After dropping the first game of a home-and-home against the Penticton Vees 4-3 Friday, the Trail Smoke Eaters completed the most improbable and incredible of all comebacks with a 3-2 double-overtime victory over the Vees on Saturday in front of their home Cominco crowd.
The Smokies trailed 2-0 early in the third, but would battle back with Trail captain Jake Lucchini scoring with 3.6 seconds remaining in regulation to tie it, then ripped his 25th goal of the season late in the second overtime period for the 3-2 victory.
“It’s huge,” said Smoke Eater assistant coach Barry Zanier. “It’s how we’ve been playing since Christmas pretty much and for them to get that outcome based on that effort is fantastic.”
It was the first win for the Smokies over the league-leading Vees this season, and what’s more amazing is that they did it with seven regulars out of the line up. Trail lost Charlie Zuccarini for the rest of the season to a suspension, had goalies Adam Todd and Brett Clark out with illness, Robbie Johnson, Evan MacEachern, and Bryans Gerstenfeld and Basilico on the sideline with injury, so the chance of a Trail victory on Saturday seemed remote. But a combination of great goaltending from AP Patrick Zubick of the KIJHL Castlegar Rebels and a solid defensive effort limited a balanced Penticton attack to just two goals on the night.
“Last night and tonight he (Zubick) was on fire,” said Zanier. “He was focused, he was relaxed, and just a real quiet confidence about him. He got a win here and that was great.”
Smoke Eater forward Dallas Calvin set up the winning goal. As he skated over the Vees blue line, he drew the defenseman, then slid a perfect pass to a streaking Jake Lucchini down the right side, who, on his off-wing, one-timed the puck over the glove of Penticton goalie Hunter Miska with 1:16 remaining in the second 3-on-3 overtime period.
“We ended up getting a 3-on-1 and Dallas just made a nice pass, and I wasn’t really thinking anything, just shot the puck and see what happens and it ended up going in,” said Lucchini. “This is huge, they are probably the best team in Canada, and we had two games against them and losing 4-3, we played really well, then tonight was just great, in front of our home fans, everyone is really excited.”
Penticton opened the scoring at 3:29 of the first when 16-year-old Tyson Jost walked out from behind the net and slipped it past Zubick. The Smokies came close on a few occasions, but two posts and big saves by the BCHL’s top goalie thwarted the home team’s attack. A scoreless second period was highlighted by a lively encounter between the Smokies Sheldon Brett and Penticton defenceman and former WHLer Shayne Gwinner, but the score remained 1-0 through two, with the Vees taking a 23-21 edge in shots.
The Vees would make it 2-0 just 35 seconds into the third when Patrick Newell snapped a cross-ice pass from Dakota Conroy past a sprawling Zubick. But Trail would get on the board when Cooper Leitch stole the puck and wired a wrister from the top of the circle by Miska to make it 2-1 with 17:56 to play.
The Smokies poured it on in the third period but it looked like Miska would weather the storm as he absolutely robbed Lucchini of a sure goal when Calvin sent a cross-crease pass to the Trail captain, but Miska slid across and made a great pad save with two minutes to play. Moments later, the Vees goalie stole a point-blank shot from Harlan Orr, as Trail fired 15 shots at the Vees net in the period.
But it wasn’t over. With just 23 seconds to play the referee made a decision to keep the faceoff in the Vees end after a Smokies defenceman encroached into the offensive zone following the whistle. As time ticked away, Trail swarmed the Penticton goal, banging away at the puck until it slid out to Lucchini in the high slot. With bodies flying and just seconds remaining, Lucchini calmly waited for an opening then fired it high on Miska to tie it with 3.6 seconds left on the clock.
“I didn’t know how much time was left,” said Lucchini. “Everyone was telling me to shoot but I just kind of waited, and pulled it back to try and wait him out, because everyone was diving in front, and I just shot it and it ended up going in.”
The Vees had their chances in the first and second overtimes, firing six shots at Zubick who made a couple of game-savers in OT to give the Smokies a chance to win. The overtime goal was Lucchini’s second of the night and 24th of the season, good for first-star honours, while Calvin had two assists. Zubick was named the game’s second star, while Miska was third star for the Vees as Trail outshot Penticton 38-37.
“You have to give them (Trail) a lot of credit,” said Penticton head coach Fred Harbinson. “It was a tough weekend for us, but you’ve got to give the team over there with the number of guys they had out, you’ve got to give them a heck of a lot credit for fighting and it was good to see on their part.”
In Friday’s match, Trail took a 2-1 first period lead on goals from Craig Martin and Kienan Scott, but three second period tallies from Jost, Mitch Newsome, and Conroy would give the Vees a 4-2 lead. Scott would bring the Smokies within one with under four minutes remaining with his second of the night and 11th on the season, but Miska shut the door after that stopping 25 Trail shots while Zubick blocked 32 on the night for Trail, with both teams going 0-for-3 on the power play.
It was a great win for a Smoke Eaters team that lost their top scorer on Wednesday to suspension, and had six other regulars out with illness or injury, and with just 11 games remaining, the team is all but out of playoff contention but continues to play hard.
“They are playing for themselves right now, they are playing for spots for next year, and spots down the road at the next level,” said Zanier. “They are playing for pride at this time, and it’s great to see the fans so excited in this building and that’s our goal for the rest of the year, to make sure the fans come here and they are entertainied and tonight they were certainly entertained.”