Led by a three-goal performance from Luke Sandler, a short-handed Trail Smoke Eaters squad salvaged two-points from a three game road trip Sunday as they knocked off the top-ranked team in the BCHL.
The Smokies had one of their best performances of the season beating the Chilliwack Chiefs 6-3 on Sunday, however it was hot on the heels of a tough 7-1 loss to Coquitlam Saturday, and a 4-3 decision to Powell River Friday night.
Still, the bounce-back game after a long two-days of travel is a credit to the team’s work ethic, as they seem to play their most determined hockey against the league’s best. The Smokies beat the Chiefs 5-4 in their previous meeting at the Cominco Arena a month ago.
The league-leading Chiefs (19-6-1-1) are the top-rated BCHL team in the Canadian junior rankings at number eleven, while the Penticton Vees, 14th, and Victoria Grizzlies, 15th, are the only other BCHL teams in the top 20.
Sandler scored what proved to be the winning goal 1:20 into the third when he intercepted a pass at his own blue line and walked in all alone on the Chiefs Josh Halpenny, to give the Smokies a 4-2 lead.
The Smoke Eaters dampened the enthusiasm of the over 1,800 fans at Prospera Centre with an improbable second period comeback. Trail stormed back from a 2-0 first-periond deficit, scoring three times on 19 shots in the second period to take a lead they would not relinquish.
Adam Wheeldon converted a Sandler pass from behind the net to put the Smokies on the board 2:24 into the second. Then Baltus deflected in his first of two, less than a minute later on the power play, before Sandler gave the Smokies a one-goal lead by banging in a rebound off a Jake Lucchini shot at 8:07 of the second period.
Baltus moved into second place in BCHL scoring, with his 19th and 20th goals of the season to move within four points of leader Luke Esposito from the Chiefs. Baltus has 20 goals and 15 assists in 31 games so far.
After Sandler netted his second of the night to open the third period, Baltus ripped his second marker past Halpenny, before Sandler rounded out the Smokies scoring with his hat trick goal, and fourth point of the game to give Trail a 6-2 lead.
The Chiefs Garrett Forster would net a late one on Trail starter Lyndon Stanwood to make it 6-3.
Stanwood stopped 33 of 36 shots while Trail fired 42 at Halpenny.
Trail was also without goalie Adam Todd, defencemen Shane Poulsen, Braden Jones, and forwards Bryce Knapp, Ryan Edwards, Jesse Knowler, and captain Garrett McMullen.
The team picked up goalie Cody Boekman and forward Colton McCarthy from the Nelson Leafs, as well as Chandler Bruyckere from the Vancouver Island Junior League and Matt Carr from the KIJHL Fernie Ghostriders as reinforcements.