The Trail Smoke Eaters showed a crowd of over 700 Tuesday night that character can win hockey games, as an inspired if not weary Trail team fought back from a 2-1 third period deficit to beat the West Kelowna Warriors 3-2 in overtime.
In the 4-on-4 OT period, frantic end-to-end action ensued for the first three minutes until the Smokies’ Tyler Berkholtz and Connor Collett broke away on a 2-on-1. Collett feathered a perfect pass to the streaking forward as Berkholtz corralled the puck and lasered a shot top corner to beat Warrior goalie Tyler Briggs at 2:11 of the overtime period and give the Smokies its third straight win at the Cominco Arena.
“Just to get another win is huge, to get it (the goal) is surreal, can’t really describe the emotions,” said Berkholtz following the goal. “I was going down on a 2-on-1 with Collett and kind of hoping he would shoot, but he gave me a great pass, and I had the open net and just tapped it in.”
Scotty Davidson got the Smokies on the board midway through the first, deflecting a point shot from Djordje Leposavic to tie the game at one. However, the Warriors would regain the lead with 3:40 remaining in the opening frame when Markus Basara lifted a rebound over a sprawling Stanwood.
The team was playing its fourth game in five days, while many BCHL teams have played just six games all season.
West Kelowna was well rested, and hadn’t played a game since Friday’s home win over the Smokies. After a sluggish second period and trailing 2-1, no one would have blamed the Smokie players if they succumbed to the grueling schedule.
“You definitely noticed that we were getting tired out there,” said Trail assistant coach Brent Heaven.
The fatigue factor was a legitimate concern and it seemed to seep in during the second when the team had trouble clearing pucks and generated just two shots on goal.
But diminutive Smokie goalie Stanwood was a giant between the pipes stopping 22 shots in the first two periods, and 35 overall, to give his team time to regroup and come out flying in the third.
“We had a really good chat in the intermission and we just told the boys, ‘All it’s going to take is 20 hard miles where we dig deep and really throw everything we possibly can at the net,’ and obviously we came out in the third period and I thought we outplayed them and actually doubled our shots in the third period alone,” said Heaven.
The Smokies came out determined in the final frame, forechecking hard and creating a number of good scoring chances. The collective effort finally paid off when Collet took a pass from Austin Adduono down low, drove hard to the net and deposited his own rebound over Briggs to tie it at two with 9:32 to play.
The line of Collett, Adduono, and Bryce Knapp, (just off the IR, making his first appearance in orange and black), looked tentative to begin the game, but grew more confident as it progressed. The trio played with conviction and tenacity and was arguably the best Smokies line in the third.
“It was a huge work ethic,” said Heaven. “The guys were in there battling, and I think it started about two shifts before that, we started to get momentum, the next shift they were even working harder, and then we got rewarded. That’s what it is, you work you get rewards, if you don’t work you cost yourself, you cost your team.”
Trail continued to press, their best chance coming when Brent Baltus caromed a quick snap shot off the post just minutes later. But the Warriors had the best opportunity, breaking in on a 3-on-1 with three minutes left in the game. Max French dished off to Reid Simmonds who wired a shot at the net, but Stanwood made a lightning quick blocker save to preserve the tie.
As expected, the 18-year-old Vancouver native has been a big part of the Smokies success early in the season. He has been named first star in three-of-five Trail victories, is averaging almost 35 shots per game, and maintaining a solid .901 save percentage.
`“It’s hard to not (thrive on the action),” said Stanwood. “When you get less shots it’s hard to get into it, but when you get the shots it’s good. When you come out of it with the win and whatever, 36 shots, it feels a lot better in the dressing room, and your confidence soars.”
But Stanwood deflects any praise, crediting the play of his defence and forwards for keeping the odd-man rushes to a minimum, back-checking, and holding the opposition to just four goals in the last three games.
“I give my defence 100 per cent credit for that, and forwards for back checking . . . I think they’re doing a tremendous job, I can’t take all the credit, they’re a huge part of the team’s success for putting the pucks in the net, but also for my individual success.”
The Smokies will complete its six-game- in-nine-days swing this weekend in the Okanagan hoping to ride that momentum to a couple more wins.
“It just shows that when they believe, they can win games,” added Heaven. “It’s all about that belief and the work ethic, and everything else will fall into place.”
Up coming games:
Friday the Trail Smoke Eaters play the West Kelowna Warriors at 7 p.m. in Kelowna, their fourth meeting in the young season. The Smokies won twice, the Warriors once, but it was a 9-2 shellacking exactly one week ago at the Royal LaPage Place, and despite the 3-1 and 3-2 Trail home wins, the road is another story.
The Smokies lead the Warriors by two points in the Interior Conference and will have to neutralize the antagonistic Max French, as well as fellow leading scorers Brett Mckinnon and Seb Lloyd in order to extend that lead.
Game Saturday verse Penticton Vees at 5 p.m. The Vees lead the Interior Conference with seven wins and one loss, four points ahead of second place Trail – five wins and five losses. Former Trail Smoke Eater and Cranbrook native Sam Mellor leads the Vees in scoring along with rookie import Michael Rebry from Ontario, and North Dakota commit Wade Murphy, all with 11 points.