A four-point night from Montrose native Tyler Ghirardosi launched the Trail Smoke Eaters to a 10-3 victory over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks on Saturday at the Cominco Arena, to avenge a 3-2 loss on Friday.
Ghirardosi netted a hat trick while Mack Byers, Max Kryski, and Braeden Tuck lit the lamp and their parents faces on the Smoke Eaters’ parent weekend, as each had a pair of goals in the Smokies’ drubbing of the Silverbacks.
“We came into the rink today a more determined group,” said Ghirardosi. “The focus in everyone’s eyes was a lot more than yesterday, and I think we get caught sometimes looking at the standings, but today was just a total, solid effort from start to finish.”
The Silverbacks win on Friday was the fourth straight weekend that the Smokies have lost a Friday game then rebounded for a win on Saturday.
“We had a good schedule where you just play on the weekend, but the danger of that is that you can really get out of rhythm,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “It’s a long week to prep … and we’ve seen that four weeks in a row where we play outstanding hockey on Saturday after a Friday that hasn’t gone our way. Great to see for a full month what happens when we play the right way, and when we don’t, what can happen.”
Tuck’s goal midway through the first period turned out to be the game winner as the Smokies jumped out to a 4-0 lead just 10 minutes in. The Smokies captain broke down the right wing and wired a shot over the blocker of Armitage for his 12th goal of the season.
Line juggling by the Smokies coaching staff generated much needed offence after scoring just twice on Friday. The Smokies tallied a season-high six first-period goals and led 6-0 on goals from Ghirardosi, Byers (2), Kryski, and Tuck (2).
“We made some line adjustments today,” said Tambellini. “We were looking to get the Jones, Tuck, and Ozar line back together. We feel that’s one of our most dangerous lines we’ve worked with, and now we finally have a group we can insulate losing two centres and put them on the same line.”
Tambellini also went with Hayden Rowan, Kent Johnson and Chase Stevenson, and Ghirardosi, Spencer McLean and Mack Byers. The two lines counted seven points apiece, and Ghirardosi was lethal, scoring all three of his goals on the power-play unit.
“We were really trying to find an identity line with Byers, Ghirardosi, and McLean, and once we got that going, it seemed to click right away. And (Bryce) Anderson and Kryski had a great night, so a lot of things going well for 60 minutes.”
In contrast, the Silverbacks goalies didn’t fair well on the night as Ethan Langenegger allowed three goals on nine shots to make way for Matthew Armitage 9:18 into the first period as the Smokies outshot Salmon Arm 17-7. The backup didn’t last long, ceding the crease back to Langenegger early in the second after allowing five goals on 13 shots.
The ‘Backs got on the board 2:32 into the middle frame when Matthew Verboon scored his first of three on a shorthanded, unassisted effort.
The Smoke Eaters replied when Kent Johnson scored the highlight-reel goal of the year, completing the behind-the-net toe-drag and lacrosse wrap-around into the top corner for a 7-1 Trail lead. Johnson then set up Ghirardosi for his 13th of the season just 30 seconds later on the power play.
After Verboon notched his 25th of the season, Ghirardosi broke in and snapped a shot over the blocker of Langenegger for his hat-trick goal to make it 9-2 Trail.
“Tyler has taken a big step,” said Tambellini. “2019 had been very good for him but he’s come back so focused after Christmas to be an impact guy and it’s great to see him have a night like that.”
The Quinnipiac commit busted out of his pre-Christmas slump in a big way. Ghirardosi tallied five goals and 12 assists in his first 38 games, but, since the New Year, the 19-year-old has netted nine goals and 15 points in 12 matches, including his biggest night of the season on Saturday, which extended his current point streak to five games.
“Obviously, it feels good,” said Ghirardosi. “I was a little fortunate with the plays made by my linemates, which made it easy. I feel really good about my game right now. At the beginning of the year, I was a little cold, but things are starting to go my way now and I’m just enjoying it.”
Kryski added his second of the night on a pretty passing play from Anderson for a 10-2 lead heading into the third.
Verboon completed the hat trick for Salmon Arm at 7:29 of the third, as the visitors pushed back and outshot Trail 16-8. Smokies goalie Donovan Buskey was steady in the Smokies net, earning his second win since joining the team Jan. 10.
Trail forward Johnson notched a goal and two assists, while Stevenson and defenceman Luke Gallagher had three assists each.
Trail outshot Salmon Arm 35-32, were 4-for-8 on the power play, and 6-for-7 on the PK. Ghirardosi was the game’s first star, with Verboon earning second star, and Byers third star.
In Friday’s match, the Silverbacks jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a goal from Nikolas Sombrowski 3:12 into the second frame. Ghirardosi answered with a power-play goal at 7:05 before Trevor Adams restored the one-goal lead.
Verboon put the ‘Backs up 3-1 just 21 seconds into the third period. Rowan drew the Smokies to within one with 15:40 to play, but Trail couldn’t find the equalizer as Langenegger stopped 30 shots in the Salmon Arm win.
Trail, at 20-23-7-3, currently sits in seventh place in the Interior Division, seven points back of the 26-21-4-1 Silverbacks in fourth, and five points behind the sixth place West Kelowna Warriors at 27-24-0-1. Despite the Friday losses, the Saturday wins have been a confidence builder with the Smokies picking up points and playing well at the right time.
“This is a great time where everyone is feeling good about themselves,” said Tambellini. “The big thing is, how do you go into the playoffs making sure the team feels good and, individually, each guy feels good about where they’re at, and their game’s going in the right direction? So that was a big one for our offensive guys, and for a lot of people to have success offensively.”
The Smokies next home game goes on Wednesday when they host the first place Penticton Vees, 34-14-2-2, at the Cominco Arena with the puck drop at 7 p.m.