The Trail Smoke Eaters aren’t done yet, in fact, they’re just getting started.
After losing a 2-1 heartbreaker in Game 3 to go down three games to none to the Wenatchee Wild in the Interior Division final, the Smoke Eaters came out with conviction in Game 4. The Smokies jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead on the way to a 5-2 victory on Wednesday night at the Cominco Arena to force Game 5 in Wenatchee on Friday.
“I think we carried last night’s (Tuesday’s) momentum into tonight, from the third period,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Cam Keith. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get a couple bounces to get the result we wanted (in Game 3), but right now it’s a one game at a time mentality and the boys played hard tonight.”
Smoke Eaters forward Andre Ghantous scored the game winner with 7:53 to play in the first period. Carter Jones found Blake Sidoni behind the Wild net, and the Trail native went for a wrap around. Wild goalie Austin Park slid over and denied Sidoni with the pad at the right post, however, Ghantous banged in the rebound for his second of the night and fifth of the playoff to give Trail a 3-0 lead heading into the second period.
“I saw Sidoni going behind the net with the puck, and I’m just trying to get to the net and create traffic, and it just happened to pop right to me, and I hit it in,” said Ghantous.
The Smokies deserved a better fate in Game 3, as they poured 15 shots on the Wenatchee net in the third period but failed to tie the game on account of a number of brilliant saves from Park and some egregious puck luck.
“The playoffs are all about momentum, and any time you win a game you’re going to have that momentum,” said Keith. “And once you build it, it’s almost like a wave. We have the mentality right now that if we win the next game, then it’s a series.”
Trail took that momentum into Game 4 and came out physical, finishing their checks, and forcing the Wild defence with a relentless forecheck. Trail forward Ryan Murphy opened the scoring when he took a pass from Blaine Caton in the high slot and wired it by Park for a 1-0 lead just 69 seconds in.
The Smoke Eaters continued to roll, and Trever Zins head-manned a pass to Andre Ghantous who drove down the right wing, and backhanded in his own rebound to give Trail a 2-0 lead.
Wenatchee generated chances in the second half of the period, but Trail goalie Adam Marcoux stopped 12 shots to keep the Wild off the board, while Trail fired 11 at the Wenatchee net.
“We knew we had to come out and find our game in the first period, and we were fortunate to get three goals,” said Keith. “Wenatchee is the kind of team you can’t let off the gas peddle, but in the end I think we played disciplined, kept them to the outside, and it was more of our style of game where we play physical.”
The Wild responded in the second. Zak Galambos scored on the power play 1:42 into the middle frame, and after Trail went on their own power play, the Wild’s August Von Ungern stripped the puck from the Trail blueliner and broke in on Marcoux, roofing it to cut the lead to 3-2.
Wenatchee continued to press, but Marcoux stoned AJ Vanderbeck on another shorthanded breakaway, and covered the rebound before a charging Cooper Zeck could capitalize. Minutes later, Sam Morton found Jasper Weatherby all alone in front, but the Trail goalie stymied the BCHL’s top scorer.
“They have a lot of very prolific goal scorers, and he didn’t give them much, and we need Couzy (Marcoux) to do that if we’re going to climb back in the series.”
The Smoke Eaters failed to capitalize on a Murphy Stratton hooking penalty late in the period, but two minutes later Levi Glasman dished to Seth Barton at the top of the left circle, and the Kelowna native wired a wrist shot over the glove of Park with just over four minutes to play in the second for a 4-2 Trail lead. Wenatchee outshot Trail 16-9 in the second period.
A combination of great goaltending and solid defence shut the Wild down in the final frame and Trail iced it when Ghantous and Carter Jones worked the puck behind the net and fed Glasman on the doorstep to make it 5-2 Trail with 12:48 to play.
Trail’s Ethan Martini was sent off for tripping at 7:48, and, in an unexpected move, the Wild pulled their goalie for an extra, extra-attacker but couldn’t penetrate a text-book penalty kill by the Smoke Eaters defenders.
The home team was without dynamic forward Tyler Ghirardosi, who is out with injury, but inspired performances from Ghantous, Murphy, Jones, Sidoni, and Glasman made the difference.
“Kale (Howarth) and Ross (Armour) have been shut down this series and haven’t been able to score, so we really need the x-factors to step up,” said Keith. “We need the Carter Jones, Ryan Murphy, Andre Ghantous to get big goals for us right now. Hopefully our top line can catch fire, and our secondary can come in and contribute, because I think we have more depth than they (the Wild) do up front.”
The Wild outshot Trail 40-24, going 1-for-4 on the power play, while Trail was 0-for-2.
Ghantous, with two goals and an assist, was named the game’s first star, Levi Glasman (1G, 1A) earned second star honours, and Carter Jones, with three assists, was the game’s third star.
Every game is a must-win now for the Smoke Eaters, but following the Game-3 resurgence and Game-4 victory confidence is at a premium. The Smoke Eaters will pack their lunch boxes and put on their hard hats for their biggest challenge of the season in Wentchee on Friday, and if their semifinal series win over the Penticton Vees is any indication, get ready for a Game 6 in Trail on Saturday.
“I think in Game 2 against Wenatchee, we proved that we can play in that arena,” added Keith. “We need to step it up a little bit more but all these kids know that this is their last chance at it, and usually when that’s the case, they play a little harder.”
Game 5 goes on Friday in Wenatchee, with Game 6 scheduled for Trail Saturday at the Cominco Arena at 7 p.m.
“We have to rely on everyone through this stretch,” said Ghantous. “We just have to take it one shift at a time, one period at a time, and one game at a time.”
Smoke Signals:Smoke Eaters fans can catch Game 5 at the Royal Theatre in Trail tonight free of charge. Doors open at 6 p.m. with a full concession, Bleed Orange popcorn and hotdogs. Join Stax pregame and for the puck drop at 7:05 p.m.
Tickets for Game 6 will go on sale at the Smoke Eaters office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and at the ticket booth prior to the game at 5:30 p.m.