The Trail Smoke Eaters opened their exhibition series against the Cranbrook Bucks with a different look and a 7-4 victory on Saturday at the Cominco Arena. Photo courtesy of Geoff Fontes/Trail Smoke Eaters.

Trail Smoke Eaters explode for seven, beat Cranbrook Bucks in exhibition opener

There was no shortage of offence or physicality in Trail Smoke Eaters victory over Cranbrook Bucks

The Trail Smoke Eaters and Cranbrook Bucks delivered an entertaining and lively match in their first exhibition game of the BCHL season.

Chase Dafoe, Connor Sweeney, and Connor Michaud each scored two goals in a 7-4 Trail victory over the Bucks on Saturday night at the Trail Memorial Centre.

The Smokies iced a mix of veterans and rookies, and while the team earned the win, Trail head coach and GM Tim Fragle expects improvement as the exhibition season wears on.

“I thought the first period was pretty good, but in the second we got into penalty trouble and let them back in the game and in the third period, there was nothing called, so we separated ourself there in the third,” said Fragle. “But to be honest, I’m not really surprised. The kids have been off a long time since they played the last structured game and it showed, so we have a lot of work to do.”

Nicolas Roussel scored the game-winning goal and his first as a Smoke Eater taking a return pass from Trail captain Cody Schiavon and beating Bucks goalie Jacob Zacharewicz for a 5-3 lead at 16:33 of the third period.

The win is a warmup for the Kootenay Cup, which will commence after the first two games of the Smokies-Bucks nine-game exhibition series, and be a best-of-seven format.

“I think it gives the whole team something to play for. Also, starting a new rivalry in the league, it will be good for both communities to have something like this, not just this year but also moving forward.”

Trail took an early lead at 7:04 of the first period on a goal from Chase Dafoe. The Smokies veteran knocked down a bouncing puck off the backboards and snuck it past the Bucks goalie to put Trail up 1-0.

Trail went 0-for-3 on the power play in the first period, thanks to a solid penalty kill and a number of Bucks blocked shots, but edged Cranbrook in shots 11-10.

The Smoke Eaters came out determined in the second period. Connor Michaud spun out of the corner, and put in his own rebound for a 2-0 lead at 1:31. Just 26 seconds later, Dafoe scored his second of the night, taking a pass in front from Jackson Krill and going backhand-forehand for a 3-0 lead.

Trail, however, got into penalty trouble and Cranbrook made them pay. The Bucks’ first franchise goal came on a second-period power play, as Zeth Kindrachuk blasted a shot past Logan Terness to cut the lead to two on a setup from Noah Leibl and former Kootenay Ice forward Noah Quinn.

Things got heated midway through the period, as a scrum broke out at centre ice, and Trail’s top line of Dafoe, Jaden Senkoe and Coalson Wolford along with defenceman Schiavon were all sent off with misconducts or minors, along with their Cranbrook counterparts Cam Reid and Kindrachuck.

With the new COVID rules, the referees stayed out of the scrum, and penalized players for any further aggression after a warning.

“With altercations after the whistle, they (the referees) are not getting in unless the gloves come off, so then that pushing and shoving with your gloves on can escalate,” said Fragle. “And that wasn’t a great situation on both sides, I mean there could have been more penalties, but it was one of those things that gave the players and the refs a bit of a feeling out period.”

Bucks forward Dane Dowiuk took advantage of the extra-man and sniped a point shot over the glove of Terness to cut the lead to 3-2 just past the halfway mark of the second period.

The line of Roussel, Krill and Michaud struck again in the second. Roussel kept the puck in along the wall and worked it to Michaud down low and the Calgary native wired a shot from behind the goal line to make it 4-2 Trail.

The Bucks fired 22 shots at Terness in the second to hold a 32-19 edge in shots on goal.

Cranbrook quickly cut the lead to one, when Walker Gelbard scored 2:19 into the third period. Roussel restored the two goal lead, but Quinn counted his first as a Buck 15 seconds later when he fired in a Leibl pass to make it 5-4.

Sweeney put Trail up 6-4 at 10:20, and delivered the final blow with 2:17 to play, when he broke in over the blue line and sniped his second of the night top shelf for a 7-4 victory.

Cranbrook outshot the Smoke Eaters 44-32 and went 2-for-6 on the power play, while Trail was 0-for-5. For their first game in franchise history, the Bucks were hard to put away, and kept fighting back throughout the match.

“I thought they (Cranbrook) skated well, they had good speed, I thought they played hard and they put a lot of pucks on net,” said Fragle.

Michaud earned the game’s first star, with Dafoe taking second star honours, and Dowiuk of Cranbrook the third star.

Trail hosts Cranbrook next Saturday with the puck drop at 7 p.m.

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