The Trail Smoke Eaters split their weekend games, starting with a big 3-2 home win over the Wenatchee Wild before traveling to Merritt where the Centennials doubled up the Smoke Eaters 4-2.
The setback to the Cents was Trail’s only regulation loss in five games after back-to-back wins over the Wild and Vernon Vipers, and extra-time losses to the Penticton Vees and Coquitlam Express. With the win, Merritt’s record improves to an Interior Division-leading 17-9-0-1, while the split puts Trail in seventh place in the Interior at 10-11-4-2.
“I liked our game,” Trail coach and GM Jeff Tambellini told Smokies announcer Trevor Miller. “As a coaching staff every one of these games are on the line and it’s coming down to a couple of mistakes or great plays on our part that is getting it done for us, so we’re excited about getting the two points (on Friday).”
Merritt finished in seventh and last place in the Interior last season, but a robust number of returning players, 13, has made the Cents a contender this year. Their victory over the Smoke Eaters was a hard fought match up, and another strong effort from Merritt.
“This kind of win is almost more important than one where everything is going right,” said Cents head coach Joe Martin. “We had to work hard. Teams are starting to gun for us and play us like we are the top team in the division.”
The Centennials captain, Nick Wick, put Merritt on the board first at the 7:47 mark. Trail tied it late in period on the power play, when Mack Byers fired in a rebound off a Diarmad DiMurro point shot for his eighth goal of the season with just 46 seconds remaining in the period to tie the game at 1-1.
Merritt brought the pressure in the middle stanza and took a 2-1 lead at the 15:14 mark on a Ben Ward wraparound. Rylan Van Unen then made it 3-1 with 1:47 to play on a one-timer from the left face-off circle.
Seventy-three seconds into the third period, Smoke Eaters captain Braeden Tuck finished a give-and-go with Chase Stevenson, beating Merritt goalie Austin Roden on the blocker side for his 10th goal of the season to cut the lead to 3-2.
However, Brendan Schneider restored the two-goal lead for the Centennials just 41 seconds later on a power play for the 4-2 final.
The Smokies recent acquisition, Stevenson, played in his first game as a Smoke Eater and earned an assist, lining up with Tuck and Kent Johnson.
“It’s definitely been a hectic couple of days, but I’m super excited to be here, and as soon as I found out Trail was where I was going, I just can’t wait to get there,” Stevenson told Miller. “Super happy to be here with the guys, and look forward to producing on the ice.”
For Tambellini, getting a premiere forward became a high priority after sending Levi Glasman to Powell River for defenceman Connor Powell, and Stevenson with 10 goals and 23 points certainly fits the bill.
“To have Chase come into the line up is a massive addition,” said Tambellini. “Just having him adds so much depth to your line up. It kind of shuffles everybody to the right spot, and it’s kind of how we drew it up at the beginning of the season, and that’s a big addition for us.”
Merritt outshot Trail 36-32 and were 1-for-6 on the power play, while Trail went 2-for-6.
On Friday, goaltender Adam Marcoux made several key saves to backstop the Smokies to a 3-2 victory over Wenatchee in front of 2,000 home fans.
His best of the night came off Josh Arnold on a power play with five minutes left in the second period . On a cross-ice backdoor pass, the 20-year-old Calgary product came across and robbed Arnold with the glove to preserve the Smoke Eaters 2-1 lead.
“They (Wenatchee) made a big push, and Adam was great,” said Tambellini. “That’s the difference to last night where he made two saves in the second period, and when the PK missed a sort out, he bailed them out. And that’s what you need, you need your best guys to be your best players, and he’s one of our best.”
Carter Jones scored his eighth of the season to kick-start the Smoke Eaters at 17:07 of the first period. Lucas Sowder replied for the Wild to tie it, but Trail made it 2-1 on a Byers goal at 12:13 of the second period.
Bryce Anderson scored the game winner at the 5:47 mark, sending a snipe past Cal Sandquist for a 3-1 Trail lead. Wenatchee kept it interesting with P.J. Fletcher bringing the Wild to within one midway through the final frame, but Marcoux shut the door for the 3-2 victory.
The Smoke Eaters (10-10-4-2) head up north to conclude their season series against the Prince George Spruce Kings (16-7-0-1) on Wednesday night. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. from the Rolling Mix Concrete Arena on mixlr.com/trail-smoke-eaters as well as HockeyTV.com with the Voice of the Smoke Eaters, Trevor Miller.