Trail Smoke Eaters forward Corey Clifton netted a hat trick and three different Smokies pitched in with five-point nights in an 8-2 drubbing of the West Kelowna Warriors on Saturday at the Cominco Arena.
After skating to a 4-3 shootout victory in Kelowna on Friday, the line of Clifton (3G, 2A), Kent Johnson (2G, 3A), and Michael Colella (1G, 4A) proved a potent Halloween mix, erupting for fifteen points on Saturday to complete the weekend sweep.
“I can’t do it without my linemates,” said Clifton. “They made it easy tonight, and I think we compliment each other really well. It’s just a great team win, it feels great.”
In front of a crowd of over 2,300 fans, Clifton scored the game winner on the power-play with 3:12 to play in the first period. The Matawan, N.J. native slipped in a backdoor feed from pointman Powell Connor to put the Smoke Eaters up 3-0.
The victories leave the 11-6-2-0 Smoke Eaters alone in third place, with a four-point cushion on Vernon and Wenatchee, while trailing the 14-3-1-0 Penticton Vees by five points, and 15-3-1-0 Salmon Arm by seven.
Trail captain Philippe Lapointe and defenceman Trevor Isaksson returned from injury on Friday, and the Smokies welcomed recent acquisitions defenceman Cody Schiavon and goalie Matteo Paler-Chow to the line up.
“We were pretty excited to get the people in our line up this week that we did,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “Making the trades we did, and getting Phil (Lapointe) and Isaksson back at the same time, elevating Corey Clifton up to the first line, there’s a lot of moving parts. The first night we were kind of feeling it out, but you see when they’re rolling at 100 per cent what that looks like, it’s a pretty dynamic attack.”
Colella opened the scoring at 11:17 off a faceoff in the Warriors zone. Johnson pushed the puck towards the net, Colella beat his man to the puck and slid it through the five-hole of West K goalie Brock Baier.
Clifton then made it 2-0 just five seconds later. Johnson again won the face off at centre ice, and sent Colella in on a partial breakaway. Baier made the initial pad save, but Clifton banged in the rebound for his first goal of the season.
Clifton’s second goal put the Smokies up 3-0 as Trail outshot the Warriors 14-8 in the period. Prior to Saturday’s match, the 20-year-old forward battled an injury and had played in 10 games, registering one assist.
“We’re trying to get him (Clifton) healthy,” said Tambellini. “With the trade of Liam Freeborn there is a big opportunity with Colella and Johnson. We’re looking for guys to step up and take a hold of it, so six points in two games, and five points tonight, that’s exactly what we’re looking for.”
Midway through the second, Johnson skated in on a 3-on-2, kept, and wired a shot over the glove of Baier. The Port Moody native then added his 13th of the season on a broken play at 7:21. Gathering the puck at the top of the circle, the 17-year-old turned and threw it on net, eluding the Warriors goalie for a 5-0 lead.
Clifton, a Quinnipiac commit, notched his first BCHL hat trick just 51 seconds into the final frame on a pretty play with Johnson and Colella.
“It was a hard forecheck by Mikey (Colella) there and it popped out,” said Clifton. “Kent got it to the middle, and it was just me and the goalie and I was fortunate enough to get it past him.”
The Warriors got on the board on a deflection from Ryan Upson, and cut the lead to 6-2 on a Brandon Dent goal at 5:15. The Smokies, however, restored the six-goal cushion on tallies from Owen Ozar and Walker Erickson’s first of the year for the 8-2 final.
The match was a testy one, with Smokies forward Connor Sweeney going toe-to-toe with the Warriors Spencer Hora early in the second period. Then, after a hit from behind by Warriors forward David Vieten on Diarmad DiMurro started a melee in front of the Smokies bench, Trail captain Lapointe threw down against the Warriors six-foot-three defenceman Ryan Novecosky.
“Having our captain back is a great morale booster in the room,” said Clifton. “He brings and expects a level of excellence, and when your captain goes out and does that, you know he cares about the team. We’re really excited to have him back.”
Trail outshot West Kelowna 41-21 and went 3-for-8 on the power play, and a perfect 6-for-6 on the penalty kill. Clifton was named the game’s first star, with Johnson and Colella the second and third star picks.
“Confidence is really good in the room right now,” said Clifton. “We know what we can do, and it’s up to us to go out there every night and execute. All four lines are buzzing right now, so it’s such a fun time to be a Trail Smoke Eater.”
On Friday, Trail’s Owen Ozar scored in the shootout to give the Smokies a 4-3 victory over the Warriors.
Johnson scored twice for Trail with Lapointe tallying his first of the season in his BCHL debut.
Smokies goalie Logan Terness stopped all three shots in the shootout for the win, and 31 on the night. Trail fired 36 shots at Baier, and went 0-for-5 on the power play and 5-for-5 on the PK.
The victories over the Warriors were a good bounce back from a 4-2 midweek loss to Penticton. Johnson (13-23-36) and Colella (12-19-31) sit in first and second in league scoring, while Ozar is tied for eighth overall with nine goals and 20 points.
Trail Trades: The Smokies sent forward Liam Freeborn and d-man Kieran O’Hearn to the Surrey Eagles in exchange for captain Cody Schiavon, 19, and acquired goalie Matteo Paler-Chow from the Powell River Kings in a trade for defenceman Jordan Hendry.
“We knew there was going to be some movement either way,” said Tambellini. “We were at 25 players, and we’re going to lose two, so for the timing working out the way it did, with Donovan (Buskey) leaving, we were able to pick up a veteran 20-year-old starter, a guy that’s taken his team to the finals is a huge addition for us.
“To get Cody Schiavon – everyone saw him tonight – and how dynamic of a defenceman he is. He instantly jumps into our line up and automatically goes into the top four. He makes us extremely deep on the back end so him, along with Jameson Murray, who we just brought in, it’s a pretty deep defence.”
Wenatchee Wild: Trail has another Wednesday tilt this week and will host the Wenatchee Wild with the puck drop at 7 p.m., before traveling to Salmon Arm for a pair of weekend games.