Trail Smoke Eaters forward Kyle Star scored the winner, breaking a 3-3 tie early in the third period to lift the Smoke Eaters to within a point of the Vernon Vipers for the final playoff spot in the BCHL’s Interior division with a thrilling 6-3 victory Wednesday at the Cominco Arena.
The Smoke Eaters scored five power-play goals on 11 chances and one shorthanded marker in a physical match that saw over 50 minutes in penalties, and at least two injured Smokies leave the game.
“There was a lot of different elements to the game tonight,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Nick Deschenes. “There was physicality and there was some adversity, and I think we responded really well. We have a pretty character group.”
Star’s ninth goal of the season came on the power play 4:25 into the third, when Mitch Stapley and Kale Howarth worked the puck to Star in the left circle and the Langley native sniped the top corner on Viper goalie Andrew Shortridge to give the Smokies a 4-3 lead.
“Whenever we play Vernon, we have a playoff mentality, and for us it was a four-point night, we knew it was going to be hard, and we had to be prepared for whatever was going to happen in the game,” said Trail captain Evan MacEachern.
Kienan Scott opened the scoring when Max Newton corralled the puck in his own end and lifted a pass over the Vernon defencemen to a streaking Scott who out-raced the Vernon defender and beat Shortridge with a deke to give the Smokies a 1-0 advantage at 13:27 of the first period.
The Smoke Eaters continued to press and after Colton McCarthy took a slashing penalty, Jake Kauppila deflected in a Star point shot to put Trail up by two heading to the second frame.
“We’re starting to dig in and not get pushed around,” said Deschenes. “I like where we are at right now, we’re not a team of superstars but we definitely play as a five-man unit when we’re out there and we get a lot done.”
Trail outshot the Vipers 17-11 in the period, but the Vipers responded in the second.
Just 49 seconds into the period, Joe Sacco finished a 2-on-1 banging in the rebound, after Trail goalie Bailey MacBurnie made a great pad save off McCarthy. However, the Smokies went on the power play again, and after some slick puck movement, Connor Brown-Maloski moved into the slot and ripped a Ross Armour pass under the glove of Shortridge to restore the two goal lead at 15:02.
Vernon answered when Odeen Tufto lifted a rebound over a sprawling MacBurnie 11:28 into the period, and Jimmy Lambert tied it on the power play on a goal-mouth frenzy that saw the Trail goalie stop two point blank shots before Lambert beat him on the third try to make it 3-3 with just over five minutes to play in the middle stanza. Vernon outshot the Smokies 12-10 in the period.
The Smokies didn’t take long to regain the lead in the third period with Star’s goal less than five minutes in.
Things began to unravel for the Vipers as the undisciplined penalties began to pile up. Ben Butcher took a tripping penalty at 13:45, and while the Smokies evened it after a non-call on a hit to Jake Kauppila prompted a helmet toss onto the ice from the Smokie’s bench and a bench minor, Vernon again went down another man when Odeen Tufto took a cross-checking penalty at 12: 41.
Fifteen seconds later, Nick Halloran made it 5-3 taking a pass from Brown-Maloski at the hash mark and wiring it top corner.
Moments later, Trail native Riley Brandt caught Kale Howarth cutting to the inside, and was penalized for a blow to the head, and also a fighting major after MacEachern jumped in to defend his teammate. Howarth lay motionless on the ice for over a minute, but was eventually helped off. His probable concussion followed hard on the heels of another hit against the boards that sent John Laurito to the dressing room with a likely shoulder injury earlier in the period.
“We just have to keep going, we might be a little banged up here we’ll just have to see, but whenever we get a team here at home we have to feel confident that we can win from top to bottom,” said Deschenes. “It’s a tough trip to come out here.”
Despite the injuries, Trail wasn’t finished. Harlan Orr made a pretty play to get the puck to Scott in front who scored his second of the game and 17th of the season to round out the scoring at 11:09 mark. It was the Penticton native’s fifth goal in six games, over which Trail has won five of six.
“He (Scott) was concussed and it took a little while, and you never know when a player gets hurt like that when the dust settles and when they get