Shorthanded Trail Smoke Eaters can’t keep pace

A young and understaffed Trail Smoke Eaters team dropped a pair of games to the Penticton Vees and Surrey Eagles on the weekend.

A young and understaffed Trail Smoke Eaters team dropped a pair of games to the Penticton Vees and Surrey Eagles on the weekend.

Trail went with just three lines and AP Jared Marchi in Saturday’s 5-2 loss against the Interior division leading  Vees.

With injuries to Trail’s leading scorer Jesse Knowler, and recent acquisitions Jakson Elynuik, and Braden Cross still plaguing the Smokies, the shorthanded crew played hard, and relied heavily on some great goaltending from Adam Todd.

The Vees have won all five games versus the Smokies this season, icing a lineup that includes six 20-year-olds and 16 committed players, in stark contrast to the Smokies, that have 12 rookies, one 20-year-old, and one commit. Still the youth movement is a necessary and important element in icing a more competitive  team next season.

“It’s playing into the plan, that we’re rebuilding,” Smoke Eater coach Nick Deschenes said. “We need the players here now playing so that they can prepare themselves for what’s to come next year.”

On Saturday, the Vees recent acquisition Shane McColgan netted the winner at 4:45 of the second period to pace Penticton to the 5-2 victory. The Western Hockey League veteran jumped past Trail’s defence, and wired a shot from the right hash mark, only to be stymied by Todd. However,  McColgan drove to the net and banged in his own rebound to give the Vees a 3-1 lead.

It was McColgan’s, fourth point in five games since joining the Vees at the Jan. 10 deadline from the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL.

The 21-year-old, 2011 fifth-round draft pick of the New York Rangers, is a veteran of 291 Major Junior matches playing with the Kelowna Rockets, Saskatoon Blades, and Portland over six years and lends even more firepower to a stacked Vees line up.

Steen Cooper started the scoring 68 seconds into the first period, before Trail defenceman Dylan Bowen tied it on a power play 43 seconds later. However, the Vees’ leading scorer Brad McClure would score his 34th of the season to put the Vees up 2-1 heading into the second period.

After McColgan made it 3-1, Nic Peirog would put the Vees up by three at 16:50 of the middle frame. Smoke Eater captain Adam Wheeldon, who just returned to the lineup from injury, would cut the lead to two converting a perfect Dylan Mascarin feed, but Penticton’s Ben Dalpe would round out the scoring at 6:01 of the third.

Penticton outshot the Smokies 43-22 with Hunter Miska getting the win in goal.

It was a bounce-back weekend for the Vees who beat the Vernon Vipers 6-1 Friday to end a three game losing streak, but coach Fred Harbinson remains cautious about the Vees’ chances.

“I think our division’s extremely tough,” he said. “I think we have a team that can compete at the end of the year, and should be considered but we’re going to have to get ourselves ready over the next month.”

On Friday at the Cominco Arena, a power-play goal at 13:42 of the first period by Brian Drapluk was all Surrey needed as they shut out the Smoke Eaters 3-0.

Chase McMurphy would give the Eagles a two goal lead with just 49 seconds remaining in the middle frame as they fired 19 shots in the period at the game’s third star Todd.

Nathan Renouf would put the game out of reach despite a better third period by the Smokies who outshot the Eagles in the final frame 11-6.

Todd faced 38 shots and was named the games’ third star, while Surrey goaltender Devon Fordyce earned the shut out stopping 31 on the night and grabbed first-star honours.

The Smoke Eaters travel to Merritt to take on the Centennials tonight. Merritt is in fifth place in the Interior division, and is battling for a playoff spot with Salmon Arm. The Cents have 49 points and currently sit three points back of the SilverBacks which hold down the fourth and final playoff spot.

Former Smoke Eaters Wayland Williams and Shane Poulsen patrol the blueline for the Cents along with Dane Birks, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2013 sixth-round draft pick.  Merritt has also acquired the rights of former Beaver Valley Nitehawk goalie Jarrod Schamerhorn. The 18-year-old Kelowna native played in 10 games with the Portland Winterhawks and two with the Lethbridge Hurricanes before heading to Merritt.

Devin Kero, the most recent Player of the Week and Michigan Tech commit, has shouldered most of the goaltending duties for the Cents this season, playing in 34 of 45 games with a 2.39 GAA and a .920 save percentage.

The game goes tonight at 7 p.m. in Merritt. Trail’s next home game is against the same Centennials on Saturday at the Cominco Arena at 7:30 p.m.