The Trail Smoke Eaters split a pair of weekend games against Interior division rivals defeating West Kelowna Warriors 8-7 in an epic overtime game on Friday, before succumbing to the Penticton Vees in a close 5-2 match at the Cominco Arena on Saturday.
Penticton quietly clinched the BCHL regular season title on Saturday, but for two-and-a-half periods the vaunted Vees didn’t look like a dominant team against Trail, until they scored four goals in the final 13 minutes to claim the victory.
“I felt we just loosened up a little bit in the last 10 minutes,” said Smoke Eater head coach Nick Deschenes. “But when you counter 10 minutes versus 50 minutes, there is a definitely a lot there to be happy about.”
The Smoke Eaters had taken a 2-1 lead 4:40 into the third period on a Cooper Leitch goal, but Gabe Bast would tie it and Steen Cooper score the winning goal midway through the period jamming Bast’s initial shot in from the side of the net to give the Vees its league best 40th win of the season.
The Smokies got on the board first when Dallas Calvin extended his league-leading point scoring streak to seven games, cleaning up the rebound on a pretty passing play with Jake Lucchini and Craig Martin at 5:48 of the first period. The game would remain 1-0 through one, highlighted by a lively tilt between the Smokies defenceman Stephen Penner and Dakota Conroy.
The Vees would draw even on a shorthanded break, when Demico Hanoun‘s shot from the top of the circle snuck through the pads of Trail goalie Brett Clark 37 seconds into the second to tie it at 1-1.
Trail would gain momentum, however, after the mild-mannered Connor Brown-Maloski dropped the gloves with Shayne Gwinner and ended up on top. Trail swarmed the Penticton net on two power plays in the last half of the second period, but couldn’t beat Miska despite wild scrambles and glorious opportunities with the man advantage.
“Us not capitalizing on the numerous opportunities in the second period was probably what cost us the game overall, because there were some Grade A scoring opportunities, and both teams’ power plays were ineffective.”
Less than five minutes into the third, Leitch would wire one inside the post past Mishka on another nice setup from Lucchini and Calvin to give Trail a 2-1 lead.
However, Bast’s point shot through a crowd beat Clark high blocker side to tie it at 6:46. Cooper would net the go-ahead goal, then pick up an insurance marker when Alfred found the Minnesota-Mankota commit standing alone in front of Clark at 14:54 of the final period. The Vees would pound the nail into the coffin with 1:05 to play scoring into an empty Trail net.
Penticton outshot the Smoke Eaters 43-33, including 19-9 in the third period. Miska was named the game’s first star, with Trail goalie Clark taking second star honours and Cooper the third star. Trail’s Jordan Passmore was named the Fortis Energy Player of the Game.
In a wild matchup at Royal LePage Place in Kelowna Friday, Jake Lucchini, Harlan Orr, and Martin scored twice and it was Calvin with the OT winner for the Trail Smoke Eaters in an 8-7 win over the host West Kelowna Warriors.
Jason Cotton and Tyler Kunz put the Warriors up in the first but Martin got his pair in the second to tie it before Orr and Lucchini put Trail up 4-2.
Seven goals followed in a frantic back-and-forth third period with Cotton’s second tally forcing OT with just over a minute to play, before Calvin won it 39 seconds into the first 4-on-4 extra frame.
“It was interesting, we just kept battling,” said Deschenes. “It was definitely one of the most rollercoaster type games I’ve been a part of.”
Lucchini had a five-point night with two goals and three assists, while Martin and Calvin each had four points for the Smoke Eaters. The Warriors outshot Trail 41-32 with Martin awarded first-star honours, the Warriors’ Jason Cotton second star and Calvin third star for the Smokies.
Frustrated by injury for much of the season, the Smoke Eaters have played entertaining hockey since Christmas and in particular the past seven matches going 3-3-0-2.
“As a young coach in the league, I have extensive playing experience, but going through these kinds of seasons, ups and downs and stuff, I’m limited in that department, so to modify things a little bit, and see some results is definitely encouraging. We’re finishing things on the right note, and it’s going to be one of those seasons where we shake our heads and wonder, ‘how are we not in the playoffs?’”
In the race for a playoff spot, Salmon Arm fell into a tie with West Kelowna for the fourth and final playoff berth in a 2-1 loss to Vernon Friday, while West Kelowna rebounded from the loss to Trail Friday, with a 4-1 victory over Nanaimo. The Island division leading Clippers lost all three games to Interior division teams on the weekend losing 4-2 to Penticton and 4-1 to Venon before its loss to the Warriors.
Trail will look for its first win againt the Vipers this season when they play a home-and-home with Vernon on Wednesday in Trail and Friday in Vernon. The Vipers sit in second place in the Interior division and have clinched a playoff spot with 72 points. The Smokies face the Snakes Wednesday at the Cominco Arena at 7:30 p.m. with admission prices $5 across the board. Trail’s final home game goes on Saturday versus the Warriors.