The Trail Smoke Eaters ended their season on a winning note beating the Merritt Centennials 5-2 in Merritt on Saturday.
Dexter McLeod would net the winner at 5:26 of the second period on the power play, taking a Dallas Calvin pass down low and tapping it home to put the Smokies up 3-1.
“We were facing a team that was already preparing for playoffs, and they played hard, but I thought to get the result we did, for the effort we put forward, was appropriate to end our season on a good note,” said Smoke Eater coach Nick Deschenes. “Again, you question deep down how certain teams are in it, and we’re not.”
The Centennials clinched a playoff berth and third seed in the Interior division with a 5-1 victory over Salmon Arm on Friday night in a playoff race that went down to the final game. The Silverbacks lost their chance at the post season when they fell to the league leading Penticton Vees 2-1 in overtime in their last match on Saturday, and West Kelowna beat the league’s worst team, the Surrey Eagles, 6-2, to edge the Salmon Arm by one point for the fourth and final playoff spot.
Craig Martin opened the scoring at 9:55 of the first period beating Anthony Pupplo with a wrist shot, and Jake Lucchini would score his 35th of the season to make it 2-0 just 48 seconds later. The Centennials would get one back before the end of the period, after Trail goalie Brett Clark made a great save off Gavin Gould, John Schiavo would shovel in the rebound to make it 2-1.
Following McLeod’s game winner, Calvin would get one of his own with under five minutes to play in the middle frame to make it 4-1 heading to the third where the teams would exchange goals, with Sheldon Brett scoring for Trail, to end the regular season.
Merritt outshot Trail 28-19, with Lucchini getting the game’s first star, and McLeod, and Calvin second and third stars respectively.
The game ended what was a disappointing year for the Smoke Eaters. After a promising start, injuries took their toll, contributing to an extended midseason slump that all but decided their playoff fate.
“We are going up against some very stiff competition . . . it’s a little bit different then say the NHL, where they have a strong farm system,” said Deschenes. “We have an affiiation process, but it’s tough to find players sometimes, and obviously they’re not involved in your day-to-day operations, so for them to come in and make a difference in our game is a pretty nerve-racking experience . . . So injuries definitely have more impact at the junior level, and if you look at our AP games, you could add about 20 because we didn’t dress a lot of the spots going down the stretch, we are looking at 80-90 AP games which is ridiculous. Penticton has 20 I think, and Vernon 25 and that’s with guys going to World Junior challenges. It is what it is, I’d love to have everyone healthy and going, but that’s the nature of sports.”
In the Mainland division playoff bracket, the Chilliwack Chiefs went from worst to first this season, finishing atop their division with 79 points compared to 35 last season. The Chiefs, with former Smoke Eater captain Scott Davidson, will play fourth-seed Coquitlam Express starting tonight, while the second-seed Langley Rivermen host the Prince George Spruce Kings.
In the Island division, the first-place Nanaimo Clippers face the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, and the surging Victoria Grizzlies, who won seven games in a row to end the season, will face third-seed Powell River Kings in the other playoff match up.
Watch for the Smokies season wrap up later this week in the Trail Times.