The Trail Smoke Eaters have to be heartened by a spirited 5-4 comeback win against the Vernon Vipers on Wednesday, as it gets set to take on two more Interior division rivals this weekend.
The Smokies scored four goals in the third period to overcome a 3-0 first-period disadvantage, en route to its first victory in the New Year.
The Smokies played without their top two snipers, Brett Baltus and Garrett McMullen, both injured, but Castlegar native Jesse Knowler and Castlegar AP Diego Bartlett each scored twice to fill the void.
Emergency call up Bartlett of the KIJHL Castlegar Rebels scored the tying and winning goals as the Trail Smoke Eaters stormed back in the third to pick up a crucial win.
After roofing a rebound to tie it at 9:31, Bartlett buried the winner on a power play at 13:04, taking a nice pass from Adam Wheeldon and snapping it top shelf past Vipers goalie Danny Todosychuk.
The Smokies, who arrived late due to poor road conditions, forcing a 15-minute delay to the opening face-off, move four points ahead of the last-place Vipers in the Interior division, at 17-22-0-1 but are still two points back of Salmon Arm for the final playoff spot.
Liam Board took a pass from Castlegar product Ryan Renz to open the scoring, and two snipes by T.J. Dumonceaux put the Vipers up 3-0 in the opening frame, before the Smokies Riley McDougall notched his third goal in five games late in the first.
Castlegar native Aaron Hadley would restore the three-goal lead for the Vipes at 14:31 of the second. Down 4-1 heading into the third, Trail took a knee between periods and regrouped.
The Smokies went into comeback mode 1:38 into the final frame when Knowler jumped on a Viper turnover just feet away from goalie Todosychuk to make it 4-2. Knowler clicked again 20 seconds later on another Vipers gift to bring the Smokies within one, to set up Bartlett’s heroics.
The Smokies, outshot the Vipers 20-10 in the third period, and held a 42-33 final shots advantage. Trail’s Adam Todd recorded the win in net, coming up big in the final minutes to preserve the one goal lead.
The Vipers were without leading scorer Adam Tambellini, who watched in civvies, and is reported to be slated for a trade to a number of different teams from the coast to the prairies.
The league has mandated that teams wait until today before officially announcing trades made on the Thursday deadline.
Trail gets set for two more crucial games against Salmon Arm and West Kelowna this weekend. Both games go at 7:30 p.m. at the Cominco Arena tonight and Saturday.
No Smoke Eater deals were reported prior to the trade deadline Thursday.