.”
Laframboise scored his second of the night, and what proved to be the winning goal, 2:39 into the second period to give the Smoke Eaters a 3-1 lead. The Thunder Bay native picked up a Howarth dish in the Silverbacks zone, made a slick move at the blue line, burst around the defenceman, and wired a shot over the glove of Silverbacks goalie Trevin Kozlowski.
“Kale (Howarth) makes a great pass, hits off one of their sticks, I’m there,” said Laframboise. “I tried to look for a d-man, and no one is open. A guy comes at me, and I just try to go around him, get that quick release and catch the goalie off guard, and thankfully it went in.”
All three Smoke Eaters played for the Silverbacks at one time in their BCHL careers. Brown-Maloski suited up for the Gorillas in his first year in the BCHL in 2013-14, while Laframboise and Cochrane came to Trail from Salmon Arm this season: Laframboise in a trade for Cochrane at the start of the year, and Cochrane at the trade deadline.
Laframboise opened the scoring on the power play when he redirected a point shot from Cochrane to give Trail a 1-0 lead at 2:53 of the frist period. The Silverbacks Elijiah Barriga tied it up, scoring a power-play goal at 4:47 of the first, beating Linden Marshall with a quick shot from the slot.
Brown-Maloski put the Smokies up 2-1 on another extra-man marker, taking a pass from Jeremy Lucchini at the top of the circle and wiring it through traffic at 12:16 of the first, as Trail outshot Salmon Arm 18-14 in the period.
Trail played relatively healthy for the first time on Friday. With Mitch Stapley and Ross Armour back in the lineup, the full contingent certainly gave the Smokies an extra jump.
“The last month and a half there, we were playing hockey shorthanded, and I think it helped a lot of guys out,” said the Smoke Eater captain Brown-Maloski. “They got a lot more ice than normal and I think moving forward, that was big for them and giving them a lot of confidence, and now that everyone is back, I think it’s huge.”
Cranbrook native Korbyn Chabot was one of the rookies that benefitted from the added ice time and has played with renewed grit and confidence. After Laframboise made it 3-1, Chabot fired a snap shot from the hash marks that beat Kozlowski at 8:04, and, less than two minutes later, he made a perfect pass to Cochrane in the slot and the former Gorilla wired it top shelf for a 5-1 lead.
Nic Tallarico came on in relief of Kozlowski, but faced the same fate, as Ross Armour tallied a shorthanded marker beating Tallarico on a breakaway at 14:12 of the second.
“Special teams was huge tonight,” said Keith. “Especially with the amount of times we had to kill, we still had that energy … and we sustained it throughout (the game).”
Salmon Arm got one back before the period was out, when Jared Turcotte scored on the power play just 30 seconds after Armour’s goal, as the Silverbacks outshot Trail 15-5 in the middle frame but trailed 6-2.
Mitchell Barker scored the only goal in the third period, on a nifty move at the side of the net, backhanding the puck shortside on Tallarico for the 7-2 final with 6:46 remaining.
In typical playoff fashion, tempers flared and the intensity boiled over in the final two minutes, as a scrum involving all 10 players on the ice resulted in misconducts to Trail’s Jeremy Lucchini, Andre Ghantous, and Ethan Martini and Salmon Arm’s Brett Didyk and Austin Chorney.
Trail went 2-for-4 on the power play, Salmon Arm was 2-for-9, while outshooting the Smoke Eaters 36-31. Laframboise was the game’s first star, with Chabot taking second star honours and Cochrane third star.
“The fans helped us a lot, and we feed off that,” said Laframboise. “We feed off the momentum we get when we score that one goal and we just keep on going. If they score, we just try to keep it even keel, and feed off the energy from the fans, and off that home ice advantage that we earned in the regular season.”
Luke Santerno scored a goal and two assists in Friday’s 4-2 win, while Brown-Maloski, Laframboise, and Howarth added the other markers for Trail and Cochrane tallied two assists.
The Smoke Eaters take a 2-0 series lead, with the series moving to Salmon Arm for Games 3 and 4 tonight and Wednesday.
“By no means is this series over,” said Keith. “It’s going to be two tough games in Salmon Arm. They’re a very good team at home and we have to make sure we go into it with that mindset that we need Game 3 and come out with the same start.”