Matteo Paler-Chow made 34 stops and Tyler Ghirardosi scored twice including the game winner as the Trail Smoke Eaters won their 2oth game of the season in a 3-1 victory over Interior Division rival Wenatchee Wild.
The Smoke Eaters broke a four-game losing streak on Wednesday at the Cominco Arena, thanks to a power-play goal by Ghirardosi with 11:49 remaining. The score was tied 1-1 when Max Kryski worked the puck down low to Carson Briere who circled then made a slick back pass to Ghirardosi at the left dot, and the Montrose native fired it past Wild goalie Daniel Chenard for a 2-1 lead.
“This is huge,” said Ghirardosi. “We were on a four game skid and missing four of our top guys, and that win really makes us believe that we can do it without them. And doing it at home, there’s a lot confidence in that room right now.”
Trail forwards Owen Ozar, Kent Johnson, and Philippe Lapointe and d-man Powell Connor helped Team Canada West to a 1-0 win over Russia Wednesday at the World Jr. A Challenge in Dawson Creek, and will be away from the team until next week. They were undoubtedly missed in Trail’s three losses against the top three Mainland division teams, Coquitlam, Langley and Chilliwack last weekend, but Trail coach and GM Jeff Tambellini refuses to make excuses.
“We went through a very difficult trip, against the best team in the league especially at home, and a tough three games in two days with a short roster,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “So yeah we knew we were going to face something like that with four superstars out of your line up, but the guys responded and played a great game tonight.”
Trail defenceman Jameson Murray opened the scoring at 8:26 of the first period, blasting a point shot through a Chase Dafoe screen for a 1-0 lead on the power play. Trail outshot the Wild 14-11 in the opening frame, but early penalties changed the momentum in the second period. Wild forward Harrison Scott tied the game, winning the battle on a bouncing puck and backhanding it past a screened Paler-Chow for the tying goal at 12:18.
Trail didn’t register their 15th shot until 11:24 of second period, but Paler-Chow was solid in the Smokies net denying Wenatchee on a number of occasions including a spectacular glove save off Wild forward Brett Chorske on the doorstep with six seconds left in the period to keep the game even at one.
The teams traded chances in the third period, until Ghirardosi buried his game winner, then scored the insurance marker, his 16th of the season, with 2:06 to play.
“It was a nice play by Mikey (Colella) he gave it to me, I made one move and had a wide open net,” said Ghirardosi.
Smoke Eaters fans also got a look at the two new additions in Briere and defenceman Kyle Pow, who joined the Smokies for last weekend’s road trip, but played their first game at home Wednesday. The changing line up has been a challenge, but the Smoke Eaters are making the necessary adjustments.
“Everyone’s been on new lines ever since those guys left, and we got two new guys, so everyone is adjusting,” said Ghirardosi. “We’re doing a good job now. It was kind of scrambley at first but now we’re starting to get in a groove.”
Paler-Chow’s excellent play is another bright spot for Trail, and will compliment counterpart Logan Terness down the stretch.
“He’s been fantastic,” said Tambellini. “He was outstanding on Saturday, came in and played a great third period on Sunday. He deserved the start, he is fighting for his ice, and doing a great job.”
Wenatchee outshot Trail 10-6 in the third and 35-31 overall, but Trail’s special teams were better on the night going 1-for-7 on the power play and 5-for-5 on the penalty kill.
“There’s going to be momentum swings in any game, but our penalty killers really stepped up,” said Tambellini. “We needed them to have a big night and our veteran guys got it done tonight, and that’s what got us the win.”
Paler-Chow earned the game’s first star, Max Kryski second star, and Wild goalie Chenard third star. Ghirardosi was named Energy Player of the Game.
Wins against their Interior Division rivals are crucial for playoff positioning and ultimately gaining home-ice advantage in the playoffs, and 18 of the Smoke Eaters’ final 22 games are against Interior teams. The 20-12-2-1-1 Smokies are currently in second place in the division, seven points behind the 25-9-1-0 Penticton Vees, and will face-off against division rivals West Kelowna Warriors Friday night, ringing in the festive season with their annual Teddy Bear Toss. The Smoke Eaters then travel to Salmon Arm on Sunday for a game against the Silverbacks.
“It’s a good test, West Kelowna’s going to be good on Friday night, we’re going to have a busy building with the Teddy Bear Toss, so that’s a big one for us,” added Tambellini. “Then another great test and hopefully get some more ground on Salmon Arm.”
The Smoke Eaters encourage fans to bring stuffed toys, socks, and/or tuques wrapped in plastic bags for the Teddy Bear Toss on Friday. The puck drop for the Trail-West K game goes at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.