It was over before it was over.
The Trail Smoke Eaters scored seven power-play goals and Philippe Lapointe netted a hat trick on the way to a 9-2 drubbing of the Merritt Centennials on Wednesday at the Nicola Valley Arena in Merritt.
Trail showed the Centennials why they owned the BCHL’s best power play, going 6-for-6 with the extra man in the first period alone to lead 6-1 after one. The Centennials, meanwhile, have the BCHL’s second worst penalty kill at 70 per cent, and if there is a take away, it’s Merritt probably shouldn’t take penalties against the league’s best power play.
Kent Johnson also had a big six-point night for the Smokies scoring the game winner and adding five assists as Trail jumped out to a 3-0 lead 5:43 into the first period. The Port Moody native notched his 22nd of the season when Lapointe won the face off back to Johnson at the point, and the University of Michigan commit fired a slap shot off the post and in on Merritt goalie and former Smoke Eater, Tanner Marshall.
Johnson’s six-points gives the 17-year-old forward 58 points in 31 games on the season, while Lapointe’s five-point game puts the Chicago native at a league-leading 1.93 points-per-game clip with 11 goals and 27 points in 14 games.
The win for the 19-8-2-1-1 Smoke Eaters also pulls them to within a point of the Interior Division leading Penticton Vees, 21-8-1-0. Penticton suffered its fourth straight loss against the Prince George Spruce Kings, 4-2, on Wednesday night.
Things went south for Merritt before the game even started. The home team was penalized for a warm-up violation putting Trail on the power play right from the opening face off.
Merritt had the best chance early, but Smokies goalie Logan Terness robbed Rylan Van Ulen with a glove save on a breakaway to set the tone 25 seconds in. Trail came right back on the power play and Lapointe banged in a backdoor pass from Johnson for a 1-0 lead.
Talon Zakall was sent off for cross-checking at the 1:46 mark and Olson Werenka took a double minor to put the Smoke Eaters up two men at 2:55. Twenty-six seconds later, Johnson found Lapointe knocking on the backdoor again for his second of the night.
The penalties kept coming and after Johnson made it 3-0, Smokies forward Tyler Ghirardosi scored on an odd-man rush to make it 4-0 with 13:01 to play in the opening frame.
Newly acquired Centennial defenceman Brayden Clark earned a double-minor for a nasty hit-from-behind on Colella giving Trail another two-man advantage. This time it was Smokies defenceman Powell Connor who blasted a puck past Marshall to make it 5-for-5 on the power play at the 11:20 mark, with assists to Colella and Kryski.
Merritt’s Van Unen got the Centennials on the board, shovelling in a rebound off a Talon Zakall shot to make it 5-1. But incredibly, Owen Ozar scored with 2:12 remaining to make it 6-for-6 on the power play and a 6-1 lead.
Trail outshot the Cents 21-8 in the first period, but the home team came out more disciplined in the second period. Werenka made it 6-2 at 12:40 on a shot from the point, but Johnson set up Lapointe, who completed his hat trick – again on the power play – with one second left on the clock.
Braden Costello and Colella finished the scoring for the Smokies in the third. In the final two minutes, Trail went on another two man-advantage, but to keep the score in check, Smokies coach and GM Jeff Tambellini kept all the forwards on the bench, icing five defencemen on the ensuing face off.
The Smokies outshot the Centennials 40-35, and went 7-for-10 on the power play, and 4-for-5 on the penalty kill.
Trail plays the Surrey Eagles on Saturday at the Cominco Arena in what should be a festive night for the Smokies and the City of Trail as they celebrate the Trail Memorial Arena’s 70th birthday.
The puck drop for the game is 7 p.m. but come early for the 70th birthday festivities.