The Trail Smoke Eaters split with the Vernon Vipers on the weekend and claimed the third seed in the BCHL Interior Division, with a little help from its division rivals.
The Smoke Eaters were tied with the West Kelowna Warriors for third spot in the Interior Division heading into the final two games of the season, and Trail’s 3-1 win over Vernon on Friday at home gave the Smokies a two-point edge over West Kelowna, which lost 8-3 to the Merritt Centennials. Despite a Trail loss to the Vipers in Vernon Saturday, a Salmon Arm victory over the Warriors in their final match ensured the Smoke Eaters the higher seed.
“That was our goal going in was to get two points at home,” said Trail coach and GM Cam Keith. “And after we got that, we were trying to get the win in Vernon with third place potentially on the horizon, but as it worked out everyone came back unscathed, completely healthy, and we got third place anyways, so we were happy with the weekend.”
Vernon beat Trail 7-1 in the final outing, and had already earned a bye, along with first-place Penticton, in the first round of the playoffs, while Trail will face sixth-seed Salmon Arm, and West Kelowna takes on the Centennials in the BCHL Interior Division playoffs.
On Friday, three second-period goals and a stellar 39 save performance from Linden Marshall secured Trail’s 26th victory of the season in a 3-1 win over Vernon. Kale Howarth returned to the lineup, scoring his 30th goal to give Trail a 1-0 lead 8:55 into the second, and Troy Ring notched the winner on the power play taking a setup from Andre Ghantous and Blaine Caton and beating Taylor.
“I think we made a bit of a statement, playing against Vernon at home,” said Keith. “We wanted to not only show ourselves, but show the City of Trail that Vernon’s not a team that can walk all over us when they want to. We had some bite back and we’re successful.”
Josh Laframboise made it 3-0 Trail with 29 seconds to play in the period, as Vernon held a 29-17 edge in shots through two. Vernon finally solved Marshall spoiling the shut-out bid with 11:05 to play in the third period.
The match was a scrappy contest that tested Trail’s special teams, as Vernon went 0-for-8 with the man advantage, and Trail’s power play was 2-for-4.
“It was chippy on both sides, and it was just a good precursor for the playoffs,” said Keith. “It was kids playing with a lot of emotion, and the kind of hockey we want to play, and have to play once we get into the playoffs, especially if we’re fortunate enough to meet Vernon down the road.”
Vernon outshot Trail 40-24 with Howarth earning the game’s first star, Marshall second star, and Laframboise the third star.
In Saturday’s match, Luke Santerno scored the Smokies loan goal to tie the game momentarily at 17:30 of the first period, but the Vipers’ Brett Stapley scored with four seconds left in the opening frame for the game-winner.
The Vipers scored two more in the second for a 4-1 lead on goals from Ryan Brushett and Stapley, and added three more in the third with Stapley netting the hat trick at 13:14. Steven Jandrec and Jagger Williamson were the other Viper scorers as the teams each fired 34 shots at the opponents net with Ty Taylor getting the win in goal for Vernon, and Zach Dyment taking the loss for Trail.
The third-place finish is the Smokies highest season result in a decade, finishing tied for second place with the Vipers in the 2006-7 campaign.
Trail registered a .500 season with 26-26-5-1 record, and will host the Silverbacks at 7:30 p.m. at the Cominco Arena for Game 1 of the BCHL first-round playoff series on Friday. Game 2 goes Saturday at 7 p.m.
See more on round 1 of the Smoke Eaters playoff run in this weeks Trail Times.