The Trail Smoke Eaters were stymied by Surrey Eagles goalie Thomas Scarfone in a tough 3-2 loss on Saturday at the 70th birthday celebration of the Trail Memorial Centre.
Over 2,500 fans packed the house in honour of the City of Trail’s celebration that recognized the storied building, the Smoke Eaters who played in its opening game on Nov. 29, 1949, and the ‘39 and ‘61 World Champion Smoke Eaters.
Yet Trail, despite setting a torrid pace out of the gate, couldn’t capitalize on the festive night.
“Their goaltending was fantastic,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “That team was prepared to play a certain way to win the game and on our side, we’re disappointed with the lack of execution on our chances early. We left a game that we believe we should have had in good hands, we put it up for grabs, and they did the right things to win in the back half.”
The 11-15-2-3 Eagles had a rough start to the season, but were coming off a 4-3 win over the Vernon Vipers on Friday, and had taken the league-leading Coquitlam Express to overtime before falling 3-2 in their previous match. Surrey coach Cam Keith, former coach and GM of the Smoke Eaters, told the Times that the key to the win was neutralizing Trail’s top scorers.
“The kids earned it tonight. We knew we had to have our best effort against Trail, and just to be in the game, we knew we had to slow down their offence, make them frustrated, and I think we did a really good job of that tonight.”
After playing keep-away for most of the first period, Trail ceded the opening goal when a clearing attempt was stopped at the Smoke Eaters blue line by Surrey defenceman Brett Bliss. His shot from the point made its way through traffic and past Trail goalie Logan Terness for a 1-0 lead at 7:40.
The Smoke Eaters tied it, when Trail captain Philippe Lapointe sent a slap pass from the slot right to Michael Colella at the left post to tie it at 1-1 with 3:47 left in the period for his 15th of the season.
Surrey clogged up the neutral zone and held the BCHL’s most potent offence to just seven shots for a scoreless second period.
“The night’s where you get that much momentum off the start and you can’t put a puck in the back of the net, it almost seems to swing the momentum the other way,” said Tambellini.
The Eagles put the Smoke Eaters on their heels early in the third, when Cristophe Tellier scored his 16th of the season, finishing a 2-on-1 with Hudson Schandor for the Eagles 2-1 lead 4:04 into the final frame. Three minutes later, Brandon Santa Juana made it 3-1 on a scramble in the Smoke Eaters crease.
The Eagles were without their top scorer Holden Katzalay, who joined the WHL Vancouver Giants for a trial run. Surrey also made a couple of moves coming into Saturday night’s game in anticipation of the Dec. 1 deadline, that included a trade for former Smoke Eaters defenceman, Jordan Hendry, from the Powell River Kings. Hendry joins former Smoke Eaters defencemen Jimmy Darby and Kieran O’Hearn, who were traded by Trail earlier this year, on the Eagles blue line.
“I feel better for guys like Jimmy Darby and Kieran O’Hearn, who put a lot of time in here,” said Keith. “I feel like they had something to prove and they proved it tonight.”
Trail had a half-dozen Grade-A scoring chances foiled by Scarfone in the third period alone, including a great glove save off Diarmid DiMurro, then sprawling to take a rebound goal away from Johnson, and then stopping a cross-crease pass to Colella with the blocker.
“He makes things look easy,” said Keith. “I think there’s a lot of opportunities that we probably don’t think of as big of a opportunity because he makes the saves look routine at this point. In Tommy we trust is the best way to put it.”
Trail’s Johnson pulled the Smoke Eaters to within one with just 59 seconds remaining, but the home team couldn’t find the equalizer as the Eagles won their second straight on the road.
“Coming back to Trail, brings back a lot of great memories, and a lot of the kids on the team right now I recruited,” said Keith. “It was a good night for us.”
The Smoke Eaters outshot the Eagles 30-22, and went 0-for-2 on the power play. Scarfone earned first star for the Eagles, Tellier second star, and the Smokies Johnson the third star.
Trail, 19-9-2-1-1, remains in second place in the Interior Division, but falls five points back of the 23-8-1-0 Penticton Vees who lead the division with 47 points. The Interior Division wins lift Surrey into a tie for fourth in the Mainland Division, just one point back of third-place Langley Rivermen.
“Whether it’s a first place team or last place team, any team can win on any given night, and that shows the strength of our league,” said Tambellini. “It’s tough to walk away from, in such a great building, and a great turnout on a really special night.”
The City and the Smoke Eaters launched the evening with an entertaining look back over the 70-year history of the Trail Memorial Centre on the big screen. But the highlight was the ceremonial puck drop by two members, Louie Corrado and Richie Pasqualotto, of the ‘49 Smoke Eaters team.
The Smoke Eaters are on the road next weekend for a tough Mainland Division swing starting with Coquitlam Friday, and Langley and Chilliwack on Saturday and Sunday.