Rossland’s Ross Armour scored twice and Montrose native Tyler Ghirardosi netted the winning goal to lift the Trail Smoke Eaters to a 5-4 victory over the Coquitlam Express on Saturday at the Cominco Arena.
A day after skating to an 8-1 romp over the Langley Rivermen, the Smoke Eaters faced off against a 14-32-1-3 Express team mired in the bottom of the Mainland Division standings. However, the Express came to play, and Trail needed a goal from Ghirardosi midway through the third period to break a 4-4 tie and post its 30th win of the season.
“I thought we had opportunities to take control of the game, and you have to give Coquitlam a lot of credit, they clawed and they battled,” said Smoke Eaters coach and GM Cam Keith. “For a team that’s probably not looking to make a run this year, there’s a lot of character, and you have to give their coach a lot of credit for what they’ve done, because they never gave up.”
Smokies forward Andre Ghantous fed Ghirardosi streaking down the left side, and the former Beaver Valley Nitehawk fired a shot from the top of the circle over the glove of Coquitlam goalie Brock Hamm for his 16th goal of the season.
“I didn’t want to miss on that opportunity for the third time,” said Ghirardosi after the game. “Obviously, I was disappointed in myself on the first two, so was happy that one went in.”
Ghirardosi had been thwarted twice by Hamm on two earlier breakaways. In the first period, he had the Express goalie beat but just put it off the outside of the post; then again in the second, the Trail forward blew by the defenceman and broke in all alone, but Hamm just got his blocker on the high shot. The third time was a charm, as Ghirardosi tallied his fifth in four games playing on a line with Ghantous and Blaine Caton.
“He’s come a long way,” said coach Keith about Tyler. “You’re almost witnessing him getting better every shift he goes out there. The kid is playing with a ton of confidence and it’s really nice to see.”
After Trail hit two posts in the opening two minutes, the Express got on the board first when Joshua Bruce snuck a puck past Adam Marcoux at 13:49 of the opening period.
Trail tied it with seven minutes left in the period, when Armour deflected a Kale Howarth shot past Hamm. The Smokies then took the lead after Ghirardosi hit Ghantous in the high slot and the skilled puck-handler walked through a couple defenders, whirled and wired a low shot past Hamm for his 18th of the campaign with 3:40 remaining in the first period.
But again the Express countered. Sam Kozlowski finished a 2-on-1 with Eric Linnell to tie it at two, 8:54 into the middle frame.
Trail regained the lead when Troy Ring made a great play to keep the puck in at the blue line, then fed Howarth alone in front, and the Red Deer native went forehand-backhand and upstairs for a 3-2 lead at 11:52. Trail’s big line continued to roll, and with time winding down, Howarth found Armour in the slot, and the Smokie forward sent a quick wrister past Hamm for his 20th goal of the season and a 4-2 lead with 17 seconds left in the period.
“I was getting frustrated out there, but finally got one in there and was lucky to keep it going,” said Armour. “It’s nice to play at home, because you get the last change, and you don’t have to always play against their top guys.”
Trail had a slim 19-16 edge in shots through two, yet, it didn’t reflect the number of quality chances as the Smokies dominated the play, and the Express goalie made a number of key saves to keep the game close.
Coquitlam rallied in the third with Linnel finishing a Kozlowski set up to cut the lead to one just over a minute in, then Jack Lippis scored at 15:19 on a bad bounce off the Smokies d-man in front of goalie Marcoux right to Lippis at the side of the net to tie it 4-4.
“We came out slow, and I think the goal at the end of the second, the mindset was the game’s over,” said Keith. “Again Coquitlam didn’t give up, they pushed hard, and once they scored the first goal, you could see the ice tilted a bit. It’s another lesson learned, I guess you can say.”
After Ghirardosi made it 5-4, the Smokies played tough defensive hockey and limited the Express chances. However, Coquitlam went on the power play with just under two minutes remaining when Braeden Tuck was sent off for tripping, and made it a two-man advantage by pulling their goalie for the extra attacker with 45 seconds left. Yet, Trail’s penalty kill has been impenetrable of late, allowing just one goal in 25 chances in the past five games, and the Smokies held on for the victory.
Trail outshot Coquitlam 33-26, with no power plays, while going 4-for-4 on the PK. Armour was the game’s first star, Ghirardosi second star and the Express’ Kozlowski the third star. Howarth also had a three-point night with a goal and two assists, while Ghantous and Ghirardosi each had a goal and an assist.
In Friday’s 8-1 victory over the Rivermen, Smokies d-man Seth Barton had three assists, as eight different scorers pitched in for the Trail win.
Howarth, Ghirardosi, Jeremy Lucchini, Spencer McLean, Ghantous, Levi Glasman, Connor Welsh, and Braeden Tuck all scored for Trail, while Connor Marshall netted the lone goal for Langley.
Trail outshot the Rivermen 49-30, going 1-for-8 on the power play and a perfect 2-for-2 on the penalty kill. Lucchini, Ghirardosi, and Ghantous were the game’s first, second, and third stars.
The Smokies schedule doesn’t get any easier as they play a home-and-home against the Penticton Vees this week, before hosting Salmon Arm on Saturday in their penultimate home game.
“We can’t take any of these teams lightly,” said Keith. “But if you look at our schedule, there’s no more teams to take lightly. Salmon Arm had won eight in a row, and every game is a four-point game.”
Trail’s next match goes on Wednesday when they host the Vees at the Cominco Arena at 7 p.m.