The Trail Smoke Eaters Kale Howarth returned to action in Prince George after sitting out a three-game suspension. However, the Spruce Kings were stingy defensively on their way to a 3-1 victory over Trail. Jim Bailey photo

The Trail Smoke Eaters Kale Howarth returned to action in Prince George after sitting out a three-game suspension. However, the Spruce Kings were stingy defensively on their way to a 3-1 victory over Trail. Jim Bailey photo

Trail Smoke Eaters continue Wild road trip to Wenatchee

After loss in P.G., Trail Smoke Eaters play two games against Wild Interior rivals in Wenatchee

The Trail Smoke Eaters have a long road ahead of them especially after losing a close one to the Prince George Spruce Kings on Wednesday in Prince George.

Jarod Hovde’s power play goal at 14:12 of the second period proved to be the winner, giving the Spruce Kings a 2-0 lead on their way to a 3-1 victory over the Smoke Eaters.

The win all but clinched the Mainland Division title for P.G., in what will be it’s first since joining the league 21 years ago. Prince George needs just one point in their remaining five games to clinch, as only Chilliwack can tie the Spruce Kings, but would have to win their remaining six games, and have P.G. lose theirs.

“We just want that point,” said Spruce Kings leading scorer Ethan de Jong on their website. “It would be huge for this team, this club and that is what we want so we’re not going to stop until we get it.”

The Smokies loss leaves them five points behind Wenatchee in fourth place in the Interior Division with five games remaining, that includes a pair against the Wild this weekend.

The Spruce Kings Blake Hayward lit the lamp just 14 seconds into the opening period, fooling Trail goaltender Adam Marcoux on a quick shot.

After Hovde’s second-period tally, Prince George took a 2-0 lead into the third period, but Trail rallied with Tyler Ghirardosi banging in a rebound with 7:14 remaining to cut the lead to 2-1.

The Smoke Eaters power-play unit had a chance to even things up when Chays Ruddy took a cross-checking penalty in the final five minutes, but P.G. goalie Evan DeBrouwer stood tall stymieing the Smokies offence in the final minutes, until Ben Brar added an insurance goal into an empty net with 44 seconds remaining for the 3-1 final.

Each team fired 30 shots on net with Prince George going 1-for-4 on the power play and the Smokies 0-for-5. Ghirardosi was named the game’s third star.

After travelling to Prince George for the Wednesday night tilt, the Smokies were back on the bus, but not headed for home. Rather, the team drove 1,000 km straight to Wenatchee where they play a pair of games tonight (Friday) and Saturday at the Wild’s Town Toyota Centre.

“We’re practising our road-warrior game for playoffs,” said Trail coach and GM Cam Keith. “Wenatchee will be a big one, obviously, with two games in their rink. And then that’s another thing about playoffs is you go two games in or out of a visiting barn so we have to learn to win those.”

Trail’s 31st win on the weekend equals its most victories since 2010-11 when the Smokies finished with a 31-23-4-2 record, good for fifth place in the eight-team Interior at the time.

“We’re definitely going in the right direction as an organization since all the changes, and this is a hallmark year, and hopefully we can get a couple more wins to add to that total.”

The Smoke Eaters have split the season series with the Wild with two wins at home, as they get set to wrap up the series with the final two games in Wenatchee this weekend.

The Wild are looking to improve on their place in the standings, trailing the Vernon Vipers by two points, and the Penticton Vees by four. The Smoke Eaters coach knows the team is going into a hostile barn, as the Wild boast the best home record in the BCHL at 22-4-0-1. However, he also recognizes that Trail owns one of the league’s best away records, going 14-7-3-1 on the road.

And while the Smoke Eaters would like to win its remaining five games and move up the standings, a fourth-place finish wouldn’t be a terrible result, considering the intensity of the Interior competition.

“Our goal at the beginning of the year was to get home ice for the first round,” said Keith. “And then after that, we knew we were going to have to face Vernon, Penticton, or Wenatchee, and we’ve proven to be a pretty good team on the road this year so we’ll be comfortable in that setting.”

Trail’s final home game of the regular season goes Feb. 23 when they host the Salmon Arm Silverbacks at 7 p.m.