Smokies complete comeback thriller

Trail defenceman Ryan Swanson netted the winner in overtime as the Trail Smoke Eaters staged a dramatic third-period comeback win.

Trail defenceman Ryan Swanson netted the winner in overtime as the Trail Smoke Eaters staged a dramatic third-period comeback win on the road, downing the Merritt Centennials 5-4 in BCHL action on Friday.

Despite a late start after a bus breakdown and prolonged pre-game introductions, the Smokies managed to shrug off a 4-1 deficit in the third period, scoring three-power play goals to force overtime, collect their sixth win of the season, and sweep the home-and-home with Merritt.

“That rink, it’s a really tough rink to play in, it’s small, and things come at you quick,” said Nick Deschenes, Smoke Eater coach and GM. “With all the distractions pre-game, I don’t think we were as sharp as we needed to be. I thought we had some guys that were not quite engaged enough. It was 4-1 after two and it was pretty simple, we just have to go and out-compete and have the message that anything can happen in that kind of a rink.”

After the Smokies scored three unanswered in the third to tie it at 4-4, Swanson took a pass from Cooper Leitch stepped over the blue line and fired a slap shot top corner to end the match 2:13 into the first overtime session to shock the hometown crowd and celebrate the improbable victory. Unfortunately for Swanson, what would have been his first goal of the season was awarded to forward Jake Kauppila, who had already scored twice, to complete the phantom hat trick.

“Poor kid, the one guy that could use some pump in his tires, so the whole weekend it’s been all about the hat trick, but Swanson came across the blueline and shelfed it.”

Ryan Forbes opened the scoring for Merritt 7:54 into the first, but Kauppila tied it at one, finishing a setup from Swanson and Leitch to make it 1-1 on the power play with under four minutes to play.

However, Merritt would get their own power-play marker after John Laurito was sent off for high sticking. Gavin Gould beat starter Bailey MacBurnie on the doorstep with 1:35 to play in the opening frame, as Merritt outshot Trail 11-9 in the period.

Two second period goals from Gould and Colin Granarry gave Merritt a 4-1 lead heading into the final stanza. The Smokies began their charge after Granarry was sent off for slashing at 10:20 of the third and Nick Halloran converted a Kurt Black pass to draw the Smokies within two. Just over two minutes later, Kienan Scott blasted a shot by Merritt goalie Cole Kehler on another power play with assists to Harlan Orr and Kauppila to make it 4-3.

Merritt would again get into penalty trouble when Ryan Forbes was sent off for slashing and 31 seconds later Nick Fiorentino took a roughing penalty. Down two men, the Smokies’ Kauppila capitalized beating Kehler on an Orr set up to tie it with 5:16 to play and force OT.

“In the third, they started taking undisciplined penalties and we kept our composure, and the fact was (we scored) on the power play which has not been one of our strengths so that was a good thing, and to get the win in overtime, I mean three-goal comebacks in third periods don’t happen too often, at any level, so when it does it’s definitely a good feeling.”

Trail went 4-for-9 on the power play while Merritt was 2-for-6. The Smokies outshot Merritt 32-27 including 11-3 in the third period. Trail’s rally was backed by Linden Marshall who came on in relief of MacBurnie midway through the second period and made 10 saves to close out the match.

The Smokies third period comeback and power-play success were two big positives for a team that has struggled with the man advantage and emerging on the winning end of close games this season. Veteran players led the way with Kauppila having a four point night, and Leitch and Orr pitching in with two helpers each.

“It’s no secret that when our older players are not our best players, then we’re going to have a hard time being successful,” added Deschenes. “When our older players are our best players and they’re leading the way, then I think we are in good shape.”

Kauppila was named the game’s first star, Leitch second star, while Grannary took third-star honours.

Trail plays in Vernon versus the Vipers on Friday at 7 p.m. and will host the Penticton Vees on Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.