The Trail Smoke Eaters were stymied by the Vernon Vipers on Friday falling 4-0, before suffering a 3-2 overtime loss to the Merritt Centennials on Saturday. Jim Bailey photo.

Merritt Centennials comeback for OT win over Trail Smoke Eaters

Trail Smoke Eaters struggles continue with third straight loss to Interior Division rivals

The mid-season doldrums hit the Trail Smoke Eaters on the weekend, falling to Interior Division rivals Vernon Vipers at home on Friday and the Merritt Centennials on Saturday.

The Smoke Eaters dominated the Centennials in Merritt in what was their 28th match of a 56-game season, but settled for a single point in a 3-2 overtime loss.

Trail led the match for 55 minutes but Cents forward Brendan Schneider scored with 2:22 remaining in regulation to tie it and Merritt’s leading scorer Henry Cleghorn iced it in overtime for the Centennials.

The teams traded chances in the early going of the first 4-on-4 overtime, but three minutes and seven seconds into the first OT, Cleghorn netted his 10th of the season beating Smokies goalie Brandon Wells for the 3-2 Merritt victory.

The loss against the Interior Division’s last place Centennials (10-13-2-1) was the Smokies third consecutive, after falling to the Vipers 4-0 Friday and 2-1 to the Penticton Vees on Wednesday.

The Smokies Andre Ghantous opened the scoring at 3:55 of the first period on a gutsy individual effort and the only goal, as Trail outshot Merritt 14-8 through the first period.

Rossland native Ross Armour put the Smokies up 2-0 on the power play, scoring his 16th of the season on a Jeremy Lucchini set up five minutes into the second period.

Trail’s penalty kill toughed out a five minute fighting penalty to Kyle Cherenkoff and an extra two for instigating. However, before the period was out, Merritt’s Bradley Cocca cut the lead to 2-1 with 1:06 to play in the middle frame, despite Trail outshooting the Cents 10-2 in the period.

Trail’s depleted line up began to show in the third period as the Centennials rallied to tie it, out-chancing the Smokies 14-13, and 4-2 in the extra frame.

In an attempt to shore up a battered line up, Trail iced affiliate players Nolan Krogfoss, 16, from the BCMML Valley West Hawks and Hayden Dick from the KIJHL Kamloops Storm. Trail has been missing key components from their lineup, including injured forwards Levi Glasman, Ryan Murphy, Blaine Caton, and Braeden Tuck, and the league’s leading offence has struggled as a result, scoring just three goals in the past three games.

Trail outshot Merritt 39-28 and went 1-for-2 on the power play, while the Cents were 0-for-6. Merritt’s Cleghorn earned the game’s first star, goalie Austin Roden second star, and Trail’s netminder Wells the third star.

On Friday, the Vernon Vipers played shutdown hockey in a 4-0 victory over the Smoke Eaters at the Cominco Arena in front of 2,231 fans.

The Vipers newly acquired Sam Anzai scored what proved to be the winner when he walked in all alone and slipped the puck between the pads of Smoke Eater goalie Tanner Marshall at 13:51 of the first period. Anzai, an L.A. native, was acquired last week from the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Drayton Valley Thunder.

Michael Young scored a power-play goal at 7:39 of the second period to put Vernon up 2-0, and Brett Stapley and Josh Prokop added insurance markers in the third period for the 4-0 victory.

Trail had their chances but no puck luck as the Smokies hit three posts, missed a wide open net and were generally neutralized by the Vipers defence and goalie Anthony Yamnitsky, the game’s first star.

Vernon outshot Trail 40-28 and, despite the loss, Marshall made several outstanding saves and earned the game’s third star, while Vernon’s Jimmy Lambert had two assists and was the second star.

Vernon also defeated the West Kelowna Warriors on Saturday to launch the 19-6-0-4 Vipers into first place in the Interior Division, two points ahead of the Smoke Eaters.

Trail’s next game goes in Vernon on Friday before returning to the Cominco Arena Saturday for a 7 p.m. tilt against the Centennials.

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