Salmon Arm SilverBacks’ forward Landon Smith netted the natural hat trick including the winning goal at 3:27 of the second frame to lead the Gorillas to a 5-2 victory over the Trail Smoke Eaters at the Cominco Arena Tuesday night.
The winning goal came on a point-shot from Alex Gillies that Smokie goaltender Dustin Nikkel thought he had corralled but the puck lay beside his pad and Smith jumped on it, banging it home to give the SilverBacks a 3-1 lead. The 20-year-old Denver native leads the BCHL in scoring with 27 goals and 25 assists in 33 games.
“We had a game plan to stop their top line, and obviously that was the difference in the game,” said Trail assistant coach Craig Clare. “That’s something he (Smith) has done all year to us. I think we match up alright, but their top line really take it to us.”
It was the sixth loss in a row for the orange and black, and in spite of not putting points on the board, the Smokies have battled and competed in every game.
“I think we’re so close, we just don’t have the confidence to finish out games. You look at our last six games now, even tonight we are going in down by a goal and have a chance to win the hockey game and we don’t have that killer instinct to finish it off, or the confidence, but it is going to come.”
The SilverBacks opened the scoring just over three minutes in, when Smith broke in on the left wing, and let go a shot, only to be stopped by Nikkel, but a trailing Taylor Mayura chopped the loose puck under the goaltender to give the Backs a 1-0 lead.
Ten minutes later Trail went on the power play when the Backs’ Brendan Kennedy was sent off for interference at 6:04. Forward Travis Stephens worked the puck to point-man Braden Pears who sent a crisp cross-ice pass to Jake Lucchini at the top of the left circle, and the 18-year-old one-timed a howitzer over the blocker of Gorilla goalie Angus Redmond to tie it.
Lucchini has made definite strides for the Smokies, netting his eighth point in his past 11 games. The Trail native is playing with confidence, making plays, forechecking and backchecking responsibly. He has been rewarded with increased ice time and put in key positions such as anchoring the blue line with Pears on the power play.
“It’s been good, the coaches put me out there in those opportunities to capitalize,” said Lucchini. “It’s what every player wants to do so it’s nice to finally put the puck in the net.”
However, Alex Jewell put the Backs up jumping on a Cole McCaskill rebound to make it 2-1 with 4:30 left in the first frame.
But after Smith made it 3-1, the Smokies would narrow it to one, when Castlegar native Jesse Knowler netted his fifth of the year.
Lucchini did a good job of maintaining puck control in the SilverBacks zone and working it to Pears who blasted a low shot just East of the far post. The puck bounced off the back boards, and with Redmond down, Knowler jumped on the carom and put it in.
“We’re so close, but we can’t come away with a win,” said Lucchini. “It sucks but we’re getting really close and hopefully we’ll get out of our slump tomorrow (versus Penticton).”
The Smoke Eaters pressured the Backs throughout the second period, but big saves by Redmond and plenty of missed opportunities kept it a 3-2 game heading into the third.
“It’s frustrating,” said Clare. “Another difference in the game is we have a hell of a second period, and we don’t bury our chances. We should be going up possibly and right now those things aren’t going our way.”
The shots on goal were even at 26 after two periods, but Salmon Arm would take control in the third outshooting the Smokies 12-6 as Smith broke open a tight game with back-to-back goals midway through the third to ice it for the Gorillas.
“It’s important that the guys learn, and stay positive,” added Clare. “We are putting a lot of work in and when we turn this thing around it’s going to be very rewarding for all of us.”