The Trail Smoke Eaters dropped a pair of matches to the two BCHL leading teams on the weekend at the Cominco Arena, losing 6-3 to the Penticton Vees Saturday, following a 5-4 heartbreaker to the Nanaimo Clippers on Friday.
Trail goaltender Brett Clark kept the Smokies in the game over the first two periods, as The Smokies trailed Penticton 4-3 despite being outshot 36-17.
The Vees would pull away in the third, however, as Connor Chartier led the Penticton attack with five points, including an assist on Lewis Zerter-Gossage winning goal at 16:42 of the second period.
“I thought we executed our game plans fairly well,” said Trail assistant coach Craig Clare. “We played two of the top teams, fairly similar in style, and it really came down to not being able to finish at critical times of the game, where we really needed a goal, or needed to get the puck out, and right now we’re just not able to execute on those timely plays.”
Penticton opened the scoring on Cody DePourcq’s ninth goal of the season at 2:48 of the first period, but Dallas Calvin would tie it on a Craig Martin set up, and Charlie Zuccarini would net his 26th of the season, putting the Smoke Eaters ahead 47 seconds into the second period on a power play goal.
The Vees tied it at two on a goal by Steen Cooper 4:50 into the middle frame, but the Smoke Eaters regained the lead on a Bryan Basilico tally with the assist going to AP Spencer McLean of the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
Chartier netted his second of the night and fifth of the season midway through the third for the insurance marker, and Cam Amantea sunk an empty netter for the 6-3 win.
The Vees fired 45 shots at Clark who was named the game’s third star, while Hunter Miska stopped 24 shots for his 23rd win in goal for the Vees.
Despite the losses, Clare was pleased with the play of new additions Jason Passmore and Sheldon Brett, and in particular defenceman Evan MacEachern who came over in the Scotty Davidson trade with the Chilliwack Chiefs.
“He (MacEacherrn) came as advertised, he moves well for a d-man, moves the puck well, and likes to jump up in the play so we’re really excited.”
In Friday’s match, Nanaimo’s Sheldon Rempal scored the winning goal on the power play with 4:15 remaining in the game to give the Clippers the 5-4 victory.
In a see-saw battle, Nanaimo opened the scoring on a Kale Bennett goal at 18:44 of the first. But Basilico would tie it 1:46 into the second period, before Brett Roulston put the Clips up 2-1 at 7:33.
Four minutes later, Calvin evened it up, finishing a pretty passing play from Ryan Swanson and Martin. Swanson would give the Smokies the 3-2 lead at 14:18, however, Jacob Jackson tied it on a power play before the period was out, and Edwin Hookenson gave the Clippers the 4-3 lead at 3:12 of the third. Zuccarini would team up with Jake Lucchini to tie it at 4-4 on the power play, but Rempal iced it just over two minutes later.
The Clippers outshot the Smokies 42-35 with Guillaume Decelles earning his league-leading 26th win of the season.
The close losses have to be discouraging for a Trail team that competes hard every night, losing three of their past six games by one goal, and a 6-4 match to Vernon that included an empty netter.
“It is frustrating, but to see us compete and be in these games, it’s a step forward for this organization from where we were last year,” said Clare. “I mean you have to look at the positives of where we are. Is it disappointing that we’re losing? Absolutely . . . but from where we were last year we are in a better spot as an organization, and with the talent level we have, with the quality and character kids that we have, we are way ahead.”
The wins move the Cents into third place in the Interior division, one point up on West Kelowna Warriors who beat Powell River 6-4 Saturday but lost to the Vernon Vipers 6-3 Friday.
The Smokies currently trail the fourth-place Warriors by 19 points, with 17 games remaining and two games in hand.
“We’ve known since the new year, that all these games are as close to must-win as you can have, so for any chance for us to even get into the mix we need to start beating the teams we have to,and that means West Kelowna, Merritt, and Salmon Arm, we pretty much have to hit for the cycle here on all those games.”
Trail embarks on along road trip to the coast this weekend to face former Smoke Eater captain Scott Davidson and the Chilliwack Chiefs Friday, and play Langley and Coquitlam on Saturday and Sunday.
Davidson scored his first as a Chief and 12th of the season in a 4-2 Chilliwack victory over Surrey Eagles on Saturday at Prospera Place in Chilliwack. With the win, the Chiefs move into first place of the Mainland division with 52 points, one point ahead of Langley Rivermen.