Trail Smoke Eaters forward Spencer McLean scored twice including the game winner and Adam Marcoux stopped 28 shots in a 5-2 win over the Interior division leading Wenatchee Wild on Wednesday at the Cominco Arena.
The Smoke Eaters played one of their most complete games of the season on First Responders Night, dominating from the opening face off and playing with intensity and grit against a formidable Wild team that had won nine straight and hadn’t lost a game since a 3-2 setback to the Smoke Eaters on Nov. 16.
“It’s been so nice to get our entire defence back,” said Smoke Eaters coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “That’s made a massive difference. One of the biggest things I wanted to do was get our defence to a spot where we’re tall, we’re mean, we’re big, and to have seven of them going at the same time makes a big difference. And our forwards our doing the right things, so we have a recipe for success, and when we do it, it’s very effective.”
McLean deflected the game winner past the Wild goalie three minutes into the second period for his second of the night and fifth of the season. After Wild forward Cristophe Tellier was sent off for highsticking, the Smokies set up the power play in the Wild zone and the Montrose native redirected a point shot from Braeden Tuck to give Trail a 3-1 lead.
“Everyone bought in tonight, it was a full team effort,” said McLean. “We all knew what we needed to do out there, and we all went and did it.”
With the win over the Wild, Trail has knocked off the top two teams in the Interior this week, that included a 3-2 victory over Penticton Vees on Saturday, and earned points in four straight games.
“We’re going in the right direction right now, we’re happy right now and we just have to keep it going for the rest of the year,” said McLean.
The Smokies came out with conviction right from the opening face off and just 2:57 in McLean jumped on a rebound off a Hayden Rowan shot and wired it past Wild starter Austin Park for a 1-0 lead.
After Smokies goalie Adam Marcoux made a sprawling save off a 2-on-1, the Wild finally broke through, scoring the tying goal on a P.J. Fletcher shot with 4:16 to play in the first.
Trail had numerous chances in the opening frame. Tyler Ghirardosi played inspired hockey but was stymied by the post on at least three occasions in the first period, and Rowan bounced one off the iron in a mad scramble in front.
“That’s what we want,” said Tambellini. “We want scoring chances, momentum, push and then give up nothing and that’s what we were able to do. Against a team that’s on a nine-game winning streak.”
The Smokies regained the lead on a great effort by Kent Johnson as he raced down an icing in the Wild zone, stripped goalie Park of the puck, and centred to the front of the net. The Wild defenceman cleared the puck from the crease, but his attempt landed right on the stick of Tuck, who fired it into the corner of the open cage 75 seconds into the middle frame.
The mistake sent Park to the bench and brought on back up Cal Sandquist with the Smokies leading 2-1.
After McLean made it 3-1, Trail extended the lead to three on a wild series that saw Wenatchee seemingly score a shorthanded goal on an odd man rush, but the goal was waved off by the referee. Trail immedidately broke out on a breakaway, while the Wenatchee players protested. Sandquist stopped Hayden Rowan on the rush, but on the ensuing scramble, Carter Jones eventually lifted the puck into the net for a 4-1 Trail lead.
Wenatchee answered two minutes later, on a Matt Gosiewski power play goal with 8:29 remaining in the second.
The Smoke Eaters didn’t let up in the third, and Owen Ozar corralled a rebound off a Ghirardosi shot and slipped the puck into the open net for the 5-2 final at 16:35.
Marcoux was solid in goal stopping 28-of-30 shots, while the Smoke Eaters fired 27 at the Wenatchee goal. Trail went 2-for-3 on the power play and 3-for-4 on the PK. McLean earned the game’s first star, Tuck was second star, and Ozar third star.
Penticton (22-11-1-1) takes over the top spot in the Interior following a 2-1 win over Vernon Wednesday. Trail’s back-to-back wins puts the 14-17-5-3 Smokies two points back of the fifth-place Salmon Arm Silverbacks in the Interior division standings.
“It was a great test for our group, it shows them where we’re at, and our potential as a group,” said Tambellini. “I don’t care where we’re at in October and November, it’s the team that’s going best when the playoffs start, and we’re looking to be going in the right direction for that.”
Trail plays a home-and-home with the 21-13-1-1 Merritt Centennials this weekend. The Cents split their first two games with Trail on Nov. 17 and 23.
“We’re looking just to build,” said Tambellini. “We’re eight (points) behind Merritt now and we play them twice, we can be within four of them by the break. We’re just looking to keep moving up the ladder and we have another great test this weekend.”
Puck drop between the Smoke Eaters and Centennials goes at 7 p.m. on Friday at the Cominco Arena.