It’s time to break out the rally caps and cheer on the Smoke Eaters as they begin their comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-seven Interior Division semifinal series versus the Penticton Vees.
Trail suffered 5-3 and 7-2 losses to the Vees on the weekend at the South Okanagan Events Centre (SOEC) and will look to turn the tide for Games 3 and 4 when the series resumes at the Cominco Arena tonight and Wednesday.
The Smoke Eaters came out flying in the opening match Friday, jumping out to a 3-1 second-period lead before a trifecta of misfortune allowed Penticton to score four unanswered goals for a 5-3 win.
“The first game, we had control of the game for the first 40 minutes, and as a team we might have got a little comfortable with how the game was going, so it was a lesson learned and a bad time to let Penticton back in it,” said Trail coach and GM Cam Keith.
Trail took a 2-0 lead on tallies from Braeden Tuck and Blaine Caton before the Vees’ Jack Barnes, replied at 3:04 of the second period. Ethan Martini scored his first goal of the season on a shot from the point that flew over the glove of Pen goalie Adam Scheel for the 3-1 Smoke Eaters lead, as Trail dominated the matchup outshooting the Vees 24-13 to that point.
However, a shorthanded goal by Vees forward Wyatt Sloboshan cut the lead to one at 12:26 and Taylor Ward banged in a Dakota Boutin setup with just nine seconds left in the second to tie the game at 3-3. A penalty to Kale Howarth at the end of the second gave the Vees a power play heading into the third, and Chris Klack scored the winner just 45 seconds in.
“Penticton’s the type of team that feeds off momentum, and the shorthanded goal led into a late period goal, which led into a power play to start the third, and that really set us back, and it set us back going into Game 2.”
Penticton shut down Trail in the third, and ended up outshooting the Smoke Eaters 32-28.
On Saturday, penalties stifled any Trail traction, and the Vees made them pay, going 5-for-7 on the man-advantage in a 7-2 win in Game 2.
“I think we started out Game 2 on the nervous side of things,” said Keith. “This is still a young team being in a tough playoff series, and we just couldn’t get any momentum going.”
With the Smokies trailing 2-1, Andre Ghantous was sent off for slashing with just 10 seconds remaining in the first period, sending the Vees to the power play to start the second. Taylor Ward found Owen Sillinger in the slot, and he fired in his second of the night just over a minute into the second period for what proved to be the game winner.
“I still believe this group has enough character in the room that we can rebound,” said Keith. “We weren’t outplayed so badly that we were intimidated by them, by any means. But now our backs are against the wall and we have to take care of it at home.”
Sillinger opened the scoring 3:46 into the game, corralling a Johnny Tychonick rebound before sliding it past Trail goalie Adam Marcoux for a 1-0 lead.
Trail answered quickly after Braeden Tuck flipped the puck from his own zone to centre and Tyler Ghirardosi found it with a step on the Vees defenceman. Ghirardosi shot from the left circle over Adam Scheel’s glove to tie the game just over a minute after the Vees scored.
Barnes continued his scoring pace in the playoffs, jamming home a rebound off a Jared Nash shot for his fourth goal in six playoff games, with under four minutes remaining in the period.
A few minutes later, Barnes collided with Marcoux after the Trail goaltender covered the puck, which Ethan Martini took exception to, throwing haymakers at Barnes and crashing him into the end wall. Martini was subsequently ejected from the game and Barnes had to be helped off the ice and didn’t return. Martini was handed a major penalty and suspended five games for a hit-to-the-head.
“It’s a big loss,” said Keith. “Ethan’s 17 but he plays like he’s 19 or 20. He’s a big part of our defensive core, and also brings that intimidation factor at home.”
On the ensuing five-minute power play, the Vees scored twice. Lukas Sillinger slid home a rebound in the crease before Jackson Keane banked the puck off Marcoux and in from below the goal line 47 seconds later to make it 5-1 Penticton through 40 minutes.
Spencer Maclean cut the Vees’ lead to 5-2 with five minutes to go, but the Vees added two more with Owen Sillinger completing his hat trick and Keane netting his second of the game with just 19 seconds to play.
Penticton outshot Trail 35-25, going 5-for-7 on the PP; Trail was 0-for-2.
Heading into SOEC, coach Keith knew that discipline was going to be a key factor for a Smoke Eaters team that likes to play with an edge. At home, the Vees enjoyed a decided advantage against the Smokies. In its three regular season matches at the SOEC, Trail found itself shorthanded 18 times, with just nine penalties called against the home team. The 2-to-1 trend continued into the playoffs where the Vees enjoyed 11 power play chances in the first two matches, and the Smokies six.
“That’s been kind of our Achilles’ heel, undisciplined hockey at times,” said Keith. “It is tough against officiating that’s from the Okanagan, and me being a younger coach, and Fred (Harbinson) being an older coach, there is a little bit of an advantage there as well. But no excuses, they deserved to win and not on the merits of just power plays. We have to look ourself in the mirror and not give referees chances to make those calls.”
And when Penticton gets an extra-man opportunity they make it count. The Vees’ formidable power play is humming along at a 46.7 per cent success clip going 14-for-30 in the playoffs. Trail has scored on a respectable 25 per cent of their man advantages (8-for-32), but have yet to score against the Vees on their six power-play ops.
The Smoke Eaters will need to duplicate the turn-around against West Kelowna in the first round. After a penalty-filled opening match, the Smoke Eaters settled down and played disciplined hockey through the rest of the series.
“We have to focus on the fact that if we win Game 3 it’s a completely different series, and we gain momentum off that. We’re going to have to flip the script and forget about the first two games, other than a few positives, and focus on our home games.”
In the other Interior semifinal, the Vernon Vipers took a 2-0 lead with 7-1 and 3-1 victories over the Wenatchee Wild.
Games 3 and 4 of the Trail-Penticton series goes Tuesday and Wednesday nights at the Cominco Arena at 7 p.m.