The Trail Smoke Eaters are undefeated in 2019, skating to a 4-3 victory at home against the Surrey Eagles on Friday to ring in the New Year, then scored five power-play goals in an 8-4 win over the West Kelowna Warriors on Saturday night at Royal LePage Place.
Smokies forward Kent Johnson netted his first BCHL hat trick in the victory over the Warriors, which included the game-winning goal on a penalty shot.
“He came back from the break so fresh, after playing 41 games in the first half,” said Smoke Eaters coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “His hands are so smooth, and that’s the progression we want to see. We know he’s an outstanding talent and to be fresh enough to come in every game and feel good enough to do the things he wants to do, it was an outstanding game for him.”
Johnson was awarded the penalty shot after being tripped up by a Warriors defenceman while breaking in all alone on net. The 16-year-old rookie skated in, went forehand-backhand then lifted the puck under the blocker of Baier for a 5-3 Trail lead at the 16:16 mark of the second period.
Coming off a 12-day holiday break, Trail’s preparation prior to Friday’s game was intense and ultimately crucial to the two wins. The Smoke Eaters hit the ice five times in three days in anticipation of the Surrey and West Kelowna match ups.
“We explained to the guys that you’re going to be tired and exhausted but the other teams won’t skate that much, and when it comes down to the third period we’re going to feel good and work the kinks out,” said Tambellini. “Our kids bought into it and had a great couple days of practice leading up to it and played the exact same way in the games.”
The Warriors opened the scoring when Willie Reim one-timed a centring pass over the shoulder of Smoke Eaters goaltender Adam Marcoux to take an early 1-0 lead 1:47 into the game.
The Smoke Eaters responded with 5:25 to go in the first period when Tyler Ghirardosi tied the game on the power-play, and Smokies forward Chase Stevenson put the Smokies up for good 67 seconds later, jumping on a miscue by the Warriors defence and beating Baier on a breakaway for a 2-1 lead.
Johnson scored his first of the night on the power play, skating down the left side, deking the defenceman then cutting to the net and backhanding it by Baier to make it 3-1 at 16:23 of the second period.
West Kelowna foward Anthony Bishop tallied a power play goal to get West K within one, but Smokies defenceman Trevor Zins’ shot through traffic made it 4-2 midway through the period.
Brandon Dent scored for the Warriors to get within a goal, but Johnson buried the game winner with his second of the game to give Trail a 5-3 lead. The University of Michigan commit then completed the hat trick with just 3:46 to play in the middle frame, snapping a wrist shot from the left circle for a 6-3 lead and his 15th goal and 32nd point.
The Warriors Bennett Norlin netted a power-play goal at the 9:25 mark of the final period before Zins added his second goal of the game and 10th of the season on another power-play. Zins has been a giant on the backend, quarterbacking the power play and leading all Smokies defencemen with 10 goals and 31 points.
“He (Zins) is a guy that’s an outstanding athlete, which allows him to defend a certain way and he’s had a really strong year, and a really good start to 2019,” said Tambellini.
Hayden Rowan buried his 12th goal to close out the night, for the Smokies fifth power-play goal on six tries.
“When our power play is going well, our team plays well,” said Tambellini. “We have guys that can make the right plays and we can change gears … and when you score five goals on the power play, I like our chances in most games.”
Marcoux turned aside 26 of the 30 shots for his 14th victory of the season, while Baier stopped 26 of the 34 shots for just his fifth loss of the year.
Johnson (2G, 2A) earned the game’s first star, with the Warriors Anthony Bishop second star, and Zins the third star with a four-point night.
On Friday at the Cominco Arena, the Smoke Eaters fired 56 shots at the Surrey Eagles goalie Hayden Missler and earned a well-deserved 4-3 win thanks to a Ghirardosi goal with 42 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Smokies dominated the Eagles throughout the match, but Missler almost was the difference as the Eagles led 2-1 early in the third period despite Trail’s 38-14 edge in shots after two.
Goals from Owen Ozar and Zins gave Trail a 3-2 lead, but Corey Clifton tied it midway through the third. The Smokies continued to pepper Missler, and Ghirardosi finally beat him making a move to the outside and wiring a shot past the blocker of Missler to give the Smoke Eaters the win.
Trail outshot Surrey 56-21, went 0-for-4 on the power play, and played the whole game without taking a penalty.
Trail hosts the Nanaimo Clippers on Friday with the puck drop at 7 p.m., and face the Victoria Grizzlies on Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.