After struggling through nine-straight losses, the Trail Smoke Eaters are back in the win column with a 6-3 victory over the Wenatchee Wild on Sunday at the Trail Memorial Centre.
Smokies forward Brady Hunter tallied four assists, while Teddy Lagerback and Quinn Disher each scored twice in the much-needed win.
The victory, Trail’s 17th, lifts them into seventh place one point past Wenatchee in the Interior Conference standings, after a 3-2 loss to the Vernon Vipers on Friday and a Wild win by the same score over Cranbrook on Saturday.
“Even on Friday, I thought we played well,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Tim Fragle. “You have to look for the positives because it’s been a tough stretch here in February.”
Lagerback scored what proved to be the game winner 63 seconds into the third period, cashing in on a setup from Coalson Wolford and Hunter, and beating Wild goalie Tyler Shea to put the home team up 4-1.
Trail has struggled with injuries, but Wolford and starting goalie Evan Fradette were welcomed back to the line up on Friday, injecting much needed energy.
“One-hundred per cent, the dynamics change,” said Fragle. “They believe that they can win when you get a few key pieces back, and belief is a big thing.”
Wenatchee’s Quinn Emerson opened the scoring with a power-play goal midway through the first period.
However, Trail responded a minute later when Smokies defenceman Ethan Warrener notched his first goal of the season, slipping a perfect pass from Zach Michaelis past Shea to tie the game at 1-1.
Connor Michaud sent Quinn Disher in all alone, and the Michigan Tech commit sniped the top corner for a 2-1 lead with 6:15 left. Michaelis then found Lagerback at the back door for a 3-1 lead heading to the middle frame.
The teams played a scoreless second period, with much of the credit going to Fradette for his 16 saves in the period, many of the spectacular variety. But the highlight-reel save was pure larceny. Midway through the period, with the Wild on a power play, Fradette sprawled making an acrobatic glove save off a point-blank shot from the Wenatchee forward to keep the 3-1 lead.
“Both were key in getting 3-of-4 points this weekend,” said Fragle. “Evan I thought played really well on Friday, and today he made key saves at key times. A couple of spectacular saves but I thought it was the timely saves.
“And Wolford, he’s the heartbeat of our team. He brings a lot of energy, physicality, and I think a lot of guys play a little bit grittier with him in the line up.”
Lagerback notched his 20th goal of the campaign and the game winner early in the third, but Ean Somoza brought the Wild within two, firing in a rebound with 7:34 to play.
Disher scored his 11th on a breakaway, beating Shea low stick side for a 5-2 Trail lead at 3:17.
With the goalie pulled, the Wild’s Ben Ivey cut the lead to 5-3, but Dunn replied, and also scored his first goal in the BCHL with an empty netter at 1:16 of the third period.
The Smoke Eaters outshot Wenatchee 41-36, and went 2-for-7 on the power play, the Wild were 2-for-6. First star went to Lagerback, second star to Disher and the third star to Hunter.
On Friday, Lagerback and Corey Cunningham scored in an exciting match up with the Vipers that ended tied 2-2 after 60 minutes. Overtime solved nothing, and the teams needed six shooters each in the shoot out before Max Borovinskiy scored the game winner for the Vipers.
Vernon outshot Trail 42-37, with Vernon goalie Roan Clarke earning first star, and Trail’s Fradette second star in his return to the line up. Lagerback earned the third star nod.
Trail’s game against Wenatchee is only their second versus the Wild this year, and with 12 games to play in March, the Smoke Eaters and Wild will faceoff in five of those contests.
“We have to be more disciplined number 1, because their power play is really good,” said Fragle. “They are so dangerous off the rush that if we don’t do a good job in the neutral zone, they can catch our D turning the wrong way, they have a lot of speed. So those are a couple things I’d like to clean up.”
Trail hosts the second place Salmon Arm Silverbacks (32-8-3-1) on Wednesday, Mar. 2 at the Cominco Arena with the puck drop at 7 p.m.
Trail has a number of games in hand and Fragle says making up ground in the last month will set themselves up well for playoffs.
“We want to try to get on a bit of a run, playing good hockey in March and into April, give ourselves a chance,” added Fragle. “If you can avoid one of those top teams, that is the goal. But we dug ourselves a bit of a hole, so it’s going to be what it’s going to be.
“At the end of the day, playoffs are a new season, so you’ve seen the upsets before in the first round. But the 12 games in 24 days in March is going to be a challenge. We have to manage and use our whole bench and be smart with that too.”
Following the Salmon Arm game Wednesday, Trail plays West Kelowna on Friday at the Cominco Arena at 7 p.m. before traveling to Penticton to face the Vees on Saturday.