Trail Smoke Eaters slide continues

Trail Smoke Eaters drop their pair of weekend games.

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.

The Smoke Eaters are on the road again this weekend as they make a three game swing to Powell River, Alberni, and Nanaimo.