The Trail Smoke Eaters fell 3-2 in overtime to the Vernon Vipers at Kal Tire Place in Vernon on Saturday, but continue to gain ground in BCHL’s tough Interior Division standings.
After a record setting nine-straight wins in a 4-1 victory over the Nanaimo Clippers on Friday, Trail earned a point against the Vipers in the Snake Pit to push their consecutive point streak to a record 10 games.
“I’m proud that this group of guys could do that,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “It’s a great thing for us going forward especially coming off a tough start, because the ultimate character test is when things aren’t going the way you want them, but to respond and then get a franchise record streak, it just shows what the character is in that room.”
Picking up three-of-four points on the weekend lifted the third-place 9-5-2-0 Smokies to within three points of second place 11-3-1-0 Penticton Vees and five points back of the division leading Salmon Arm Silverbacks (12-3-1-0), who beat Nanaimo 2-0 on Sunday.
Following an 11-0 start, Penticton is on a four game losing skid that also includes a 4-1 setback to Nanaimo on Saturday and a 2-1 loss to Vernon, Friday. The Silverbacks also fell 2-1 to the sixth-place West Kelowna Warriors on Saturday.
Trail faces the Vees on Wednesday night and can cut what once was a 10-point lead to just one point. The Smokies lost its opening two games of the season to the Vees, which made for an inauspicious start where Trail went winless through six games before turning their season around with a nine-game win streak.
“There are highs and lows especially at the start of the year. The one thing with our league, with every 15-day segment the league gets better,” said Tambellini. “We know it’s going to be a good test, that’s a desperate team. Our group is going to be excited to go back and we’ve had great success in games we’ve played in Penticton and at the Showcase.”
Tambellini also intends to stick with the hot hand, and will start rookie goalie Logan Terness vs the Vees for the fifth straight game. The 17-year-old Burnaby native is 6-3 with a 1.86 GAA and a .944 save percentage.
“He’s been great. He’s doing everything you want as a young goaltender, can take ice and not give the net back. He was with us from the second we committed to him last year, and he’s hung in there, he wants to be here, he loves our team, loves this town and he deserves to take the net.”
In Vernon Saturday, Trail was playing catch up all night, yet managed to draw even with the Vipers and force the OT despite being outshot 33-19.
“We were not playing our best game on the road,” said Tambellini. “But good teams can find a way to get points out of games when everything is not going perfect.”
In the 3-on-3 overtime, after a missed opportunity on a rush by the Smokies, the Vipers came back and Matt Kowalski sniped a slapshot past Terness at 3:54 for the Snakes win.
The victory is the Vipers fifth straight, with Kowalski leading the Snakes with five goals and 11 points over that span.
Defenceman Trey Taylor opened the scoring with his first of the year and with the Vipers shorthanded. He took a pass from Connor Sleeth and snapped it past Terness for a 1-0 lead 4:41 into the opening frame.
A determined forecheck by Montrose native Tyler Ghirardosi forced a turnover and he wired an unassisted effort past the blocker of Vernon goalie Reilly Herbst to tie the game at 1-1 at 9:13.
The Vipers Kowalski restored the lead just 63 seconds into the second period to make it 2-1. However, after six tries, the Smokies finally clicked on the power play, with Liam Freeborn banging in a rebound off a point-shot from Trail d-man Powell Connor with 4:13 left in the middle stanza.
Ghirardosi was stymied by Herbst on a penalty shot midway through the third and Terness made a handful of big saves in the final period including a highlight reel paddle save off Connor Marritt to keep the game even at two and force the extra frame.
Trail was 1-for-7 on the power play, while Vernon went 1-for-6. Kowalski and Trey Taylor earned first and second stars for Vernon, and Ghirardosi got the third-star nod for Trail.
Despite the loss, the Smoke Eaters were able to wrestle a point out of a so-so effort and take a 10-game point streak into Penticton.
“We found a way to get a 2-2 game and have some good chances, but again we didn’t play our best hockey,” added Tambellini. “We’re never going to play 58 ‘great’ games, but continue to give ourself chances to win and get points. To get 19 of 20 points takes us from last to fifth place in the league, and that’s just a credit to a group finding a way to do it when everything is not perfect.”
On Friday, Trail’s return to the Cominco Arena thrilled a capacity crowd of 2,400 fans with a 4-1 victory over the Island Division leading Clippers.
Two goals by Braden Costello helped the Smokies to their ninth straight win, a franchise record.
Freeborn and Ghirardosi rounded out the scoring for the Smoke Eaters, while Josh Bourne tallied the lone Clippers’ marker.
Trail outshot Nanaimo 35-28 with Costello, Diarmad DiMurro, and Terness earning the first, second and third stars. Smokies leading scorer Kent Johnson pitched in with two assists and was named Energy Player of the Game.
The Smoke Eaters are back in action in Penticton on Wednesday, and play a home-and-home with West Kelowna on the weekend with a return to the Cominco Arena on Saturday.