The Trail Smoke Eaters battled back from a two-goal deficit in the third period, but could not complete the comeback as the Salmon Arm Silverbacks promptly won it 6-5 in overtime to take sole possession of third place in the BCHL’s Interior division playoff race.
In a wide open see-saw affair, Silverbacks forward Ross Heidt scored just four seconds into the extra frame to give Salmon Arm the victory, and a four-point cushion on West Kelowna for the final playoff spot in the tight Interior division.
With Trail’s top line of Craig Martin centering Jake Lucchini and Dallas Calvin on the ice to start the overtime, Smokie fans were hopeful that Trail might end it early. But it was not to be, as Salmon Arm’s Josh Blanshard pushed the puck past Martin, while Heidt separated from Lucchini, gathered the puck, then flew past the Trail defenceman and wired a wrist shot off the post and in, to abruptly end the match.
“It was pretty tough, just so quick off the draw, hard to react, a wobbly puck, not much you can do about that,” said Martin, Trail’s assistant captain. “It’s anyone’s game on 4-on-4 and we just didn’t get the outcome we wanted.”
Despite the loss, the Trail trio was dominant, accounting for three of the five Smoke Eater goals, and eight points on the night, including a highlight reel marker that tied the game at 6:37 of the third.
“There is more positives than negatives, and that’s kind of been the story,” said Trail coach and GM Nick Deschenes. “It’s a bit of a roller coaster, up and down, we get behind, we comeback or vice versa. It’s tough at this point of the season but it would really be nice for us to have a killer instinct, like shut them down and minimize anything we can. It has nothing to do with skill or our ability, but our choices of what we do with the puck.”
Salmon Arm went up 1-0 on the power play, when Phil Middleton took a pass from Jordan Burns at the point and fired a low shot past a screened Adam Todd at 6:02 of the opening period.
However, before the celebration had died down, Martin and Lucchini would get two wacks at a puck in front of ‘Backs goalie Angus Redmond before Calvin fired in the rebound to tie it at 1-1.
Todd would make an acrobatic pad save on a 2-on-0 midway through the period, but moments later Nick Hutchison would sneak one in short side on the Courtenay native to give Salmon Arm another short-lived lead; as less than two minutes later, Lucchini would strike, taking a perfect pass from Calvin on the left side and ripping it top corner on Redmond to make it 2-2 at 12:56 of the first.
The trend would continue into the second period as Trail took a 3-2 lead when Dexter McLeod made a heads-up pass to a streaking Kienan Scott who walked in all alone and flipped a wrist shot over the blocker of Redmond four minutes in. But Salmon Arm would reply 36 seconds later, when Thomas Plese fed Chase Priskie with a pass from behind the net, and the defenceman made a quick deke on Todd to tie it. The Quinnipiac commit would beat Todd again on a wrap around at 9:40 to put the ‘Backs up 4-3, and the Silverbacks would take a two goal lead 16 seconds into the third, when Taylor Maruya walked in and beat the Trail netminder with a quick snapshot from the slot.
To their credit, the Smokies, however, did not fold. The Fortis Energy Player of the Game, Cooper Leitch made a great individual effort fending off a ’Backs d-man, circled behind the net, then passed to Sheldon Brett at the hash marks who one-timed it over Redmond’s shoulder.
The Smokies would tie it a minute later. Martin carried it through the neutral zone, then hit Calvin skating in from the left side. The lanky forward drew the defenceman then feathered a pass to Lucchini breaking in on the right, who faked, then toe dragged around Redmond, sliding it into the open net for his 29th goal of the season.
“It’s awesome, we played together before being all three local guys and developed some chemistry, and just over the last couple weeks it’s been nice,” said Martin. “We’re hot right now and hopefully we can keep going, and get the team some wins.”
In the past five games, Trail has two wins and two overtime losses, and the line has had much to do with the recent success, accounting for 29 points, with Calvin and Lucchini each with 11 points and Martin netting seven over that time.
“There is some serious skill in that room and some character for sure,” said Deschenes. “But you look at that game, and you go ‘Really, Salmon Arm is in the playoffs, and we’re 20 points back from them?’ – it doesn’t make any sense.”
A major overhaul to start the season and lengthy injuries to Martin, Calvin, Robbie Johnson, Todd, and defensive stalwart Bryan Gerstenfeld have hampered the win column this season.
But with the team relatively healthy of late, the Smokies can still be a factor in the fate of Interior team’s looking for a playoff spot.
“Credit to Trail, that was a good hockey game, they played great,” said Salmon Arm head coach Brandon West. “They are a team that if they didn’t have those injuries, those significant injuries, they’d be right in that mix right now too. It’s unfortunate to see.”
Salmon Arm outshot Trail 39-28 on the night with Lucchini getting first star nod for his two goals and an assist, Heidt took second star, and Calvin third star with a goal and two assists.
The Smokies will look to hinder West Kelowna’s playoff chances when they travel to the Okanagan to play the Warriors tonight. Trail returns to the Cominco Arena on Saturday to face the Penticton Vees at 7:30 p.m. and, to celebrate Hockey Day in Canada, all minor hockey players who wear their jersey to the game receive free admission. The players will also get in free at the Beaver Valley Nitehawks vs Castlegar Rebels game tonight in Fruitvale at 7:30 p.m.