Despite playing in its sixth game in eight days, the Trail Smoke Eaters found enough steam to beat the 21-11-1-2 Penticton Vees on Saturday at the Cominco Arena.
“We knew this was going to be the hardest part of our entire season, this stretch in December,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “And to be able to get a couple guys back at this time is really big for us, and just the emotional lift of getting Powell (Connor) back into our group, it goes a long ways, and takes a bit of a load off our defence.”
And defence proved key in the match up against the Vees especially in the offensive end. The Trail Smoke Eaters d-man Diarmad Dimurro scored twice including the game winner with just over five minutes to play in regulation to give the Smokies a 3-2 victory over the Penticton Vees on Saturday night at Cominco Arena.
Trail earned a point the previous evening of the home-and-home in a 2-1 shootout loss in Penticton and the three-point weekend was enough to move Trail into sixth place in the Interior Division following Vernon losses to Salmon Arm, 3-2, and Cowichan Valley, 3-1, on the weekend.
“It was nice to be able to get points in every game, and again steal three-out-of-four from Penticton especially in that last game, it was a big win for our group,” said Tambellini.
Chase Stevenson set up the game winner, driving to the net only to be stopped by Vees goalie Jack Lafontaine. The puck bounced behind the goal, and Owen Ozar centred it to Dimurro whose blast was again stopped by the Vees goalie. Stephenson persisted and shovelled the rebound to Dimurro who backhanded it past the blocker of Lafontaine for a 3-2 lead with 5:36 left in regulation.
“It was a really good game for him (Dimurro),” said Tambellini. “He quarterbacked our power play all night, and he’s a guy that has 22 points as a defenceman so he’s done a great job. He and Trevor Zins have really taken hold of each power-play unit. To get 45 points from two defencemen by Christmas is a great start for us.”
The Smoke Eaters win is its first in five games against the Vees this year, four of those were decided by one goal, and two in overtime and a shootout.
“Playing Pen seems to really engage a different part of our group, so I’m happy we had that weekend, just to get back to that emotional level we seem to get to with that group,” said Tambellini. “I like the way we came out to start the game, I liked the way we finished and again you get four of six points on that week, it was great for us.”
Trail’s 13th victory came on the BCHL’s Teddy Bear Toss night with over 1,800 fans in attendance. Stevenson opened the scoring and got the Teddy Bears tossed on the ice early.
The West Kelowna native took a Kent Johnson pass in full flight at centre ice, broke past the defenceman, and beat the Vees goalie with a backhand over the glove just 96 seconds into the first period for his 14th goal of the season.
Dimurro tallied his first goal of the campaign five minutes later on the power play, taking a pass from Stevenson at the top of the circle and firing it through traffic for a 2-0 Trail lead.
The Vees fired back in the second period with Eric Linnell setting up Cassidy Bowes in the high slot. The Michigan commit one-timed a shot past Smoke Eaters goalie Adam Marcoux at the 14 minute mark, and Vees forward Cole Shepherd then tied it at 8:31 finishing a pass from Andre Ghantous and beating Marcoux between the pads.
Dimurro’s goal in the third period was just one of three shots the Smokies registered, but Trail was able to hold off the Vees attack with Marcoux stopping 11 shots in the final frame to preserve the victory.
Stevenson tallied his first multi-point game, 1G,2A, since coming to the Smoke Eaters from the Surrey Eagles in a November trade for d-man Jeremy Smith.
“Stevenson has been fantastic,” said Tambellini. “He’s the piece we’ve been trying to get from the start of the season, so to finally get him onto our group … and to go get three points and drive offensively like he did in a big game like that is why we brought in Chase Stevenson. He’s been a good player in this league for a long time, and we need him to be our best player going forward down the stretch here.”
The Vees outshot the Smoke Eaters 30-21. Trail was 1-for-5 on the power play and 3-for-3 on the penalty kill. Dimurro earned the game’s first star, Stevenson the second star, and Owen Ozar the third star.
On Friday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre, solid goaltending and strong defensive play were the overriding factors on the night.
Ryan Sandelin put the Vees up 1-0 at 11:22 of the second period, but Trail came back as Carter Jones notched his 11th of the season 2:17 into the third period on a setup from Tyler Ghirardosi to tie the game at 1-1 and force overtime.
Nothing was settled in the five minute OT period, and the game went to a shootout. Goalies Marcoux and Lafontaine stopped the first three shooters to force sudden death, and it would take three more tries before Jackson Neidermeyer won it for the Vees.
Penticton outshot Trail 30-22 and were 1-for-6 on the power play while Trail was 0-for-4.
Trail has a tough final two matches prior to the Christmas break starting with the Interior Division leading 22-10-2-0 Wenatchee Wild on Wednesday and the fourth place 21-13-1-1 Merritt Centennials on Friday. Trail is 12 points back of the Wild, but beat Wenatchee 3-2 in their last visit to Trail on Nov. 16 and have some momentum heading into Wednesday.
“I really like the direction our group is going,” added Tambellini. “We’ve come through some tough spots, guys stuck with it, and now we’re getting healthy guys back, guys are starting to feel really good about their games.
“I think that the direction of our group, the way we’re now built, and some of the character that’s coming out of our group is going in the direction we want and we’re looking to take some more momentum into the break here and come out of the gates flying in the second half.”
Trail’s next game goes on Wednesday night against the Wenatchee Wild at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.
Smoke Signals: Trail forward Spencer McLean will wear the ‘A’ for the rest of the season. The Montrose native is in his fourth year with the Smoke Eaters and has played in 194 games, scoring 29 goals and 71 points.
Defenceman Kyle Chernenkoff will not return to the Smoke Eaters line up until after the Christmas holiday, as he continues with concussion protocol.