The Trail Smoke Eaters tumbled to the basement of the BCHL’s Interior division following a pair of losses to the Prince George Spruce Kings and Vernon Vipers on the weekend.
A hot Viper goalie would turn aside all 28 Trail shots in a 3-0 shut out on Sunday, while a late third period Prince George goal would break a 3-3 tie on Friday to snuff out a Smokies comeback as the Spruce Kings went on to a 5-3 victory.
Danny Todosychuk was named the game’s first star as he stymied the Smokies attack, and Anthony Latina’s second-period breakaway goal would prove to be the winner for the Vipers, as the Smoke Eaters dropped their fourth consecutive game to fall to 8-9-0-0 and sixth place in the tough Interior division.
“We’re not at the point we were last year, we got the guys, but I don’t know why but things aren’t clicking,” said Smoke Eater assistant coach Craig Clare. “They (the Vipers) play a simple game, and we seem to be trying to over-think things; plays that we made, we can’t make them right now, so it’s up to us to battle through it I guess.”
Thomas Aldworth sprung Latina in all alone on Smokie goalie Brett Clark, and the Toronto native made no mistake as he deked to his backhand and slipped the puck through Clark’s pads to put the Vipers up 1-0, less than five minutes into the middle frame.
It was the fourth game in five days for the Vipers, in which they took five of a possible eight points, and moved into third spot in the division with a 10-6-1-1 record.
“It was the first time we’ve done it, I mean we played three games in two-and-a-half days in three cities so the message that we sent to the kids was just play simple,” said Viper head coach Mark Ferner. “It’s the hardest thing to get young guys to do is just get pucks out, and get pucks deep, but I thought as the third period rolled around we were doing a little more of that, so I’m certainly proud of our group today.”
The Vipers would take a 2-0 lead when Liam Coughlin sent a hard pass from the slot to Luke Voltin who tipped it over the glove of Clark for his third goal of the season with 4:47 to play in the second period. Coughlin netted his second point of the night and 14th of the season with seven minutes to go in the third period. With the Vipers shorthanded, Coughlin carried the puck into the offensive zone, made a couple of slick moves around two Trail defencemen then dropped it to Mitch Meek in the slot who wired it low blocker side on Clark.
Despite the loss, Clark had another strong game in net stopping 30 of 33 shots, good for the game’s third star. The Grande Prairie native was pressed into action Friday against Prince George when Adam Todd left the game after taking an awkward hit to the head. Todd did not dress for Sunday’s game.
“I just think we got outworked out there, I mean we had a day’s rest, they didn’t, and they just worked harder than us,” said Clark.
Clark, a former Beaver Valley Nitehawk, started the season injured and appeared in just two games over the first 14. He exceeded that last week taking the loss in net in both Viper matches and coming on in relief of Todd against the Spruce Kings. Despite a 1-4 record, Clark has played well in those games and will be depended upon to carry the load while Todd recovers.
“I played a lot last year (in B.V.) so I think that will help me get through it, and for him, I hope he recovers as soon as possible, he’s a good goalie and we want him back,” said Clark.
The Vipers lone stumble in the last week was a 2-1 loss to Salmon Arm on Friday, followed by a 3-3 draw Saturday. For Ferner, who coached the Vipers for the 2007-08 and 2009-10 seasons and rejoined the team two games into this season, adjustments are still being made as he becomes more familiar with the team and its players.
“It’s been a learning curve for the players and for myself as well, so it’s early and we’re just trying to identify the type of personnel we have, and put a foundation in place that’s going to give us success.”
I feel we take a couple steps forward then take a step back, but like I said, this is a tough building and a good hockey team in Trail so we’re excited about the two points today.”
Trail will look to keep pace in the division as they face Victoria and Coquitlam on Friday and Saturday, before embarking on a three-game road swing to the coast next week. Their offence will be bolstered by the return of forward Dallas Calvin who is expected to join the team for the road trip.
“This is an important time for us,” said Clare. “We have three more home games here and then we’re off on a tough coastal road trip, so we need to start taking care of business especially on home ice. We are confident with the guys we have in that room but for whatever reason we are on a tough stretch, and we need to all step up and dig ourselves out of it.”