It was a night of firsts for many Trail Smoke Eaters this weekend as the team put together 120 minutes of solid, disciplined hockey in back-to-back wins against the Vernon Vipers and Powell River Kings.
The Smokies remain undefeated on home ice this season and will need the same effort tonight as they get set to face off against the West Kelowna Warriors at the Cominco Arena.
After a forgettable 9-2 loss to the Warriors in Kelowna on Friday, the Smokies bounced back to play two of their best games of the season.
“It shows that when we’re prepared and we manage to compete for 60 minutes we can probably play with most teams in the league, so it’s a good sign,” said Trail assistant coach Barry Zanier.
In Trail’s 3-0 win against Vernon on Saturday, first-star Lyndon Stanwood’s brilliant 33-save performance marked his first shut out in the BCHL, while Scotty Davidson notched his first BCHL goal in the same game and received second-star honours. Recent acquisition Luke Sandler scored the first goal of the game, and his first as a Smoke Eater in what turned out to be the game-winning goal.
Against Powell River on Sunday, Davidson continued his excellent play in front of his hometown crowd, setting up Brent Baltus’ two goals, including the game winner with just 48 seconds to play to take the game 3-2.
“Scotty Davidson has been excellent,” said Smokies coach Bill Birks. “Those two (Baltus and Tyler Berkholtz) love playing with him. I broke them up a couple weeks ago and they got mad at me. They wanted him back, so it tells you a lot when two 20-year-old veteran guys want a 17-year-old rookie playing with them, how good he is.”
The Kings tied it midway through the third, but Stanwood thwarted a number of opportunities in a 39-save effort, and with the clock winding down Baltus banked in a quick Davidson pass from the corner for the W.
The line of Baltus, Davidson and Berkholtz has shone brightly for the Smokies of late as it accounted for 5-of-8 goals in the last three games.
“We feed off each other well,” said Baltus after the game. “Berkholtz and Davidson are really good players, they’re smart and they’re fast so its easy to play with them.”
Baltus along with Captain Garrett McMullen have found themselves in slightly different roles this year and have responded well, as they both lead the team in scoring with nine points each.
“I think I’m just a little bit more experienced and have an increased role offensively and defensively, so I’m just trying to do my best to help the team win,” added Baltus. “We’ve got a lot of veterans in here and some good rookies and we got a really good club. We’re starting to gel right now which is good to see.”
The Kings took a 1-0 lead early in the first, but Baltus replied rifling a breakaway pass from Davidson over the blocker of Kings goalie Jonah Imoo.
The Smokies’ went ahead 2-1 in the second as forward Jake Lucchini also marked his first goal in Junior A. Connor Collett slid a pass by a diving Kings D-man onto the stick of Lucchini who coolly walked in and slipped it past the Powell River netminder.
“It felt good to finally get it off my back,” said Lucchini. “Sandler made a good play in our D-zone, and then Collett just made a great pass to me and I just tried to get the goalie to open up and I slid it in.”
The team received some welcomed support with the return of veterans Marley Keca and Austin Adduono, and the addition of Jesse Knowler, Sandler, and the smooth skating Braden Pears on D, who was playing against his former team Powell River.
“It was fun, it was good competition out there, but really happy we got the two points,” said Pears.
Special teams played a significant role in the victories, as Trail killed all six penalties incurred in the two games and scored twice on the power play. But consistency has been an issue for the team early in the season and if Trail looks to extend its winning streak against West Kelowna tonight they will need to stay disciplined, get support from all four lines, and play tighter defensively.
“We obviously need to focus a little more on our defence, we can’t continue to give up 40 shots, it’s too hard for our goalies and that’s something we’ll continue to work on,” said Zanier.