The Trail Smoke Eaters continue to lose ground on Interior division rivals after a pair of losses on the weekend.
The Merritt Centennials moved into fourth place in the Interior divsion with a 5-4 victory over the Smoke Eaters Sunday, following a Trail 5-2 loss to Coquitlam Express on Friday.
The Cents’ Zach Hartley netted the winning goal at 13:03 of the third period when a giveaway at the Trail blue line sent the Minneapolis native in on a breakaway. Hartley made no mistake, backhanding the puck through the pads of Smokie goalie Dustin Nikkel to make it 5-3.
Travis Stephens would pull the Smoke Eaters to within one with just over a minute to go, but Trail could not find the equalizer.
The win puts the Cents nine points up on Trail, with fifth-place Salmon Arm now eight points ahead of the Smokies.
The Cents jumped out into a 1-0 lead on power-play goal by Dylan Bowen, and rookie Rhett Wilcox would make it 2-0 on his first goal of the season at 7:34 of the second period. Trail would claw its way back when Jesse Knowler set up Jake Lucchini who wired a shot past Devin Kero at the 13:48 mark and Brendan Lamont would tie it a minute later backhanding a breakaway shot past Kero.
However, the Cents would retake the lead 7:17 into the third period on a Scott Patterson goal. But Trail forward Bryce Knapp would tie it on a deflection off new arrival Cody Bardock’s shot from the point.
Each team had their chances, but it was Patterson again who would restore the lead converting a pass from former Smokie d-man Wayland Williams to make it 4-3, before Hartley would nail it down with his breakaway tally.
Nikkel stopped 38 of 43 shots in net for Trail, while Kero blocked 33 of 37 in the Cents’ goal.