In a series that many expected to go at least six, the Trail Smoke Eaters happily quashed any question of their ability with a decisive win over the West Kelowna Warriors in Game 4 of the BCHL’s Interior Division quarter-final.
A determined and confident Trail Smoke Eaters team completed the sweep of the Warriors on Tuesday with a 6-3 victory at Royal LePage Place in West Kelowna.
“The hardest game to win is the fourth game, an elimination game,” said Smoke Eaters assistant coach Jessie Leung. “Everything we expected to happen, happened. West Kelowna came out with desperation, they came out with some drive and a lot of credit to their team, based on their injuries and suspension, they played an exceptional game.”
Smoke Eaters forward Levi Glasman scored twice including the winner and Tyler Ghirardosi netted a hat trick as the Smokies dominated a Warriors team that was hit hard by injuries to defencemen Jake Harrison, Tyler Jutting and Stephen Kleysen, along with suspended forwards Ryan Steele and Willie Reim.
Glasman netted his second of the game and fourth of the playoffs, when the Red Deer native deflected a Connor Welsh point-shot past the Warriors goalie to give Trail a 4-3 lead with 1:17 to play in the middle frame.
The goal proved to be the winner, advancing Trail to the Interior Division semifinal with a four-game sweep of the Warriors in the opening round.
“They pushed us all the way until we were able to pull away in the third period,” said Leung. “So happy to get the win, happy to get that done, and happy to get a little rest before we get geared up for Round 2.”
The Smokies opened the scoring when Ryan Murphy broke in with Ghirardosi and finished a pretty passing play to make it 1-0 at 2:39 of the first.
The two teams battled with a frantic end-to-end pace in the first period, and traded chances until West K’s Michael Ryan was sent in all alone by Parm Dhaliwal and went forehand, backhand to beat Trail goalie Adam Marcoux and tie it at 6:19.
Less than two minutes later, Warriors veteran centerman Chase Dubois won a faceoff in the Smokies end, sending the puck to Michael Lombardi on the right wing who wired a shot from the hash marks that deflected over the glove of the Smokies goalie to give the Warriors their first lead since Game 1.
But the lead was short-lived. After Warriors Matt Kowalski was sent packing for a hit-to-the-head, eight seconds later Ghirardosi banged the puck in off the chest of Warrior goalie Nik Amundrud following a long point shot from Jeremy Lucchini to tie it at 2-2 midway through the period.
The teams traded penalties through the last ten minutes of the first, but the score remained deadlocked with the Warriors outshooting the Smoke Eaters 17-11.
“I don’t think we played a very good first period. In some respects, with the success we had, we expected it to be easier than it was going to be, which is natural … but give credit to our group we bent but we didn’t break, we stayed composed and the result was we believed in our ability to come back, and in our ability to win the game no matter what.”
The Warriors pressed in the early going of the second period and at one stretch, the Warriors had Marcoux down and out, but Trail captain Troy Ring blocked two shots off a scramble in front of the Smoke Eater net to keep the game tied. The Smokies countered and Kale Howarth broke in on a breakaway but was stoned by Amundrud. West K stormed back, and Chase Dubois made a nice move in front of the Trail net coaxing Marcoux to his left before sending the puck back across the crease to Chase Stevenson for the tap-in and a 3-2 lead.
But Trail did not relent, and answered 73 seconds later, when Levi Glasman redirected in a beautiful set up from Lucchini, who faked a shot in the slot, freezing Amundrud, and passing to Glasman at the back door to tie the game at 3-3.
The Smokies kept the proverbial foot on the gas in the third and Montrose native Ghirardosi scored a highlight reel goal, walking around the defender and wiring a shot by Amundrud to make it 5-3 just over five minutes in.
Trail’s strong defensive play demoralized the Warriors attack as Trail outshot West K 12-5 through the first 15 minutes of the final stanza, and West Kelowna was forced to pull their goalie in the final five minutes in an effort to generate offence.
But Trail didn’t waste any time, as Ghirardosi gained possession of the puck and fired in his hat-trick goal to put the Smokies up 6-3 with 4:55 to play.
Trail held a 39-33 edge in shots, and went 2-for-4 on the power play, while the Warriors were 1-for-4. Ghirardosi had a four-point night with the hat trick and an assist, Lucchini pitched in with three helpers, Glasman scored twice, and Ryan Murphy added a goal and an assist.
With a nod to the Warriors’ 20-year-old graduating players, they awarded the three stars to Jared Marino, Michael Ryan and Nik Amundrud.
Trail will play Penticton in the Interior Division semifinal round. The Vees took swept the series after defeating the Coquitlam Express 2-1 on Wednesday.
“There’s a lot of belief in our room, and a lot of confidence in what we’ve been able to do and the successes we’ve had based on our process and how we’ve competed.
“As far as the gameplan (against the winner of Penticton-Coquitlam series), it’s no different than really what we had and what we’ve been doing. We believe in our group, and if we play to the best of our ability, we’re as good if not better than any team in our league.”
Vernon and Wenatchee also wrapped up their respective series in sweeps over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks and Merritt Centennials, and will meet in Game 1 of the Interior semifinal series on Mar. 16.
The Vees host the Smoke Eaters in Penticton on the same day to kick off its semifinal series.