Great plays, even better saves, and a dramatic finish capped off the Trail Smoke Eaters rubber match against the Powell River Kings on Sunday at the Cominco Arena, as the Smoke Eaters took four points from Island Division teams on the weekend.
The Smoke Eaters weathered an emotional second period and a 5-on-3 penalty kill to go on to beat the Kings, 2-1, in their third meeting of the season.
“The results are always positive when you win a game, but it wasn’t the process we were looking for,” said Smoke Eaters coach and GM Cam Keith. “For most of the second period there, we had some frustrations that is a learning experience for some of the guys. Sometimes you feel like you might not be getting the calls, but to hold your composure in tight games like this is really important.”
In an exciting back-and-forth matchup, Smokies forward Blaine Caton broke a 1-1 tie, scoring a third-period power-play goal with 58 seconds remaining on the clock to lift the Smokies to a one-goal victory over the Kings. Caton’s fifth tally of the season, came on the heels of a two-goal performance in a 5-4 win over the Victoria Grizzlies on Friday.
“That’s right up there with the biggest goal I’ve ever scored in any league,” said Caton after the win. “I saw Jer (Lucchini) give it to Tucky (Braedon Tuck) on the wall, and with his speed, I knew he had the d-man beat so I just tried to bust to the net, get to the crease, and luckily he threw it out and it went off me and went in.”
It was a goaltenders duel from the start as the Smokies were stymied by the Kings’ Matteo Paler-Chow in the early going on a couple first period power-plays, but Trail goalie Tanner Marshall was equal to the task in the second period, thwarting the Kings time and again. His most impressive piece of larceny came on a Mitch Williams breakaway midway through the period, where Marshall made a sensational glove save.
But the turning point came at the end of the second when forwards Andre Ghantous and Spencer McLean were sent off within a 44 second span giving the Kings a two-man advantage. After hitting a post, more Marshall magic kept Powell River off the scoreboard, with the 17-year-old Kelowna native making several key saves to preserve the scoreless tie, as the Kings outshot Trail 15-7 in the middle frame.
“It was a game changer, an absolute game changer,” said Keith. “Your goaltender is always your best penalty killer, and Tanner Marshall was the best penalty killer tonight. He controlled rebounds, he fought through screens, he made it look like they had nothing to shoot at, and he made those big saves when we needed them.”
The penalty kill sparked the Smokies, and Trail replied with two glorious opportunities but Paler-Chow robbed a Trail forward on a breakaway, and Caton fired a point-blank shot off the inside of the post that was deemed no goal despite the itchy trigger finger of the “GOOOAAALLLL” announcer.
The goose egg was finally broken midway through the third, when Jeremy Lucchini fed a streaking Ryan Murphy down the right wing, and the Minnesota native made a perfect cross-crease pass to Daine Dubois for the tap in at 9:43, and his first goal as a Smoke Eater.
But less than a minute later, Powell River’s Kevin Obssuth forced a quick turnover in the Trail corner, and dished to Hunter Findlater in front, who fired it off the post and in to tie the game.
The frantic pace continued with the teams trading chances, but a hit-to-the-head penalty to Kings forward Carter Turnbull with 1:34 remaining resulted in a Smokies power-play. Trail wasted no time, and Lucchini again started the play by hitting Tuck down low. The Trail forward skated behind the Kings goal and sent a backdoor pass to Caton, who banked it past Paler-Chow for the 2-1 victory.
“It’s a great way to win when you score a late goal and win a game at home,” said Keith. “Blaine Caton is a heart-and-soul kind of kid, and it’s nice to see him get some momentum as far as scoring goals. He’s a kid that goes to the net and scores the hard goals, in the tough areas.”
Caton has 12 points in 13 games this season, and has played a significant role for the team as a leader on and off the ice.
“I’m trying to build off last year,” said Caton. “I was 0-and-12 last year for points, I just wanted to come in and get a good start for my 20th year, and set myself up for a good rest of the season.”
Powell River outshot Trail 32-26. The Smoke Eaters went 1-for-4 on the power play and were perfect on the penalty kill in six Kings attempts thanks to great defensive play and solid goaltending from Marshall, who earned his first win at the Cominco Arena and is 5-0 on the season.
The 9-3-1-0 Smokies sit in second place in the Interior Division, a point behind the Vernon Vipers but own a game in hand. Marshall was named the game’s first star, Caton earned second star honours, while Paler-Chow was the third star. Lucchini was the Fortis energy player of the game with two assists, and netted his fifth point in the past three games.
On Friday, Montrose native Spencer McLean netted the winner 58 seconds into the third period, and Caton added a pair in the 5-4 victory over the Victoria Grizzlies.
Drayson Pears opened the scoring for the Grizzlies at 6:09 of the first period, but goals from Murphy and Caton made it 2-1 before the period was out. Caton and Ghantous put the Smokies up 4-1 in the second period, but the Grizzlies clawed their way back scoring three straight goals to tie it before McLean clinched the win at the start of the third.
Trail outshot Victoria 39-22 and went 2-for-4 on the power play, while the Grizzlies scored once in four power-play opportunities.
Ghantous (1G, 1A) was the game’s first star, with Lucchini (2A) earning second star, and the Grizzlies’ Alex Newhook third star. Caton earned the Fortis Energy player of the game.
“The first couple weeks of our season, a lot of teams started to clue in on our top line and started line matching so that sets it up for me, Andre and guys like that to step up for secondary scoring and I feel like we’ve done that the past couple weeks,” added Caton. “It’s definitely nice to contribute and feel like you’re helping the team.”
Trail hosts the Cowichan Valley Capitals at 7 p.m. on Friday and the Vernon Vipers on Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.