The Trail Smoke Eaters confirmed what everyone expected; the BCHL’s Interior division will be one heck of a hard place to play this season.
Despite two good efforts, the Smokies suffered a 3-1 loss to the Penticton Vees Friday and a 4-2 setback to the Salmon Arm Silverbacks Saturday.
“Every team in our division it’s going to be a game like this, it’s going to be a battle,” said Smoke Eater assistant coach Barry Zanier. “There’s no easy games.”
Over 1,000 fans attended Friday’s home opener against Penticton and just under that on Saturday against Salmon Arm to see a Smokies team loaded with speed and skill, but icing seven rookies who are still adapting to what is likely the most competitive division in the BCHL.
“I think that’s one thing the new kids, the rookies, they are going to have to be mentally tough for that part of it,” said Zanier. “That’s probably going to be the biggest challenge for them, is being mentally tough every shift.”
Salmon Arm would score the winner just 29 seconds after the Smoke Eaters tied the game 2-2. Nick Hutchison redirected a Carson Bolduc shot to beat Trail goalie Adam Todd to give the ‘Backs a 3-2 lead 16:12 into the middle frame.
The loss puts the Smokies at 2-2, tied with Vernon for fifth in the Interior division, while Penticton, Merritt Centennials, West Kelowna Warriors, and Salmon Arm are all locked at 3-1 to start the season. Only two other teams in the league, Chilliwack and Prince George, have records above .500.
The Smokies dominated the opening 10-minutes of the match, but Salmon Arm got on the board first when Taro Hirose walked out of the corner and jammed the puck past Todd with under three minutes to play in the opening period.
Careless giveaways could have sunk the Smokies early in the second period, but Todd came up with big saves to keep it close.
However, the ‘Backs would capitalize on the momentum swing when Shane Danyluk finished a slick passing play from Bryden Marsh and Bolduc to put Salmon Arm up 2-0 at 2:50 of the middle frame.
The Smoke Eaters bounced back, however. After Berezan was sent off for hooking, the line of Jake Lucchini, Dallas Calvin, and Harlan Orr put on a power-play clinic, displaying great puck control, with Calvin dishing off to Bryan Gerstenfeld who fired a hard pass to Lucchini that the Trail native deftly deflected into the top corner to make it 2-1 at 12:48.
Three minutes later the trio would strike again. Lucchini broke down the right side into the Silverbacks’ zone and slid a perfectly timed pass to the front of the net where a streaking Calvin went forehand-back-hand to beat Salmon Arm goalie Angus Redmond on the glove side to tie it.
There was some definite chemistry between the two Trail natives, as both picked up a goal and an assist, something Lucchini says may have started earlier in the summer.
“It was good,” said Lucchini. “We went to hockey school this summer and we played together so it kind of carried over. He (Calvin) is a really good player so it’s easy to play with him.”
Yet, the line could not beat Redmond in the third, his biggest save coming off the stick of Calvin midway through the period. With the score 3-2, Lucchini and Calvin broke in on a 2-on-1; Lucchini saucered a perfect cross-crease pass to Calvin, but Redmond slid across and robbed the former Beaver Valley Nitehawk to preserve the one-goal lead.
“They had some opportunities, unfortunately we’re not going to win with one line, we need everybody going,” said Zanier. “You know we come back and tie it up and they come back with a soft goal, where we didn’t have good coverage, and that hurt. It seems we’re always trying to come back and that’s tough.”
Salmon Arm’s Hirose scored his second of the night to make it 4-2 with 2:45 to play. The ‘Backs outshot the Smokies 32-25, with Redmond taking first star honours, while Lucchini was the game’s second star, and Hirose the third star. Trail was 1-for-3 on the power play, the Backs 0-for-2.
On Friday, after a scoreless first period, Scott Davidson would put Trail up 1-0 just 13 seconds into the second frame, but Penticton netted three unanswered goals on their way to a 3-1 victory. Joshua Laframboise netted the winner with just eight seconds remaining in the second period, taking a centering pass from Mitch Newsome and firing it into the open net to give the Vees a 2-1 lead heading into the third.
The Smokies were able to keep the high-flying rookie line of Tyson Jost, Lewis Zerter-Gossage, and Liam Finlay off the scoreboard, but it was veterans like former Vernon Viper Demico Hannoun and Cowichan Valley forward Steen Cooper that counted for the Vees.
“They had a lot of oddman rushes, but then we took the play to them,” said Smokies assistant Craig Clare. “We didn’t get the breaks we needed around the net, even tonight. If we got guys going to the net a little hungrier we might have a better chance.”
The Smoke Eaters outshot the Vees 32-21 but couldn’t solve Penticton goalie Hunter Miska who was named third star on the night. Laframboise received first star and Davidson the game’s second star in his first game back after suffering a concussion.
“I don’t think we showed what type of team we are yet,” added Clare. “We had glimpses of it at the Showcase, and even though these were close games, it wasn’t even close to the potential we can play to, so that’s what’s disappointing.We didn’t have the same jump we did in Chilliwack.”
Trail hosts the Cowichan Valley Capitals on Friday at the Cominco Arena with the puck drop at 7:30 p.m.