The Trail Smoke Eaters are poised for playoffs after splitting their final two games of the season on the weekend.
The Smokies dropped their final regular season game to the Merritt Centennials 7-5 on Saturday, following an impressive 5-1 victory over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
The second-place Smokies play the Mainland Division’s Prince George Spruce Kings in the first round of playoffs. P.G. will cross over and be seeded seventh out of eight teams in the Interior Division, while the Victoria Grizzlies will slide into the sixth spot and play Salmon Arm, who took over the third seed from Wenatchee and Vernon.
“I like out history against this team,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “They’re definitely a different team than the team that won the year before, but they’re a structured team that plays a real system and we have to be aware of the tactics they’ve used to have success in the past. We’ll make sure our group is prepared, and know what’s coming at them.”
While the road to Prince George is long, the Smoke Eaters will play a 2-3-2 structure, with two games at home, followed by three in P.G. and the final two in Trail, if necessary.
“We don’t take any team lightly, we lived it last year by knocking off the best team in the Interior in the first round, and know how fast that can happen. So that was a big part of going 2-3-2, we didn’t want to have more travel than we needed. We like our team at home, we like our team on the road, so we weren’t worried about home ice as much as other teams might be. We like the structure of the series and we think it’ll be a good match up for our group.”
The final regular-season game had little meaning for Trail, but it was a positive effort for the 14-39-1-3 Centennials who wrapped up an otherwise forgettable season on Sunday with a 3-2 loss against Salmon Arm, and is the only BCHL team not to make the postseason.
Smoke Eaters forward Chase Dafoe continued his hot play scoring two goals and his fifth in two games after tallying a hat trick in the victory over the Silverbacks on Friday.
The Smoke Eaters jumped out to a 2-1 first-period lead on goals from Michael Colella and Owen Ozar, but Merritt battled back in the second with three straight tallies from Rylan van Unen, Christian Buono, and Talon Zakall for a 4-2 lead.
Dafoe cut the lead to 4-3 at 11:18 and Ozar notched his 26th of the season and second on the night to tie it 36 seconds later.
Van Unen gave the Centennials a 5-4 advantage heading into the third period. Payton Matusi sored 68 seconds into the final frame to make it a two-goal lead and Ben Ward ensured the victory with a goal at 15:55.
Dafoe scored his second of the night and 11th of the season with just over five minutes to play for the 7-5 final.
The Smoke Eaters outshot the Centennials 37-36 and were 1-for-6 on the power play and 8-for-9 on the penalty kill. Matteo Paler-Chow got the start for Trail as starter Logan Terness, who tied the most wins (27) for a Trail goalie on Friday, had a night off in preparation for playoffs.
“We’re not going to go chase records,” said Tambellini. “He (Terness) has had an amazing season, and he’s a 17-year-old kid to hit those win records, so our priority for him is to be fresh going into the playoffs; he’s going to carry the load, and play a lot of minutes.”
In Trail’s final home game on Friday, a capacity crowd of over 2,600 fans cheered the Smoke Eaters to their 21st home victory.
Dafoe, who turns 18 on Feb. 25, netted a hat trick in leading the Smoke Eaters to a 5-1 win over Salmon Arm.
Dafoe opened the scoring, tipping a point shot from Michael Colella for a power play goal just 7:55 into the opening frame.
Less than a minute later Braden Costello lifted a bouncing puck over the shoulder of the ‘Backs goalie, Jack Adams, for a 2-0 Trail lead. Dafoe added his second of the night, making a slick backhand-forehand move in front of Adams, and lifting it top shelf at 14:33 of the second period to make it 3-0.
Salmon Arm’s Luke Mylymok tallied a power-play goal with 7:36 to play to cut the lead to two. However, a brilliant 200-foot rush by Jaden Senkoe sent a backhand over the glove of Adams to restore the three-goal lead, and Dafoe completed the hat trick at 4:50 for the 5-1 final.
Dafoe earned the game’s first star, while Senkoe grabbed second star honours with a goal and two assists, and Cody Schiavon was named third star.
Smokies Notes: Trail also gave out their season-end awards following Friday’s match. Trail’s Kent Johnson, who missed the last two games, was awarded Top Scorer, and MVP along with Smoke Eaters captain Philippe Lapointe.
Lapointe also earned the Ed Shelby Award for leadership, while Montrose native Tyler Ghirardosi received the Community Impact Award.
Trail goalie Logan Terness earned Rookie of the Year honours and the Fan Favourite Award.
The Smoke Eaters return to action on Friday in Game 1 of the BCHL playoff against the Prince George Spruce Kings. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.