The best remedy for a struggling Trail Smoke Eaters team was a little time away from home.
The Smoke Eaters won a pair of road games over Merritt and Prince George on the weekend to lift them into third spot in the BCHL Interior Division.
After losing three straight at home, the Smokies completed a confidence-building 3-2 comeback victory against Merritt on Friday, then after a long drive to Prince George Saturday, the Smokies character came through as they jumped out to a 3-0 lead after two periods, and held on in the third for a 4-2 victory.
“I don’t know what it is, we’re good on the road, and we’re bad at home,” said Smokies coach and GM Bill Birks. “Hopefully this weekend we can turn our home woes around.”
Trail’s Dustin Nikkel was unbeatable through two periods between the pipes in Prince George, as the Smokies rookie netminder stopped 46 of 48 shots for the win and was named the game’s first star.
The Smoke Eaters special teams were especially impressive, killing off all eight shorthanded situations, including four in the first period when they weathered an 18-shot flurry, and then went 2-for-4 on the power play.
“The PK and power-play were real good,” said Birks. “Our goaltender was outstanding on both nights and that makes the PK better when your goalie is the best PK guy. They (Nikkel and Todd) were both excellent.”
Brendan Lamont had a statement game and was named the game’s second star, as he pitched in on each of the first three goals, setting up Jake Kaupilla and Curtis Toneff in the first period before netting what proved to be the winner on a power play at 16:18 of the second, when his centering pass bounced off a Spruce King defender and went into the net.
The Spruce Kings would come back in the third firing 14 shots at Nikkel and finally beating him when Bryant Christian and Jake LeBrun scored two minutes apart midway through the period to cut the lead to 3-2.
After a frenzied eight minutes, Travis Stephens would ice it with an empty netter with three seconds remaining. Tyson Witala also had a big game against his former team with two assists, and Toneff also pitched in with a goal and a helper.
“Lamont, Kaupilla, and Witala were really good,” added Birks. “But top to bottom it was a totally different team again; there’s still lots of stuff we have to work on, but I don’t know why the road brings the best out in us. Hopefully we can change that this weekend.”
In Merritt on Friday, Adam Todd would gain a measure of revenge. Following a 5-0 loss to Merritt last Tuesday in Trail, Todd turned aside 36 of 38 shots and was named the game’s second star in earning his first win of the season in the 3-2 victory.
Castlegar minor hockey product Jesse Knowler netted the winner with just over a minute to go in regulation as he stepped over the blue line and wired home a shot to beat Cents’ goalie Devin Kero. Adam Ulfsax and Braden Lamont assisted on the winning goal, .
“That was huge, you know we played a real good road game, and, I wouldn’t say it was lucky but it was kind of a bad goal that that goalie wanted back, and with a minute left proved to be the winner. It was good for our kids to get that feeling for sure,” said Birks.
Former Smoke Eater Wayland Williams scored his first BCHL goal to give Merritt a 1-0 lead on a power play 6:40 into the first period and Daniel Nachbauer put the home team up 2-0 6:14 into the second period. However, less than 30 seconds later the Smokies’ rookie Adam Ulfsax brought the Smoke Eaters to within one, and Bryce Knapp would tie it going top shelf at the 1:31 of the third to set up the comeback.
Ulfsax was named the game’s first star for his goal and assist, while the Cents’ Peyton Schafer was third star.