Trail defeated the Grande Prairie Storm Saturday night, but a goaltending change proved the difference on Sunday as Grande Prairie earned a split in the two-game exhibition series at the Cominco Arena.
The Smoke Eaters outshot the Storm 34-19 in the second match up between the Alberta Junior and the BC Junior team rivals, but a stellar game from Storm goalie Kaeden Lane backstopped Grande Prairie to a 4-3 win.
The Smoke Eaters played fast and entertaining hockey with a physical edge to their game that resulted in multiple big hits and a couple of toe-to-toe tilts.
Despite the loss and the intensity of the matches, the games were less about winning and more about preparing for the real season.
“We had a busy week, with guys on the ice twice a day Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and then two games,” said coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “We’re two games ahead where we thought we’d be today, our execution level and special teams was where I want it and, again, we have a lot of new faces. Wins and losses are not important, I’m more worried about our execution and our details and for week 1, I’m very happy with where we’re at.”
Luka Konashuk scored the game winner three minutes and 22 seconds into the third period, beating Trail goalie Gabriel Waked with a power play goal to give the Storm a 4-2 lead.
The win was the Storm’s second since it started their exhibition swing through the Kootenay and Okanagan. The Storm beat Vernon in its first game on Friday 3-2 before falling to Trail 6-3 on Saturday. Grande Prairie finished in fifth place in the North Division of the Alberta Junior Hockey League last season with a 30-26-4 record.
Grande Prairie opened the scoring just 98 seconds into the first period when Jackson Savoie scored his first of the game on a set up from Samuel Erkkila.
Trail outshot the Storm 16-4 in the first period, but didn’t tally their first marker until 29 seconds into the middle frame. Kent Johnson tied it on a power play, gathering a pass from Corey McCann and firing it top shelf to tie the game at one.
However, the Storm answered right back when Savoie scored his second of the game, banging in a powerplay goal at 18:20 to go up 2-1. Savoie completed the hat trick just over five minutes later, lifting a rebound off a Doug Scott shot over the blocker of Waked for a 3-1 Storm lead on another power play.
Trail responded before the period was out. Chase Dafoe sent Mike Colella streaking down the right wing, and Colella waited and passed to a trailing Johnson who faked a shot then sent it back to Colella for the open-net tally.
After Konashuk made it 4-2, the Smokies stormed the Grande Prairie net and Johnson batted a puck out of mid-air to make it a 4-3 match with 11:26 to play.
Johnson and Colella found some definite chemistry on Sunday, with Johnson scoring twice and adding an assist, and Colella going 1 and 1.
“They were fantastic,” said Tambellini. “That’s what your looking for. People start establishing the roles they’re going to take on teams, and we had a great night from the Johnson line. They stepped up and played really well on the PK and power play, the second line with (Braden) Costello was fantastic, a really hard line to play against.”
Trail had numerous chances in the third, but Lane stymied Trail’s shooters including two glorious chances from Kryski and Johnson on the doorstep to keep the Storm on top.
On Saturday, the Smoke Eaters won the opening matchup, 6-3, in a spirited contest versus the Storm. The Smokies led 3-2 after one on goals from Colby Elmer, Liam Freeborn, and Diarmud Dimurro, while Bryce Osepchuk, and former Vernon Viper forward Brody Dale replied for the Storm.
A couple of dust-ups saw Dimurro and later Chase Dafoe sit out the remainder of the game for fighting. Corey Clifton netted the winner, scoring on a breakaway to put Trail up 4-2 headed to three. Mike Colella and Braden Costello scored a shorthanded goal to complete the scoring for Trail while Lukas Jirousek counted one last goal for GP with two seconds left on the clock for the 6-3 final.
“Fifteen new guys at camp, it takes time to mold that group and find that identity, but we found a pretty good one last night,” said Tambellini. “We’re really happy with last night’s game. Again back-to-back games, but I liked our details as well today. For one weekend, we feel good about it.”
Logan Terness faced 23 shots in the Trail net, while Lars Kaliel stopped 17 for Grande Prairie.
The Smokies are down to 25 players as they head into the final exhibition weekend with a home-and-home against the West Kelowna Warriors. They will be without captain Philippe Lapointe who went down with a ‘lower-body’ injury on Saturday.
Trail’s next preseason game goes on Friday at 7 p.m. against the Warriors at the Cominco Arena.