The Trail Smoke Eaters were impressive in both its home games at the Cominco Arena on the weekend, beating the Chilliwack Chiefs 3-1 on Friday, before getting stymied by a hot Merritt Centennials goalie in a 3-2 loss on Saturday.
Centennials goalie Jacob Berger was the difference in the Merritt win, stopping 48 shots to deny the Smokies their third straight victory.
“I thought we played two really solid hockey games, especially Friday night against Chilliwack,” said Trail Smoke Eater coach Cam Keith. “That was probably our most complete game of the year. Top to bottom everyone played the right way. But then against Merritt it was one of those nights where you run into a hot goalie. We had more than enough opportunities to score, we just couldn’t find the net.”
After defeating the top teams in the Island and Mainland division in back-to-back games, Trail fell behind early in Saturday’s match against Merritt despite outshooting them 22-12 in the first period. Henry Cleghorn scored his ninth goal of the season at 1:51 of the first period on a setup from Brett Jewell and Nick Fidanza to take a 1-0 lead, and Fidanza made it 2-0 three minutes and 30 seconds later.
Trail’s Luke Santerno got the Smokies on the board at 13:48 on a dish from Andre Ghantous and fired it by Berger for his 21st of the season to make it 2-1. But Zach Risteau netted the winning goal at 7:42 of the second period, beating Linden Marshall with a low shot from Stephan Seeger and Aaron Murray to give the Cents a 3-1 lead.
The Smoke Eaters Spencer McLean notched his sixth goal beating the Cents’ goalie high short-side on a setup from Ghantous to draw Trail within one with five minutes to play in the middle frame. The Smokies came agonizingly close to tying it, if not for a couple posts and misfires in the third period, as Berger made several key saves, with Trail outshooting the Centennials 18-7 in the final frame.
“When you run into a hot goalie like that, players have a tendency to want to try to pick corners and when they get frustrated they try to make that extra pass. We just tried to stick to the same game plan, take away his eyes, and get in front for those second chance opportunities … He’s a very good goaltender and made several big saves, but we made him look good a few times as well.”
A bright spot for the Smoke Eaters in Saturday’s game was the line of Ghantous, Blaine Caton, and McLean with Ghantous netting his 19th and 20th assists of the season.
“He (Ghantous) has really good hockey vision, and he sees plays develop before they’ve developed and has a knack for buying a little extra time and finding his linemates,” said Keith. “They were probably the best line on Saturday as well. So it’s really nice when they’re line goes and takes a little pressure off our top two lines.”
Trail was 0-for-1 on the power play, and held a 50-31 edge in shots over the Centennials, with Berger netting first-star honours, Ghantous second star for his two assists, and Cleghorn the game’s third star, while McLean was named the Fortis Energy Player of the Game.
On Friday, Connor Brown-Maloski scored twice and was the game’s first star in a 3-1 victory over Chilliwack in front of close to 1,100 fans that turned out to support the Canadian Cancer Society’s and Trail Smoke Eaters’ Growvember campaign.
The Smokies and Chiefs traded goals in the first period with Cole Poliziani scoring for Chilliwack at 11:11 and Trail’s Ross Armour replying with a power-play marker at 5:37. The game stayed 1-1 through two periods, despite Trail owning a 27-19 edge in shots.
The Chiefs rallied in the third, but it was Smoke Eater captain Brown-Maloski who netted the winner 8:27 into the final stanza on a brilliant rush, breaking around the defenceman, and finishing with a laser top corner on goalie Brendan Barry for a 2-1 Smokie lead. CBM added an empty netter for his fifth tally of the season on a 195-foot bank shot off the boards with nine seconds to play to ice it for the Smoke Eaters 14th win of the season.
“Connor’s been a little bit snake-bitten when it comes to getting goals,” said Keith. “But he plays the game the right way. He leads by example, and playing really good hockey, he just hasn’t been rewarded on the goal side of things. So it was good to see him get rewarded, against Chilliwack, a very good team.”
Goalie Zach Dyment was stellar in the match, particularly in the third period when the Trail goalie stopped 18 shots to foil a concerted Chilliwack attack. The Chiefs outshot Trail 37-34 in the game with Brown-Maloski, Dyment, and Ross Armour named the first, second, and third stars on the night.
Trail sits in third place in the Interior Division two points back of the Vernon Vipers, but enjoy a game in hand.
Trail faces off against the league leading Penticton Vees on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.
See more on the Smoke Eaters in Wednesday’s Trail Times.