Trail Smoke Eater power forward Cooper Leitch circles out front looking for a shot in the Smokies 2-1 victory over the Victoria Grizzlies on Sunday at the Cominco Arena.

Trail Smoke Eater power forward Cooper Leitch circles out front looking for a shot in the Smokies 2-1 victory over the Victoria Grizzlies on Sunday at the Cominco Arena.

Trail Smoke Eaters claw out win over Victoria Grizzlies

Montrose native Spencer McLean scored what proved to be the winning goal.

Montrose native Spencer McLean scored what proved to be the winning goal, as the Trail Smoke Eaters clawed their way to a very important win over a hot Victoria Grizzlies team on Sunday at the Cominco Arena with a thrilling 2-1 victory.

Following a deflated showing in a 6-1 loss to Cowichan Valley Capitals on Friday night at the Cominco Arena, with support from visiting family and a banquet courtesy of the Colombo Lodge on Saturday, the Smoke Eaters regrouped for Sunday’s match against the Grizzlies. A strong defensive effort and a sparkling 29-save performance from Linden Marshall backstopped the Smokies to their ninth win of the season.

“Coming off two games where we didn’t think we put the effort that was required, this win was huge,” said Smoke Eater assistant coach Barry Zanier. “The kids were pretty disappointed after the Friday game, when all the parents were in town. We had a good day with the banquet and a chance to do some visiting, and they came ready to play today.”

With the game tied at one and Trail short-handed, Victoria pressed in the Smoke Eater end, but a pass to the pointman bounced over his stick and McLean took advantage. He darted past the defender, picked up the puck and sped down the left wing on a breakaway, rifling a shot that went off the glove of Grizzlies’ goalie Mitchell Benson and into the top corner for McLean’s second goal of the campaign and a 2-1 lead with seven minutes remaining in the period.

“It feels great,” said McLean. “I kind of figured that he was going to catch me, so I just put my head down, and shot right away and got an alright shot off, and it bounced off his glove and went in … It feels good to get back in the win column, and hopefully we can keep it going in the next game.”

The Smokies fell behind in the first period when a trailing Dante Hahn finished off a 3-on-2 drop pass from Brayden Gelsinger, beating Smokies goalie Marshall low stick side for the 1-0 lead.

But Trail replied early in the second. A minute into the middle frame, the Victoria bench was called for too many men. With Trail on the power play, Harlan Orr worked the puck to Red Deer native Kale Howarth at the point and the rookie’s shot sailed by a Cooper Leitch screen, beating Benson high glove side to make it 1-1. Although the shot clock had the Smokies down for just five shots on net in the second, the team had a number of glorious opportunities in the period but a combination of missed nets and one-too-many passes kept the game close.

“Not many shots. We were definitely guilty of passing too much, maybe trying to get too fancy, and hopefully the boys can just understand you put the puck at the net, you never know what’s going to happen,” said Zanier.

After McLean put the Smokies up, Victoria rallied in the third but could not beat Marshall, who made 12 saves in the third frame, including a couple game-saving stops in the final two minutes when the Grizzlies pulled Benson in favour of an extra attacker. With time winding down, Marshall robbed Hahn pointblank with a quick pad save, then following an intense scramble, a Smokie defender pulled the puck off the goal line and sent it down the ice to ease the pressure and preserve the victory.

“When Spencer scored, it was probably our poorest (scoring) chance up to that point … and Kale could have had a couple tonight, but you know what it’s great to see those young guys put the puck in the net,” added Zanier.

Trail handed the Grizzlies just their second loss in eight games. After winning just twice in their first 15 matches, the Grizzlies caught fire, winning five straight until a 4-3 overtime loss to Coquitlam Friday, but followed that up with a 3-2 win over Merritt Saturday.

“The boys worked hard for us, and Trail brought out a great effort,” said Victoria assistant coach Tyler Matheson. “Our boys played really well too but our second period really hurt us, we didn’t show up, and that’s what this game is about is a full 60 minutes.”

Victoria outshot Trail 30-15, with the Smokies going 1-for-2 on the power play and a perfect 0-for-4 on the penalty kill. Marshall was named the game’s first star with McLean getting the second star nod and Victoria’s Hahn the third star. Howarth earned the Fortis Energy Player of the Game.

Trail fell to Cowichan Valley 6-1 in Friday night’s game at the Cominco Arena. The Capitals Carter Cochrane had a goal and three assists while Storm Phaneuf stopped 37 shots for the victory. Ryan Star scored his first goal as a Smoke Eater after joining the club from the Surrey Eagles last week in the Kurt Black trade.

Trail now hits the road for games against Victoria, Nanaimo, and Langley this week.