Nothing like making a good first impression.
In his first game with his new club, freshly minted Trail Smoke Eater Jesse Knowler made a huge impact, scoring two goals, including the game winner, in a 3-1 victory over the West Kelowna Warriors Friday night at Cominco Arena.
Smokies head coach Bill Birks said the 18-year-old Castlegar native’s talent was worth the price of admission for the boisterous crowd of over 1,000 in Trail.
“He’s one of the smartest players I’ve seen play the game in the last few years,” he said on Sunday.
“He’s a welcome addition to the room and a lot guys know him. He’s a real boost to our team for sure.”
Despite his performance Knowler was noticeably absent when the three stars for the game were announced. Smoke Eaters goaltender Lyndon Standwood stood on his head in the game, stopping 35 of the 36 shots he faced, and was given the first star.
Knowler was heavily used in all situations, said Birks, with plenty of special teams time on the power play and penalty kill.
The Warriors tried to silence the crowd when they scored just over seven minutes into the game on the power play, but a late slash by Ambrose Firkus at the end of the period put the Smokies on the power play to begin the second frame.
And they wasted no time, with third star of the game, Brent Baltus, knocking home a goal from Garrett McMullen and Shane Poulsen 28 seconds in the period and the man advantage.
It took the Smokies 17 minutes before they beat Warriors netminder Garrett Rockafellow—who stopped 35 of the Smokies 37 shots—with Knowler taking a feed from returning Smokies Adam Wheeldon and Brandon Egli to record the eventual game winner.
Knowler added an unassisted empty net goal with 10 seconds left in the game.
On Saturday night, however, the Smokies couldn’t carry the momentum of the home opener with them to Vernon as they dropped a 7-2 decision to the fifth place club in the BCHL’s Interior Division last year.
Knowler’s magic from the previous night wasn’t enough to ignite the Smokies in their tussle with the Vipers, and the club was sluggish, giving up three goals before an unassisted effort from Smokies forward Tylr Berkholtz.
That’s when it all unraveled for the Trail club. Despite another goal by Berkholtz from Knowler early in the third period—and a strong second period—the Vipers took advantage of the Smokies undisciplined play and scored three times on the power play in three straight chances.
“We took some costly penalties and they scored quickly and it was game over for us,” said Birks, noting the 6-2 mark midway through the third period was enough to sink the Smokies.
The Vipers added a short handed goal with seven minutes left in the game by Adam Tambellini, underlining the Smokies futility on the power play that was scoreless in four chances in the game. The Vipers scored three times on seven chances.
Trail native Craig Martin picked up two assists for the Vipers in his first game against the Smoke Eaters. Martin has three points in five games.
Stanwood withstood 41 shots in the Smokies net, stopping 34, while the Smokies directed only 22 shots on Vipers goaltender Austin Smith, and he turned aside 20.
The Smokies face a three-game set next weekend.
Friday night, the team has a rematch with the Warriors in West Kelowna.
Saturday, Trail is back at home to host the Vernon Vipers.
And Sunday afternoon, the Powell River Kings make their only stop of the season at the Cominco Arena.