Trail bites back

Smokies steal one in the Vernon Vipers' snake pit.

In a pair of road games, the Trail Smoke Eaters exacted a measure of revenge on the Vernon Vipers Friday night, but fell in a close 3-1 match to the Merritt Centennials Saturday.

Braden Pears was in the right spot at the right time as he banged in a rebound 28 seconds into the second overtime, to launch the Smokies to a 2-1 victory over the Vipers.

The Smokies bounced back from a 9-2 loss at home last week, to play a highly disciplined and strong defensive game to nip the snakes in their own rink.

Jesse Knowler’s recent return to the lineup after being out with an injury has paid dividends, as he picked up the assist on the winner when his low blast was kicked out by Viper goalie Austin Smith, but Pears jumped on the loose puck to give the Smokies their ninth win of the season.

“It was a tough game last weekend and we just wanted to show them we had a bad game and that we could beat them on home ice,” Knowler told Vernon Morningstar reporter Graeme Corbett.

“Last game, I don’t know what we were doing; we just didn’t show up to play.”

T. J. Dumonceaux got the Vipers on the board early, with a great individual effort 2:17 into the match, however Smokie goalie Lyndon Stanwood shut the door after that, stopping 24 of 25 shots for his eighth victory of the season.

The line of Brent Baltus, Garrett McMullen, and Scott Davidson put in another good effort and would be rewarded, as Baltus evened the game four minutes into the third, slamming home a Valik Chichkin rebound for the equalizer.

“We’ve been playing pretty good hockey the last month, and to get rewarded with this is huge,” said Smoke Eater coach Bill Birks. “If we keep teams to 30 shots and under, we’ve got a good chance to win. Tonight was proof of that.”

The Smokies outshot the Vipers 30-25.

Trail was up against another top team in the Merritt Centennials on Saturday. The Cents were coming off a big 3-2 win over Penticton Vees Friday night, and received honourable mention in this week’s Canadian Junior Hockey League’s Top 20.

Trail took a first period lead on the power play when Chichkin wired home a pass from Djordje Leposavic to net his first goal as a Smokie.

However the Cents were relentless in the second period, firing 20 shots at Stanwood until Regan Soquila wristed home the equalizer, beating the Smokies netminder at 15:15 of the period.

Brandon Bruce scored the winner at 9:39 of the third on a shorthanded effort, picking up a loose puck at the Trail blue line breaking in and beating Stanwood to put the Cents up for good.

Brendan Lamont added an empty netter, as the Centennials went on to the 3-1 win. The Cents out shot the Smoke Eaters 45-28 and now sit two points back of Penticton for top spot in the Interior Division.

Penticton is the 12th ranked team in the nation according to the CJHL poll, down from sixth spot the previous week.

Trail next plays Prince George and Penticton at the Cominco Arena Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.