Call the cops, the Trail Smoke Eaters were robbed by Merritt Centennial goalie Anthony Pupplo on Tuesday night at the Cominco Arena, in a close 2-1 loss to their Interior division rival.
The Smokies threw 46 shots at the Cents’ netminder, but could only beat Pupplo once in the Remembrance Day game.
“(Starter) Jonah Imoo has been out for about a month, he played a couple games here recently but he’s still not 100 per cent, so it’s been a lot of work on Anthony, and for him to have a game like he did tonight it’s a really big boost for our team.” said Merritt coach Luke Pierce.
Despite a litany of great scoring chances, the Smokies didn’t come close to matching their seven-goal output in their last victory, a 7-5 triumph over the Cents on Halloween. The loss extended Trail’s losing streak to five games, including three at home this week, while Merritt won for just the second time in their last six matches.
The Centennials’ John Schiavo would net the winner, after Trail’s Charlie Zuccarini was sent off for hooking.Schiavo one-timed a Michael Ederer cross-ice pass from the left hash-mark to give Merritt a 2-0 lead with just under six minutes to play in regulation. It was Schiavo’s team leading 13th goal and 21st point as the Centennials moved into a tie for third place in the BCHL Interior division with the Vernon Vipers.
“We needed it,” said Pierce. “We’ve been struggling on the road, it just becomes a mental thing more than anything a bit of a block there. Our first period we were slow and struggled. Our goaltender kept us in the game in the first and I thought we built off of that, and did a real good job as the game went on.”
The Smokies dominated the first period, outshooting Merritt 21-4, and had a 32-11 edge in shots after two periods but the game remained a scoreless tie heading into the third. Smokies forward Bryan Basilico hit the goal post on two occasions, and Trail was unable to convert on a brief 5-on-3 powerplay in the first, missing a number of close-in chances.
The Cents opened the scoring at 2:36 of the third period when former Smoke Eater Shane Poulsen’s slap shot from the top of the circle went strategically wide, bouncing out the other side to a waiting Ederer who banged it into the open net.
“It’s always nice winning here,” said Poulsen who played 72 games with the Smoke Eaters between 2011 and 2013. “There’s not a lot of guys left on the Trail team that I played with, but there’s a few who I was pretty good friends with and a lot of the fans.”
The Smoke Eaters finally solved Pupplo when Kienan Scott scored his fifth of the season, taking a pass from Connor Wynne and sneaking it through the pads of the Merritt goalie to draw the Smokies within one with 3:32 to play.
Trail pulled goalie Brett Clark with over a minute to play, and despite more pressure and a late flurry around the Merritt net, the Smokies could not find the equalizer, and fell to 8-10-0-0, in sixth place, three points behind Salmon Arm in the Interior division.
With Adam Todd still out, Clark got his second straight start in net, stopping 20 shots on the night, as the Smokies went 1-for-7 on the power play and the Centennials 1-for-6.
Injuries have plagued both teams with Todd and Dallas Calvin still sidelined with injury and the Cents’ Braden Fuller, a former B.V. Nitehawk, Nelson native Cole Arcuri, and James Neil on the injured list.
The Smokies scored in bunches to start the year, but have suffered a dry spell of late netting just five goals in their last four games. As Trail assistant coach Craig Clare said following Sunday’s game,“It’s a step back, losing against a division rival at home. It’s a tough Merritt team, and there are no easy games, no gimmes in our division, and everyone knows that. Especially where we are at now, after losing at home we need to take care of business on home ice.”
Pupplo was named the game’s first star, with Scott and Basilico taking second and third-star honours.