Goalie Bailey MacBurnie backstopped the Trail Smoke Eaters to a four-point weekend with a pair of wins over the Alberni Bulldogs Friday and Wenatchee Wild Saturday at the Cominco Arena.
In two wildly exciting matches, Smokies forward Kienan Scott scored with 8:33 to play in regulation to lift Trail to a 1-0 victory over the Bulldogs, while Cooper Leitch broke a 2-2 tie with three minutes remaining for a 4-2 win over the Wild the next night.
“We set out a goal in December to win a certain number of games, and we wanted obviously to have a better home record this month and to come out with two wins right away that was pretty huge,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Nick Deschense. “We got really solid goaltending, and we stuck with it, and got some late goals.”
Leitch’s fifth goal of the season spoiled a concerted comeback effort by Wenatchee in the third period, when he took a break-away pass from Ryan Swanson and went five-hole on goalie Chase Perry on a quick deke to the backhand.
“For him (Leitch) to get that goal, hopefully that will be a sign of more to come,” said Deschenes. “He’s still working hard and developing his game and he has the ability to do that kind of stuff.”
The Wild outshot the Smokies 13-7 in the final period, 31-24 overall, but MacBurnie was solid throughout the game, and spectacular at times particularly on six short-handed situations, on which the Wild scored just once.
It happened with less than four minutes to play in the first period when a bench minor cost Trail the go-ahead goal as the Wild grabbed a 1-0 lead. Looking back, the Smokies’ coach regretted the outburst but was concerned that his team took 12 penalties over two games, while the opposition were off just five times.
“I wouldn’t call us an overly-aggressive team, kind of unorthodox weekend for penalties, but we’ve got to somehow manage to be more disciplined, because we’re not going to kill more than two times the opportunities we get on the power play every night.”
Trail’s Ross Armour soon replied, however, converting a Nii Noi Tetteh set up 2:30 into the second to tie it. Kyle Star put the Smokies up 2-1 at the 8:04 mark of the second with assists to Harlan Orr and Spencer McLean.
The Wild came out strong in the third and were rewarded when Blake Christenson netted his second of the night for Wenatchee 12:43 in. But Leitch’s goal, and an empty netter from Kale Howarth would ice it for the Smokies second straight win over the 18-9-2-2 Wild this season.
“Even coming off a big win on Friday, I thought we elevated our play on Saturday to match Wenatchee, which is a tough game.”
In a thrilling goaltender’s duel on Friday between MacBurnie and Brody Claey, an end-to-end match up ended in a 1-0 victory for the Smokies, capped off by a highlight reel goal from Scott. With less than nine minutes remaining in the third, Max Newton feathered a perfect pass to Scott, who walked in and wired a water-bottle popper off the top of the net to give Trail a tenuous 1-0 lead.
The Bulldogs pressured in the final minutes, but the Trail defence held and MacBurnie came up big, stopping 24 shots on the night, while Claey blocked 26 for Alberni. The Bulldogs went 0-for-6 on the power play, while Trail was 0-for-2. MacBurnie and Claey were named first and second stars respectively, and Scott the third star of the game with his team-leading 13th tally of the season.
With the wins, the 13-17-0-0 Smokies made up ground on the Interior division’s fourth -place Vernon Vipers, gaining two points on the final playoff spot after the 14-17-0-2 Vipers lost to Penticton 3-0 on Friday. Trail still has three games in hand on the Vipers, and look to narrow the margin when they leave for their longest road trip of the year on Thursday.
“That’s our goal, and we’re doing it when we have good goaltending and we’re competing as a team,” added the Yale alumnus. “There is something to be said about coming from behind and clawing your way into this kind of position. You can use it to your advantage and come out a better team at the end of the day.”
The Smokies travel to Powell River on Friday to play the Kings, then face the Bulldogs on Saturday in Port Alberni, and the Cowichan Valley Capitals on Sunday before returning to the Cominco Arena for a division match up against the Vernon Vipers on Dec. 16.