The Trail Smoke Eaters picked up a single point in a two-game home-stand on the weekend, tying the Alberni Valley Bulldogs 3-3 Friday night, before being outworked and outplayed by the Merritt Centennials in a 6-1 drubbing on Saturday.
The Cents’ Bennett Huber netted what proved to be the winning goal, taking a nice drop pass from Gavin Gould and rifling a shot under the arm of Smokie goalie Dustin Nikkel at 18:26 of the first period for a 2-0 lead.
Merritt opened the scoring at 11:57 when Diego Cuglietta snuck behind the Trail defencemen and broke in all alone on Nikkel beating him with a quick wrist shot to the stick side.
Sebastien Pare would make it 3-0, but the Smokies cut the lead to two on a power play. With Peyton Schafer in the box for goaltender interference, the Smokies’ defenceman Curtis Toneff crept in from the blue line and blasted a Jake Kaupilla pass past Cents’ goalie Devin Kero to make it 3-1 with just 13 seconds to go in the second period. It was Toneff’s third goal of the season, and eighth point in six games.
However, that’s as close as the home team would get as Sam Johnson, Zach Hartley, and Scott Patterson each scored in the third period to put the game out of reach.
The Smoke Eaters managed 17 shots on goal including just five in the third period, when some urgency was required.
In two games at the Cominco Arena this season the Centennials have outscored the Smokies 11-1. The win, coupled with a 4-3 victory over Victoria Grizzlies Friday, propels Merritt from the basement to third spot in the BCHL’s tight Interior division.
Vernon and Salmon Arm each split their two games this weekend and remain tied for fourth spot with 11 points, while West Kelowna’s 4-2 win over Nanaimo and a 6-1 victory over Cowichan Sunday has propped them up on top the Interior division with 17 points, three ahead of the Penticton Vees who lost to Salmon Arm 5-2 Friday, before defeating Alberni, 6-2, Saturday.
October is one of the busiest months for the Smoke Eaters, with 11 games scheduled including four games in the next six days.
In Friday’s match, two overtime periods couldn’t decide a 3-3 draw between the Smoke Eaters and Alberni Valley Bulldogs.
The Smokies stormed back from a first period 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead, but Alberni replied, tying it with just under two minutes to play in the middle frame. However, Nikkel and Bulldog goalie Tyger Howat shut the door in the third period as well as the 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 overtime periods, as both goalies faced 40 shots on the evening.
After being traded from Vernon earlier in the week, Trail native Craig Martin scored his first goal as a Bulldog to give Alberni a 2-0 lead, but Tyson Witala, Braedon Jones, and Jesse Knowler would put the Smokies up before Darian Henry tied it.
Both teams had chances to win but a great save by Nikkel on a breakaway in the dying seconds of regulation preserved the point for the Smokies, and a Jesse Knowler snapshot off the crossbar in OT almost won it.
The Smoke Eaters next have a home-and-home with Salmon Arm Thursday and Friday, with the SilverBacks coming to Trail Friday night for a 7:30 p.m. puck drop.
Former Smokie Brandon Egli has committed to play for the NCAA University of Massachusetts. Egli began last year with the Smokies before being traded to the Victoria Grizzlies where he has counted a goal and four assists in nine games this season.