The Trail Smoke Eaters knocked off the hottest team in the BCHL on Wednesday at the Cominco Arena, defeating the Wenatchee Wild 2-1.
In a tight-checking match up, Trail goalie Adam Marcoux stopped 40 shots and forward Carter Jones scored the game winner midway through the third period, as the Smoke Eaters held the highest scoring team in the BCHL off the scoreboard the rest of the way for a critical Interior Division victory.
“It seemed like we were chasing Wenatchee a bit,” said Smoke Eaters coach and GM Cam Keith, who returned to the team after a scouting trip to the Mac’s Midget AAA Tournament in Calgary last week. “They seemed to control the play for the most part but a lot of their shots were from the outside. We got timely scoring tonight, and you have to give a lot of credit to Adam Marcoux. He controlled rebounds, he sucked up a lot of pucks for us tonight, and made some big saves when we needed them.”
With the score knotted at 1-1, Wenatchee’s Zak Galambos was called for hooking four minutes and 24 seconds into the third. With time winding down on the power play, Andre Ghantous worked the puck to Jones in the high slot and the Spokane product fired a snapshot top shelf over the blocker of Wild goalie Austin Park for a 2-1 Trail lead.
“It (the win) was real big,” said Jones. “I got a good pass from Andre Ghantous on the power play right in the slot, and I had an open lane to the net so it was a good thing it went in. It’s a big win for us.”
Wenatchee, with eight wins in their last 10 games, was coming off a home-and-home sweep of the Penticton Vees on the weekend and riding a four-game win streak, before bumping into a Trail team that had also taken both games in their home-and-home with the West Kelowna Warriors.
The Wild effectively shut down Trail’s top scorers on the night, but the Smokies showed that there is more than one way to win a match.
“We’re trying to emphasize that right now we’re not going to be winning games 7-5 every time,” said Keith. “It’s going to get harder and harder especially with these divisional games when there’s so much meaning behind them.”
The Smokies jumped out to a 1-0 lead at 11:06 of the first period when Tyler Ghirardosi slipped in a backhand off a Glasman shot. While many of the Wild’s 16 first-period shots were from the perimeter, Marcoux was in the zone, making the saves he had to and limiting second chances to a highly skilled offence.
Led by BCHL leading scorer Jasper Weatherby, the Wild came out firing in the second period. Three minutes into the middle frame, with the Wild pressing, Lucas Sowder took a pass all alone in the slot and had Marcoux coming across the crease to challenge him. But the Wild forward made a slick move to the backhand in what looked like a sure goal until the Smoke Eater bandit snatched it away to keep the score at 1-0.
“He got the puck in front of me and I kind of bit on the right side, and ended up just throwing my glove above my pad,” said Marcoux. “He hadn’t raised the puck enough so I was lucky to get it.”
Marcoux came to the Smoke Eaters in a deal with the Cowichan Valley Capitals last month and has settled in well with the team and the community. A Calgary product, the 19-year-old goalie is 3-2 since his arrival Dec. 9, sporting a 3.33 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.
“It’s been awesome,” said Marcoux. “The people here are great. This is a great organization, and there’s so much history behind this place – they really do things right here, and that’s what I love about it.”
However, just over a minute later Smokies affiliate player Kieran O’Hearn was called for slashing. Wenatchee pressed and defenceman A. J. Vanderbeck settled a pass from Murphy Stratton at the blue line, walked in and wired a shot top shelf on Marcoux to tie it with 14:05 on the clock.
The Wild outshot the Smoke Eaters 31-12 through two periods, but Trail’s best was yet to come.
After Jones made it 2-1, the Smoke Eaters defence played shut down-hockey through the final 10 minutes. A controversial blow-to-the-head call on Kale Howarth with just over five minutes to play ignited a heated protest from the 1,500 in attendance, and, as one of the league’s most potent power-play’s went to work, the Smokies responded.
“The penalty kill was huge,” said Keith. “I think we figured out where they were starting to move pucks. They were trying to move them on the half wall there for Vanderbeck to let that shot go, so we started to apply pressure as soon as he got pucks, and kinda broke it up.”
Trail’s defenders kept the Wild to the outside, blocking shots, and clearing pucks, while Marcoux stopped everything he saw and a few he didn’t.
“It was huge, because late in the third when the pressure is on, the guys all fed off each other, and there were some really big blocks out there too; Ghirardosi, Blake Sidoni had a really big block, and the boys just feed off it, that kind of energy is contagious.”
The Wild outshot Trail 41-19, with Trail going 1-for-3 on the power play, and Wenatchee 1-for-5. Marcoux was named the game’s first star, Jones second star, and Vanerbeck third star.
The win lifts Trail (23-13-2-0) one point ahead of the Penticton Vees for third place in the Interior Division with 48 points, five back of second place Wenatchee and seven behind the league leading Vernon Vipers.
Trail embarks on a three-games-in-three-days road trip to the coast and plays Mainland Division teams Coquitlam Friday, Langley on Saturday, and Surrey on Sunday.
“It’s going to be a hard three games,” said Keith. “We need to find ways to get points, because as you see in the standings, every point is going to count. It’s going to come down to the wire, and we don’t want to look back at it and think of the ‘what ifs’, this is a big roadtrip for us.”