The Trail Smoke Eaters punched their ticket to the post season.
Trail clinched a playoff spot with two home wins over the Vernon Vipers and Merritt Centennials on the weekend.
The Smoke Eaters celebrated Hockey Day in Trail in front of 2,200 fans with a 4-3 win over the Centennials in a close match up on Saturday. Trail’s 29th win followed a convincing 5-1 victory over the Vipers on Friday.
Smoke Eaters forward Braden Costello scored the game winner with 2:24 to play in the second period. Trail’s Max Kryski won the face off cleanly, pushing the puck past the Centennials centre, then feeding Costello at the left post for a 4-2 lead. The goal is the 11th of the season and 17th point for the Grand Forks, North Dakota native.
With 11 games remaining in the regular season, Trail has accumulated 62 points and sit in second place in the Interior Division and fourth place overall. Even if the last place Cents (10-31-1-3) won their remaining 13 games, they could not catch the Smoke Eaters.
Merritt came into the game on the heels of a 9-1 drubbing at the hands of the Penticton Vees, and lost their goaltending tandem of former Smoke Eater Tanner Marshall and Ryan Winter to injury. Merritt pressed into action emergency affiliate goalie Blake Pilon from the visiting Kimberley Dynamiters of the KIJHL.
The Cents came out determined and Trail was in penalty trouble most of the first period, as the Cents jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Chase Nameth pushed in a rebound off a Daniel Tkac shot for a power-play goal at 6:48.
Trail rallied in the final minute with Cody Shiavon blasting a point shot past Pilon with 54 seconds left in the period, and Diarmad DiMurro putting the Smoke Eaters up 2-1 in the final eight seconds on a quick shot from the hashmarks.
Merritt outshot the Smoke Eaters 17-6 in the opening frame, but Terness was keyed in and looking for his 22nd victory.
Smokies forward Michael Colella notched his 20th goal of the season on an unassisted effort. The Colorado College commit forced a turnover at the Merritt blue line, then walked in and sniped the top corner for a 3-1 Smoke Eaters lead.
Nameth scored his second of the night for Merritt at 11:26 to bring the Cents to within one, but Costello’s goal, before the period was out, proved the game winner.
Evan Benwell scored 5:10 into the final frame to cut the lead back to one, however, Trail held on for the 4-3 victory.
Merritt outshot Trail 38-36 and went 2-for-7 on the powerplay while Trail was 0-for-2. DiMurro earned the game’s first star, with Nameth second star, and Colella third star. Smokies defenceman Powell Connor was named the Energy Player of the Game.
In Friday’s match, the Smoke Eaters paid tribute to First Responders with a playoff-clinching win, as Kent Johnson scored twice and Colella netted the game winner in a 5-1 win over the Vipers.
Trail tested the newly acquired Keegan Karki early in his first game as a Viper. Johnson opened the scoring nine minutes into the opening period, before Vernon’s Landon Fuller replied at 17:06. Colella put Trail up for good with 1:58 left. Johnson notched his second of the game at 15:50 of the second, while Philippe Lapointe, and Carson Briere rounded out the scoring in the third for the Smoke Eaters.
Johson, with 33 goals, 50 assists and 83 points, Ozar 20-36-56, and Colella 20-34-54, still own the top three spots in league scoring, while goalie Logan Terness, 17, has put up the second most wins, 22, third best save percentage .930, and top five in goals-against 2.46 and minutes played at 1,976.
Trail is on the road this weekend travelling to Wenatchee to take on the 22-29-3-1 Wenatchee Wild, before returning to the Trail Memorial Centre Jan. 29 for a tilt against the Prince George Spruce Kings.