The Trail Smoke Eaters allowed just two goals but emerged from their two games against the Merritt Centennials and Vernon Vipers with a split on the weekend.
Trail skated to a thrilling 2-1 overtime victory against the league’s high-flying Centennials Friday at the Cominco Arena, but couldn’t find their offence on Saturday, falling to the Vipers in Vernon in a 1-0 shut out.
The Smoke Eaters have been good defensively, but struggled offensively, scoring just eight goals in five games, including the 1-0 shutout loss to Vernon.
“The Friday game was one of the better games of the year, the guys played extremely hard,” said Smoke Eaters coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “It’s the highest offensive team in the entire league, they’re scoring more than any team and to keep them to one goal, that was a massive effort from our group. But to give up only two goals the entire weekend and only come away with two points is a little tough to swallow.”
Trail’s power play lost some of its early lustre, going 0-for-4 against Vernon and 4-for-20 over those five games. Trail missed a prime opportunity early. Vipers forward Jesse Lansdell, who is coming off an eight-game suspension for a blow-to-the-head infraction on Oct. 21, was given a four-minute hit-to-the-head and crosschecking penalty in the first minute of the match, but Trail couldn’t get their power play going, and did not capitalize.
Lansdell’s high hit on Kyle Chernenkoff sidelined the Smoke Eaters defencemen, who is undergoing concussion protocol and will be out indefinitely.
“He reactivated a previous upper body injury,” said Tambellini. “We’re hoping the league takes care of it. Like I said, it’s out of our hands, we send in the information that’s needed, and that’s up to Brad Lazarowich and his team.”
Lansdell added insult to injury at 3:35 of the third when he fired a centring pass from Jagger Williamson by Smoke Eaters goalie Adam Marcoux for a 1-0 lead.
Smokies forward Tyler Ghirardosi looked to have tied the game a few minutes later, when his shot beat Vipers keeper Aidan Porter glove side. The goal light went on but the referee waved it off, signalling ‘no goal.’
“When you’re playing 1-0 games, your power play and top guys have to find a way to score,” said Tambellini. “For us to be able to score in the third, and have it get called back the way it did is tough. I know it was a good goal, I saw the replay and it clearly goes inside the post.”
Lansdell’s lone goal stood up as the game winner as the Snakes outshot Trail 24-23, and regained sixth place in the Interior Division, while Trail fell to seventh one point behind.
In Friday’s match against Merritt, Smokies goalie Marcoux was stellar in net and rookie Bryce Anderson tallied the game winner in the 2-1 overtime victory.
Marcoux stopped 56 of 58 shots on the weekend, including 33 against Merritt, handing the Cents just their ninth loss of the season.
“Adam Marcoux has been outstanding ever since he came in (versus Surrey) and pulled that one out for us, he’s been fantastic, and the best goaltender in the league since that game. He gives us a chance to win every night.”
In the 3-on-3 overtime period, Anderson flew down the left boards, cut to the net and lifted a backhand on goal, and, while Cents’ goalie Vincent Duplessis stopped the initial shot, his momentum carried him and the puck into the net. The referee judged it a good goal and the Smoke Eaters celebrated their third straight home win.
“We’re looking for our young players to step up and start taking ice-time away from our top lines, not because our veterans don’t deserve it, but because we need them to take minutes away. We don’t want to be using our top-six forwards as penalty killers every single night … We’re looking for guys to step up and Bryce did a great job and played well enough to get an overtime shift, then made the most of his opportunity.”
The win over the Cents comes a week after the Smokies lost 4-2 in Merritt in their first meeting of the year. The Centennials lead the Interior Division in scoring with 113 goals and are second only to Victoria, 116, in league scoring. Trail held the Cents to just one goal for only the second time this season.
Smokies forward Carter Jones ripped a Chase Stevenson pass by the glove of Merritt goalie Vincent Duplessis for a 1-0 lead at 5:51 of the first period. Marcoux took over from there, making a number of key saves to preserve the lead, until the Cent’s Bradley Cocca tallied his 13th goal and 40th point on a shot from the high slot tied the game at 16:37 and forced overtime.
Merritt, 18-9-1-1, trails the division leading Penticton Vees by one point, while 11-13-4-2 Trail falls to seventh in the Interior, a point behind the 10-9-6-3 Vipers.
“Whether you’re playing a team at the top of the division on that day or they’re in sixth or seventh, there’s no easy night. We knock off one of the top teams in our division on Friday, then get into a great battle with Vernon. We had an opportunity, with one win, to jump into fifth Saturday night, so it’s tight, it’s tight in the middle and it’s going to shuffle like this right to the end.”
Trail plays a home-and-home with the Vees this weekend, starting Friday at the Cominco Arena with the puck drop at 7 p.m.