The BCHL regular season champion Coquitlam Express proved too much for the Trail Smoke Eaters on Saturday, skating to a 5-2 victory at the Cominco Arena.
Over 2,300 fans packed the Trail Memorial Centre for the highly anticipated meeting between two of the BCHL’s top teams.
In a tightly contested match up, Express forward Adam Trotman sniped the game winner with 10:07 left in the match, wiring a cross-ice pass from Bradley Ong past Smokies goalie Logan Terness to give the Express a 3-1 lead.
The Smoke Eaters loss comes on the heels of a 5-0 drubbing of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs on Friday in a scrappy, penalty-filled affair, which saw Terness earn his first shutout of the season in the Trail net.
The Express won their 45th of the season after clinching the BCHL regular season title with a win over the Penticton Vees on Friday, and will have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
Trail carried the play in the early going, but the Express scored first with affiliate player Kevin Thomas Walters wristing a quick shot between the pads of Terness 9:05 into the opening frame.
Michael Colella replied less than two minutes later, taking a pass from Carson Briere at the right post and lifting it over Express goalie Jack Watson to tie it at one.
Massimo Rizzo gave the Express a 2-1 lead at 13:55, scoring his 18th of the year from behind the Trail goal as he batted the puck off the skate of Terness and in.
Trail had there chances, particularly on a great individual rush from Owen Ozar, who turned the Express defenceman inside-out, and looked to have beaten Watson on a deke but the puck stayed out.
Trail poured it on in the third, but it was Coquitlam that got the bounces. After Trotman netted what proved to be the game winner, Danny Pearson made it 4-1 on a setup from Connor Gregga.
The Smokies were foiled time and again by Watson, until Trail forward Walker Erickson cut the lead in half on a determined effort, rushing up the wing and beating the Coquitlam goalie with just 2:28 to play. But that was as close as the Smoke Eaters would get as Rizzo scored into the empty net with five seconds remaining for the 5-2 final.
Trail outshot Coquitlam 17-9 in the final frame and 34-32 overall. Watson earned the game’s first star, while Rizzo received the second-star nod, and Colella of the Smoke Eaters, the third star. Briere was named the Fortis Energy Player of the Game.
In Friday’s tilt against the Bulldogs, the Smoke Eaters were looking to even their season series after falling 5-2 to Alberni on Nov. 17.
Trail dominated the first outshooting Alberni 13-6, and came away with a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by Kent Johnson, his 41st of the season.
Things began to heat up in the second, as Powell Connor made it 2-0 on a great rush up ice, and Colella made it 3-0 on another power-play opportunity with 5:26 on the clock.
Colella notched his second of the game six minutes into the third and Erickson finished the scoring three minutes later for the 5-0 victory. The Bulldogs responded with some chippy play that resulted in a couple fighting majors for Trail defencemen Kyle Pow and Kyle Budvarson late in the game.
Terness stopped 28 shots for the shutout and game’s first star, while Colella and Johnson, with three point games, earned second and third stars respectively. AP Carlos Siso faced 40 shots in his third appearance for the Bulldogs. The Smoke Eaters went 2-for-9 on the power play and 4-for-4 on the penalty kill.
Terness’ record improves to 26-9-0 and is one win away from tying the Smoke Eaters record for most wins, 27, by a goaltender. The 17-year-old Burnaby native is also the youngest goalie in the team’s history to win 20 games.
The Smoke Eaters goalie looked to tie the record against the West Kelowna Warriors in a Family Day matinee at 2:30 p.m. Monday afternoon in West Kelowna. The results, however, were unavailable at press time and will have no impact on the regular season standings. Prince George is assured the seventh seed in the Interior Division and will play the second seed Smoke Eaters in the first round of the BCHL Interior Division playoffs on Feb. 28 at the Cominco Arena.
Trail next hosts the Salmon Arm Silverbacks on Friday at 7 p.m.