The Trail Smoke Eaters won their third straight game, shutting out the 2019 BCHL champion Prince George Spruce Kings at the Ready Mix Concrete Centre in P.G. on Saturday.
The Smokies long road trip to the Cariboo was the only game scheduled for Trail this week, and after playing four games in five days last week, that was enough.
“It was a 26-hour round trip,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “But things are a lot better when you win the one game you’re going for. Just to do the one-off, then come home and reset for the week was a lot better for our players.”
Trail shut out the Spruce Kings 3-0, following up wins over the West Kelowna Warriors and the Victoria Grizzlies the previous weekend.
“We like the way our team played and any time you’re going to travel that amount there’s always a fear of losing your legs that night.”
Trail goalie Donovan Buskey earned the shutout and Michael Colello scored the game winner and added an assist. Buskey was solid on a night he faced just 14 shots, staying focused and making a handful of big saves when called upon.
“(It’s a positive) Any time you can have your starting goalie start to feel really good about his game. Shutout games go a long way just for the confidence of Donovan or any young player, so very excited to get that on the road in a tough building.”
The Smoke Eaters Colella scored the game winner on a power-play goal with 4:51 to play in the first period. The Smokies pressured and missed a couple of prime opportunities with the extra man until Colella took a pass from defenceman Diarmad DiMurro in the right circle and wired it by P.G. goalie Jett Alexander.
Colella, a Turnersville, N.J. product, scored his third goal and 10th point on the season, good for first-star honours. Owen Ozar earned second star, and Kieran O’Hearne third star for the Smoke Eaters.
“Mike has done a really good job of doing the right things without the puck to allow him to be on the ice more. He’s an offensive guy, very opportunistic, but he’s doing things all over the ice that’s making him go from 14 minutes of ice time to around 18 to 19 minutes. So a lot of little things go in to scoring goals, and he’s making good decisions on the power play, which has given us a different layer of success.”
Colby Elmer added his second of the year on a strong individual effort, beating the Kings defenceman on the outside and wrapping it in to give the Smokies a 2-0 lead at 16:04 of the second period.
Liam Freeborn completed the scoring on a back-door feed from Colella, tapping the puck into the open net with 5:52 left in regulation.
The Smokies played solid defensively, holding the Spruce Kings to just 14 shots on goal while firing 26 at Alexander. The victory lifts the 3-5-1-0 Smokies into fourth place in the Interior Division standings, as they get set to play in the BCHL Bauer Showcase in Penticton next weekend.
“We like where were going,” added Tambellini. “A lot of guys were trying to take on too much, but we’ve taken on more of a team identity now and pushed through. We knew we had it all along, sometimes it takes a little longer to get that in motion.”
The Smoke Eaters will be without injured captain Philippe Lapointe and defenceman Trevor Isaksson until December, but bolstered their blue line with the addition of former Western Hockey League defenceman Jameson Murray.
“I think adding Jameson Murray to our team will be a really big difference for us going forward. He protects a lot of our younger players, and just getting the beginning of the season out of the way goes a long ways.
“Starting and getting to a spot where everyone is back to normal, our scorers are scoring, our workers are working and our goaltenders are back to a good rhythm – sometimes we just can’t get there fast enough as a hockey team at the beginning of the season.”
The Smoke Eaters play the Merritt Centennials on Friday at 4 p.m. followed by a rematch versus Prince George at 1 p.m. on Saturday at the Showcase in Penticton.