With fresh bodies back in the line up, and timely saves from newly acquired goalie Adam Marcoux, the Trail Smoke Eaters rolled to a 5-3 road victory over the West Kelowna Warriors on Saturday.
Marcoux came to the Smokies in a deal with the Cowichan Valley Capitals last week, and the Calgary native was impressive in his first win in his first game as a Smoke Eater, while Trail forward Carter Jones netted his first unofficial BCHL hat trick, including the game winner, to secure the Smokies 20th win of the season.
“We played how we needed to to win,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Cam Keith. “The biggest x-factor was Marcoux in net, who made the big saves and calmed us down at times. Especially in the third period where there were scrambles in front and he had to face second and third shot opportunities, and you can tell he’s been use to that playing in Lake Cowichan. He looked really comfortable and that calmed our team down, and allowed us to get a huge win.”
Jones notched the winner on an incredible shorthanded effort to snap the Smoke Eaters six-game losing streak. The 18-year-old Spokane native stole the puck in the Warriors zone, executed a slick toe-drag and Savardian spin-o-rama to shake the Warriors d-man, then walked out from the left corner and out-waited goaltender Nik Amundrud for a 4-2 Smokies lead with 5:55 to play in the middle frame.
“Carter is someone that has been pushing and getting better and better every game,” said Smokies assistant coach Jessie Leung. “And he’s fit in great with Tyler Ghirardosi, who had his coming out party against Penticton there in October. Those two have stepped up to the plate for us and proven that they can be go-to guys.”
The Smokies 20th win marked a welcome return to the Trail line up for Smokies forwards Blaine Caton and Braeden Tuck, who scored twice in his first game back since an injury sidelined the Calgary native on Nov. 6. The victory also ended a losing slide that saw the Smokies tumble from top spot in the Interior Division to fourth place.
“Getting Blaine Caton and Braeden Tuck back is huge,” said Leung. “As much as you love the production they give you, what they really give you is a bit more swagger, they give you identity, and are key cogs into who we are as a hockey team.”
The Warriors’ Lucas Cullen opened the scoring at the six minute mark of the first period on the power play, banging in a rebound off a point shot from Jake Harrison for a 1-0 lead. But Jones tied it just 23 seconds later when he took a pass from Tuck at the top of the slot and wired a shot over the blocker of Amundrud to tie it.
The Warriors went up 2-1 before the period was out on another man-advantage tally, when Jared Marino redirected a point shot past Marcoux with 5:55 to play in the first stanza.
Strong special-teams play continued to pay dividends for the Smokies in the second period as Tuck scored his first of the match just 45 seconds in, shovelling in the rebound off the right pad of Amundrud after a stop on a Jeremy Lucchini point shot to even the score.
The third Smokies goal was awarded to Andre Ghantous, however, after initially being thwarted by the Warrior goalie on the doorstep, it was Jones who reached for the puck while falling to the ice and slid it under Amundrud’s glove for a 3-2 lead at 11:05.
After Jones’ hat-trick goal put the Smokies up by two, the Warriors drew within one with 41 seconds left in the second when Michael Lombardi lifted a rebound over Marcoux’s glove. The Warriors outshot Trail 17-10 in the period, but the new Trail goalie was stellar in his debut, and carried his solid play into the third.
“We thank (former Trail goalie) Brandon Wells for everything he did for us in the front half of the season,” said Leung. “But Marcoux was an opportunity to upgrade our goaltending not just this season but, given that he’s 19, for next season as well.”
In a more defensive third period, Trail shut down the Warriors and Tuck chipped the puck into an empty net with five seconds left for the 5-3 victory. The Warriors outshot Trail 36-27, with the Smokies going 2-for-4 on the power play, while West K was 2-for-5.
Jones earned the game’s first star, West Kelowna’s Marino was second star, and Lombardi third star.
“The win that gets you out of a slump is often pretty ugly. Last night was pretty much as far away from your typical Smoke Eater game where you have success, but at the end of the day we still stuck to the process, and we were missing a bit of jam, but we found a way to win.”
Trail gets right back to work tonight when they host the Merritt Centennials. The Cents seized advantage of a shorthanded Smokies team their last two games winning 3-2 in overtime Nov. 25 and 4-0 on Dec. 2 at the Cominco Arena, but Leung expects a different result this evening.
“They work hard, they push the offence and when you dial through our two losses, the one in Merritt we probably should have won, and the other one here we outshot them substantially. Again, we have more guns in the line up … and now that we have our horses, we’re confident with our group against anybody in the league, especially here at home with the crowd behind us.”
Trail hosts the Merritt Centennials at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.