The Trail Smoke Eaters expected a hostile Vipers team when they entered the Snake Pit on Friday in Vernon, but didn’t foresee the loss of two top forwards as they fell behind 2-0 in the best-of-seven Interior Division semifinal.
The Smokies suffered a tough 2-0 loss on Friday and were defeated 5-2 by the Vipers on Saturday to fall behind in the 2-versus-3 division-series match up.
“We’re disappointed that we weren’t able to get a win in Vernon but you have to move past it and take care of your home ice,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Cam Keith. “It’s the old saying, ‘A series doesn’t start until you lose on home ice,’ so we’re sticking to that model right now, we take care of our home ice and get back in the series.”
The Smoke Eaters lost two key components in the opening matches; Game 1 saw top-line forward Kale Howarth leave with injury and not return for Game 2, and Howarth’s line-mate Josh Laframboise exited the second game in the opening period and also did not return to action. The two were deemed doubtful for Game 3.
“They’re both question marks for tonight (Monday),” said Keith. “I don’t know how serious, but I guess in playoffs if you’re not playing it’s pretty bad.”
In Game 1 Friday, the teams were locked in a 0-0 draw and traded chances through two periods, until the Vipers’ Jimmy Lambert scored 2:11 into the third period for a 1-0 lead. The Smokies pressured, with Linden Marshall pulled for an extra attacker, but Darion Hanson came up big and Steven Jandric lifted the puck into an empty net to secure the 2-0 victory with seconds left on the clock.
Despite the loss, Smoke Eater captain Connor Brown-Maloski, who rang a wrister off the crossbar in the middle frame, is confident the Smoke Eaters will bounce back.
‘The series is going to be a war; we know we’re not going to sweep them, we know we’re going to lose a hockey game,” said Brown-Maloski. “For us, in this dressing room, we have to take the positives. It was their first game in three weeks and we knew they were going to come out flying. I think we did a good job; we just couldn’t put the puck in the net. The game could have went either way.”
On Saturday, the Vipers jumped out to a 3-0 lead on goals from Nico Karamanis, Brett Stapley, and Jagger Williamson, before Trail answered when Luke Santerno notched his fifth of the playoff on a setup from Brown-Maloski at 17:56 of the second period. However, just seven seconds later Jandric beat Marshall to restore the three goal lead.
A Santerno dish to Brown-Maloski cut the lead to 4-2 with just over seven minutes remaining, but an empty-netter from Jagger Williamson with 56 seconds to play iced it for the Vipers.
“We were deflated in that we couldn’t find ways to score, but we had our opportunities,” said Keith. “(Darion) Hanson played well, so we made some adjustments to create some offence in Game 2 but were unfortunate that Vernon had some timely scoring early on, because it was pretty even for the most part in the game. We know the focus tonight is that we have to find a way to score first.”
The Vipers outshot the Smoke Eaters 34-25 in Game 2 and went 1-for-5 on the power play, while Trail was 1-for-6.
The Vipers’ Williamson and Karamanis earned first and second stars, with Santerno picking up third-star honours for Trail.
The Smokies look to even the series at home and played Monday night in Trail but the score was unavailable at press time.
Trail’s human spark plug Korbyn Chabot should be back in the lineup tonight with APs Justen Berger and Brandon Costa pencilled in to replace Trail’s growing injury list with Ryan Moon, Howarth, and Laframboise out of action.
“It’s a process of momentum, and one game can change it so we’re just focusing on tonight and trying to get the momentum back,” said Keith. “I like the game plan from Game 2, we created some more offence that way and we just have to have to find ways to get bodies in front so we take his eyes away – more traffic and try to deflate their opportunities.”
The Smoke Eaters look forward to its secret weapon, home-ice support, when it drops the puck tonight at 7 p.m. against the Vernon Vipers at the Cominco Arena.
“That’s the biggest x-factor is the big crowd and getting the energy going,” said Keith. “The kids feed off that.”
In other BCHL action, the Penticton Vees jumped out to a 2-0 series lead with a pair of 4-1 wins over the Merritt Centennials. The Chilliwack Chiefs won two straight games in Wenatchee beating the Wild 3-1 and 4-1, while the Victoria Grizzlies and Powell River Kings split their opening matches with the Kings taking the first game 3-2 and the Grizzlies winning Game 2, 4-0.